Monday, October 1, 2012

Establish Real Time Fact Checking During Political Debates

I posted an article on these pages a little over a little over a year ago entitled, How Google, IBM and Others Can Help Hold Feet to the Fire. Tired of all the distortions, half-truths and actual falsehoods infecting our politics today, I suggested that real time (or near real time) fact checking should be established for political debates. If IBM's Watson computer can win at Jeopardy!, why can't we get an indication of veracity while the debate is still in progress? Waiting for the analysis after the fact can be hazardous. Our brains tend to cling to information even after it's been refuted, not to mention all the viewers who tune-out before the corrections can be reported.

What's worse is that purposeful inaccuracies are now an expectation. I was angered when Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, announced recently on MSNBC's Morning Joe that, "Distortion is in the eye of the beholder." What? I understand all about perception and reality but Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan had it right when he said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts."

At least there seems to be one point of agreement among the political parties: This election is the most important in a generation. So, here is a non-partisan effort to bring the Commission on Presidential Debates, the political parties, the networks and technology firms together to "hold feet to the fire" and institute real or near real time fact checking into these crucial debates. Here is my petition:

"I call on you to support an initiative to bring real or near real time fact checking to the presidential and vice presidential debates.

As our technology and the number of media channels have increased, so too has the distribution of false or misleading information. It is time that we reverse this phenomenon.

Currently, the news media and political fact checking organizations provide analyses after the debates have concluded. Unfortunately, as important as this function is, it may be too late. Misinformation is difficult to retract and, harder still, to erase from one’s memory. Furthermore, far fewer people stay tuned for the analyses or read the follow up news articles the next day.

During the course of the debates, all of the statements should be verified through the vast holdings of credible, objective knowledge. In addition, out-of-context remarks or assertions would be reviewed and addressed. No opinion sites, blogs or political party sources would be part of the fact checking database – only transcripts, proceedings and testimony; almanacs and atlases; laws, regulations and policy statements; credible survey data, and non-partisan news articles, journals and research reports.

Ideas include a box on the screen that displays a true/not true or green/red or similar indicator of validity. And, before the candidates shake hands and leave the stage, there should be a final segment where they are confronted with any false or misleading claims and are asked to address the issues right then and there.

Thank you."

Click here to go to the petition. Please sign and share with others.

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