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Misinformation and Fact-checking: Research Findings from Social Science

February 1, 2012

Citizens and journalists are concerned about the prevalence of misinformation in contemporary politics, which may pollute democratic discourse and undermine citizens' ability to cast informed votes and participate meaningfully in public debate. Academic research in this area paints a pessimistic picture -- the most salient misperceptions are widely held, easily spread, and difficult to correct. Corrections can fail due to factors including motivated reasoning, limitations of memory and cognition, and identity factors such as race and ethnicity. Nonetheless, there is reason to be optimistic about the potential for effectively correcting misperceptions, particularly among people who are genuinely open to the facts. In this report, we offer a series of practical recommendations for journalists, civic educators, and others who hope to reduce misperceptions.

Journalism, News, and Information

The Fact-Checking Universe in Spring 2012: An Overview

February 1, 2012

By almost any measure, the 2012 presidential race is shaping up to be the most fact-checked electoral contest in American history. Every new debate and campaign ad yields a blizzard of fact-checking from the new full-time fact-checkers, from traditional news outlets in print and broadcast, and from partisan political organizations of various stripes. And though fact-checking still peaks before elections it is now a year-round enterprise that challenges political claims beyond the campaign trail.This increasingly crowded and contentious landscape raises at least two fundamental questions. First, who counts as a legitimate fact-checker? The various kinds of fact-checking at work both inside and outside of journalism must be considered in light of their methods, their audiences, and their goals. And second, how effective are fact-checkers -- or how effective could they be -- in countering widespread misinformation in American political life? The success of the fact-checkers must be assessed in three related areas: changing people's minds, changing journalism, and changing the political conversation. Can fact-checking really stop a lie in its tracks? Can public figures be shamed into being more honest? Or has the damage been done by the time the fact-checkers intervene?This report reviews the shape of the fact-checking landscape today. It pays special attention to the divide between partisan and nonpartisan fact-checkers, and between fact-checking and conventional reporting. It then examines what we know and what we don't about the effectiveness of fact-checking, using the media footprint of various kinds of fact-checkers as an initial indicator of the influence these groups wield. Media analysis shows how political orientation limits fact-checkers' impact in public discourse.

Journalism, News, and Information

The Rise of Political Fact-checking How Reagan Inspired a Journalistic Movement: A Reporter's Eye View

February 1, 2012

This report uses the Washington Post as a case study to trace the rise of modern political fact-checking. It considers fact-checking as a symptom of the larger, centuries-old struggle between the political establishment and the Fourth Estate to shape the narrative that will be presented to the voters. Through devices such as "Pinocchios" and "Pants-on-Fire" verdicts, journalists have formally asserted their right to adjudicate the truth or falsehood of the carefully-constructed campaign narratives of political candidates. This represents a shift of power back to the media following a low point during the run-up to the war in Iraq when The Post and other leading newspapers failed to seriously challenge the White House line on "weapons of mass destruction."The modern-day fact checking movement can be dated back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who attracted widespread ridicule for his claim that trees cause four times more pollution than automobiles. The ascent of political bloggers during the 2004 campaign put additional pressure on The Post and other mainstream news outlets to upgrade their fact checking operations. The Internet has democratized the fact-checking process by making information that was previously available only through expensive news databases such as Lexis-Nexis easily accessible to bloggers without any research budget.

Journalism, News, and Information; Media Access and Policy

Shaping 21st Century Journalism: Leveraging a "Teaching Hospital Model" in Journalism Education

October 28, 2011

Calls on journalism programs to become "anchor institutions" in the digitally networked age by pursuing a broader, community-oriented mission, testing new journalism models, exploring how journalistic ecosystems evolve, and shaping policymaking processes.

Journalism, News, and Information

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