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Fact Checking Failure in Five Easy Steps

Glenn Kessler's nose is growing.

4:03 PM, Feb 8, 2012 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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Maybe Freeman's work as labor economist is reliable enough, though the stuff Kessler cited by him isn't exactly convincing or particularly relevant to the point the Center for Union Facts was making. And similarly, Bernstein is not ignorant of the issues here. But if you're going to go out of your way to identify Berman and the Center for Union Facts as unreliable corporate shills, you ought to at least acknowledge the sources you're using to impugn them can pretty accurately be described as committed and ideological pro-union partisans. (Note that this is not the first time Kessler has employed very selective and dubious sourcing.)

So to sum up, here's the basic outline of what Kessler did here:

1) Raise the issue of a specific claim made by a pro-corporate group about the percentage of union members who actually voted for the union that represents them.

2) Attack the source of that claim in a manner totally unrelated to the substance of the claim.

3) Unconvincingly attack the claim on the substance by using rather selective and argumentative evidence from sources that he fails to identify as being extremely pro-union.

4) Concede that the claim is "technically correct" in the piece's conclusion.

5) Give the claim three out of four Pinnochios for not telling the truth.

This is what the major media proudly calls "fact checking." I think most reasonable people would conclude it's misleading and deceptive, if not outright dishonest.

UPDATE: In an friendly email, Kessler does note two objections to my piece. One is that he did link to Berman's own site for a more favorable review of his work. Somehow when I cut and pasted the excerpt, that link got lost. A fair objection, but one that doesn't begin to make up for the fact that Berman was framed in an unduly negative light unrelated to the substance of Center for Union Facts's claim.

His second point is that he did link to bios of Jared Bernstein and Richard Freeman, supposedly to give readers something of an idea of who he was sourcing. However, neither link to Bernstein's official bio on the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities website or Freeman's Harvard faculty page begins to explain the necessary context of how entrenched these two men are with unions.

Finally, if I've been unsparing in my criticism of Glenn Kessler, that's largely because as an emerging form of journalism I find "fact checking" irredeemably biased and inherently flawed as it's popularly practiced. That said, Glenn Kessler should be given some credit for updating his item to note my objections. As far as I can tell, he's been more receptive to criticism than the other major fact checkers.

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