On Sunday, with much fanfare, the Cleveland Plain Dealer announced that they were forming a “partnership” with PolitiFact:

PolitiFact Ohio is a joint venture of The Plain Dealer; its online affiliate, cleveland.com; and PolitiFact.com, a national Pulitzer Prize-winning website that helps sort out the true from the false in politics.

Our reporters and editors, working on PolitiFact’s scale, will examine the accuracy of politicians’ claims, advertisements, speeches, talking points and accusations. We’ll then rate the statements on the Truth-O-Meter, choosing among True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True, and False. The most outrageous falsehoods get the bottom rating: Pants on Fire.

Okay, so the Plain Dealer is teaming up with the crack team at the St. Petersburg Times that won the Pultizer Prize for national coverage for its fact-checking of the Presidential election? Right?

No, but that’s what the Plain Dealer has tried to create the impression.

Here’s how the Plain Dealer has done it on such pressing factual election claims like… whether the Cincinnati Reds was the first professional baseball team in the nation

  1. Plain Dealer reporter Aaron Marshall writes a story about Lt. Governor candidate Yvette McGhee Brown making a statement on a speech about urban policy and mentioning that Ohio is the home of the first professional baseball team.
  2. Same reporter kicks the story to “PolitiFact Ohio”: “See the full story at PolitiFact Ohio. Then come back here to comment.”
  3. Then you go to a “PolitiFact” story to weigh the claim:

Because it appears that no other team fielded a lineup of fully-professional players prior to the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869, we rule this claim to be True. If only all the calls made on the diamond were so clear-cut.

So who, exactly, who is the “we” who makes this determination?

Politifact

Wait, so the PolitiFact article was written by and researched by… the same reporter who told me to read what PolitiFact had to say about it when he is PolitiFact?

The Plain Dealer isn’t in a partnership with the PolitiFact from the St. Petersburg Times as much as they’ve just bought the right to use the PolitiFact brand in Ohio.

In other words, all the Plain Dealer is essentially doing is that instead of just having its reporters personally own their fact checking articles, its using the branding of PolitiFact, and its journalistic award-winning reputation, to make its own fact-checking seem like more than just an article written by its reporters.

Why the two separate columns?  Why the use of “we” when it’s being done largely by one reporter?  Why even the need to use the PolitiFact label at all?

For that reason, “we” at Plunderbund rate the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s use of PolitiFact as:

Pants on Fire!

  • Pink Slip

    I forget who it was (John Stewart maybe) who lamented the fact that a new organization needed a “special section” to fact-check. Shouldn't they have been doing that all along?

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  • Shalom Pink Slip,

    There was a time when fact checker was a job title independent from the reporter or writer on a story.

    Possibly one of the better known examples is the Michael J. Fox character in Bright Lights, Big City.

    One of the anecdotes I recall from Fox's preparation for the role was that during two days spent at Esquire as a fact checker he followed a chocolate cake recipe to make sure that it would, in fact, result in a chocolate cake.

    Andrew Hearst at Panopticist has reproduced a portion of Are You Completely Bald? from The New Republic on the topic.

    B'shalom,

    Jeff

  • Pink Slip

    Thanks for the link, Jeff.

    Regarding my original comment, I could have used a spell checker. I meant to type “news organization” and not “new organization”.

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