Fact Checking the Conventions

By on September 13, 2012

Blog by Rachel Cogut

In politics as in anything else, it’s important to get the facts straight. Since Vice Presidential candidate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, made a number of misleading claims in his speech at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30, a debate has been sparked on the role of fact checking should play in elections.

To drive the point home for the GOP, Neil Newhouse, the Romney campaign’s pollster, said, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” during a breakfast discussion at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Falsehoods are told and repeated in campaigns with every election cycle, and the line between acceptable political argument and outright lie is often blurred. But recent events have raised new questions about whether there is still any penalty in our current political culture for deceiving voters.

It appears as though both political parties no longer care about repeating falsehoods and misleading statements, because it gets votes. This brings us to the more disturbing point – the American electorate does not seem to have any major objections to being lied to by campaigns, candidates and elected officials.

There is no longer any real drawback for a campaign to lie to the electorate. For this reason, independent groups such as FactCheck.org of the Annenberg, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and Politifact.com, a fact-checking website of the Tampa Bay Times, are absolutely vital – especially during a campaign season.

Democrats and Republicans alike have promoted messages that twist the truth in this election cycle. However, some independent commentators have argued that the Romney campaign seems more dishonest in their repeated broadcasting of a commercial making a false claim that Obama wants to gut the work requirements of welfare. (Jon Stewart actually had an impromptu fact-check-off with Herman Cain on “The Daily Show” regarding this very issue).

Ideally, it is the job of journalists to hold government officials accountable for their public statements. However, with a diminished trust in traditional news outlets and the rise of the Internet and social media, it has become much easier for questionable assertions to slip into the stream of accepted media as facts.

Despite political campaigns, voters, and certain news outlets implicitly expressing disregard for the facts, the truth still matters. Here is why:

Fact Checking is actually crucial to a functional Democracy, which depends on an educated electorate. Hard numbers and facts are what educate the electorate on policy positions and voting records of the candidates for whom they will vote. These are the factors that should matter to voters as they dictate how any given candidate will represent their interests if elected.

“Facts don’t matter in America anymore,” said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts at a private fundraiser on Wednesday.

Let’s do what we can as idealistic young voters to turn this trend around. I don’t care whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above. I only care that you do your part to hold your elected officials accountable for their words. The truth does matter. We should hold our candidates to the highest standards in this regard.

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