Leave Fact-Checking to the Reporters

Journal-isms: The Los Angeles Times prefers the traditional way of verifying politicians' claims.

Jim Morin/Miami Herald
Jim Morin/Miami Herald

L.A. Times Not Waiting for Pieces by a Fact Checker

A few years back, the Los Angeles Times considered joining a runaway industry trend,” Erik Wemple wrote Friday for the Washington Post. “Everywhere you clicked on the political web, it seemed, someone was putting the drywall and paint on a stand-alone, cleverly branded fact-checking machine or at least some sort of discrete truth-outing posts.

“. . . Top editorial thinkers at the Los Angeles Times, however, passed up the temptation. ‘Our feeling was that the resources you would lose from overall newsgathering and putting them only on fact-checking — that the cost was just too high,’ says David Lauter, Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

“They came up with a prescription that nowadays looks revolutionary: ‘We could do fact-checking in the course of people’s normal reporting,’ says Lauter.

“That’s precisely what Lauter did this week, a feat that won him temporary cult status on the Internet. The topic of his story was a convention speech by Rick Santorum. Here’s what the headline said:

” ‘Rick Santorum repeats inaccurate welfare attack on Obama’

“That ‘attack’ was the well-worn GOP line about how President Obama has ‘waived’ work requirements for welfare. . . .”

Both Republicans and Democrats have lied. Robert Farley of FactCheck.org wrote last month, “A grieving widower in a new pro-Obama TV spot says his wife contracted cancer and died ‘a short time after’ Mitt Romney closed the steel plant that employed him and left ‘my family’ without health coverage. That’s not quite so.”

But as such writers as Thomas B. Edsall and Ezra Klein have pointed out in the New York Times and Washington Post, respectively, the difference with the welfare falsehoods is that they are about race.

Edsall, a former Post reporter now a professor of journalism at Columbia University, wrote last week, “The Republican ticket is flooding the airwaves with commercials that develop two themes designed to turn the presidential contest into a racially freighted resource competition pitting middle class white voters against the minority poor.”