Sunday, September 23, 2012

NBC Nightly News & The Importance of Fact Checking

Carolyn Menyes

There is just no denying it... The biggest story in the presidential race last week was the video of a leaked Mitt Romney speech from a private fundraiser.

The clip, originally posted by Mother Jones, sent shockwaves through the political sphere and voters. Here, democrats saw an opportunity to attack Romney, while republicans had to defend and clarify the remarks.

Brian Williams and the NBC Nightly News team took a different approach than many outlets. They decided to fact check the now infamous "47 percent" remarks in an extremely well done and accurate two minute segment.

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This fact checking showed that the "47 percent" does, in fact, exist: but they don't necessarily look like what Republicans or Romney would expect. This segment of the population consists of students, veterans, seniors and those who don't make enough money to pay an income tax (though they would pay a payroll tax). As Williams points out, many of the people Romney blasted are his very own supporters: older white males with high school diplomas.

This segment, entitled "Reality Check," is a semi-regular bit on NBC Nightly News. This shows a growing trend in journalism for politics, known as the fact check. In an age where politicians speak hyperbolically and as Stephen Colbert would say "from the gut," facts get misinterpreted, twisted and thrown out the window, it's not enough to just report on the news. Journalists have to make sure sound clips are valid.

As discussed in class, journalists are no longer the filter. Politicians, active social media users and bloggers often decide what is, in fact, news. So, while this may seem troubling for our profession, it just means we have to change our role. Now, it is incredibly important for journalists to keep a close eye on politicians.

When someone says 47 percent of people don't pay taxes and are therefore unnecessary to worry about: that's a problem. But it may be true (at least in part). The American people need to know what is and is not a factual statement. So then, it must be the journalists job to tell them.

I commend NBC Nightly News for this "Reality Check" segment, which was done in an unbiased manner. He clarified the remarks that Romney did not eloquently state himself. This segment was more than just gossip: it was fact. And that is what we need.

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