Last Thursday, a 2200-word blog post circulated the internet, fact-checking five major statements made by newsmakers during the past Sunday’s broadcast of Meet the Press, on a site called “Meet The Facts.”
Who was behind it? Two college students, one from Brooklyn and one from Kansas, who share a common interest in holding politicians accountable. Chas Danner is a 31-year-old journalism student living in Brooklyn, and Paul Breer is a 24-year-old political science student in Kansas. They met through Facebook three days before the site was launched.
It all started when NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen proposed a “simple fix” for Sunday shows – and suggested that fact-checking what guests saying should be a top priority for all the major Sunday talk shows (Mediaite covered that here).
Both Danner and Breer were followers of Rosen on Twitter. “I read Jay Rosen’s blog and that’s where the inspiration for the group came from,” Breer told Mediaite over email. “On April 15th, I started a Facebook group strictly concerning the issue of Meet the Press’s lack of fact-checking.” Danner then found the group, started sharing ideas, and the campaign took off.
“A better informed public can only make better decisions, and that is beneficial to every political ideology. Facts turn down the volume and ground arguments on merits.”
It started as a campaign to pressure David Gregory to introduce fact-checking to Meet the Press. ABC’s Jake Tapper had already moved to introduce fact-checking (as well as live-tweeting of the broadcast) to the broadcast, bringing in Politifact’s Bill Adair to fact-check This Week guests. When asked by the Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz if MTP would do the same, host David Gregory responded that “People can fact-check Meet the Press every week on their own terms.”
So, Danner and Breer decided to take Gregory at his words and do exactly that.
Starting with the April 25th broadcast of Meet the Press, Danner, Breer, and third volunteer Jonah Ogles went through the show and began manually fact-checking five of statements made that seemed most relevant. Their first fact check, posted online last Thursday morning, was the culmination of three days of laborious research. MTF found that Erin Burnett gave inaccurate numbers of how many immigrants in America are undocumented — she said that there are “20 million people are in this country illegally,” while MTF’s fact-checking found that the most recent numbers from the Department of Homeland Security report indicate that there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
“The great thing about facts is that they possess no ideology by themselves. Fact-checking becomes a geometry-like confirmation process,” Danner said, discussing why he enjoys Sunday shows and started working on this project. “I think the partisanship of this moment in American history is alarming, and one of the ways to deal with it is to declare war on misinformation, whether from politicians, pundits, or the media. A better informed public can only make better decisions, and that is beneficial to every political ideology. Facts turn down the volume and ground arguments on merits.”
So far, their efforts are generating lots of positive buzz in the blogosphere and Twitter (and on this site). Rosen and other journalists have been sending the MTF team praise and suggestions for the future.
NBC, when asked for comment on Meet The Facts, told Mediaite over email: “We have no specific comment on the website, but in regards to fact-checking in general — one of the core missions of “Meet the Press” is accountability and we take that responsibility very seriously throughout an interview and in our preparation. In addition, we always welcome viewers and media monitoring groups to join the conversation by visiting our website, or downloading our app, where we post the transcript after the broadcast.”
It’s true, Meet the Press does post the transcripts right away after each week’s broadcast, providing significantly enhanced transparency for viewers. And Gregory does take his guests to tasks when they dodge questions: this past weekend, while interviewing Florida governor Charlie Crist, Gregory asked if Crist would caucus with Democrats or Republicans. Crist dodged, saying he would caucus with “the people of Florida,” and Gregory pressured him for an answer — until Crist finally sputtered that he would decide based on whatever the people of Florida wanted him to do. So Gregory’s not shy about holding politicians accountable and takes that responsibility seriously.
That does not mean, however, that there isn’t room to take further measures to hold MTP guests accountable for the statements they make on air. Meet The Press has long held the top spot in the Sunday morning talk show ratings, with This Week, Face the Nation, and Fox News Sunday trailing farther behind. The show has a long, storied history spanning over 62 years — years in which the program has enjoyed significant influence, serving as a platform for some very high-level agenda-setting. This past Sunday, the show celebrated its move to HD with a new set, and backstage after the first broadcast on the set, toasted to the past, present, and future of America’s highest-rated Sunday morning talk show, with an emphasis on its important place in the national conversation. So, keeping it accountable while it keeps politicians accountable can only help in that process.
Meet The Press is the Sunday show leader, and has been number one in the ratings for years. But Jake Tapper, since taking the interim host spot at ABC’s This Week, has been listening to suggestions from Rosen and other bloggers — introducing live-tweeting of the broadcast (which I suggested on Mediaite earlier this year) as well as fact-checking segments online with Politifact. Tapper is wasting no time – and the ratings show that This Week has been gaining on Meet the Press this year, narrowing previously sizable gaps in total viewers and viewers aged 25-54 and growing in total viewers nearly every week this spring. Meet The Press still holds on tightly to the number one spot in the Sunday morning ratings, but it’s anybody’s guess what could happen in the coming months, as ABC introduces new features and a new host, Christiane Amanpour, in August.
In the meantime, however, there will be more broadcasts — which means more facts to check. “Our dream is that Meet The Press changes their mind and puts a fact-check in place, maybe decides Meet The Facts is a great name for the feature (which it is) and then we’ll just give them the domain and the various usernames,” writes Danner. “I certainly don’t imagine one of my life’s callings is to be fact-checking Meet The Press forever.”
A New Look – And Old Emotions – At Meet The Press [Mediaite]
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