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TV Reporter Discusses Her Work Fact Checking Political Ads

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When Channel 4's Shaun Boyd sits down to fact check a political ad, for her station's "Reality Check" feature, the first thing she does is ask for documentation from the people that produced it.

"Sometimes they send it before the ad starts running," Boyd told me. "They drown me with information."

Boyd sits at her desk sifting through the documents and doing other research.

So while most TV reporters spend their time shooting footage and writing stories, she says, with Reality Check, she spends most of her time as a researcher.

"Some days it's brain damage," says Boyd. "But my hope is I give people information they use to make informed decisions."

She gets criticism from all sides. "It's amazing they're looking at the same piece," she says.

Most often the criticism is directed at the final portion of her analysis, which is called the "Bottom Line."

Here's Boyd's "Bottom Line" for two anti-Romney ads:

Bottom Line: "This ad is trying to channel our resentment over high oil prices to Mitt Romney. But if Romney is a tool for Big Oil, this ad fails to make the case."
Bottom Line: "The ad says women, a key voting bloc, should be troubled by Mitt Romney's position on abortion. And they should, because it's changed so many times. Mitt Romney brought this one on himself."

You can see why these conclusions could piss off people. It's not as if all fact-checking isn't interpretive to some degree, especially when stuff like "What You Need to Know" is added, but the "Bottom Line" makes the interpretation more obvious.

"The 'bottom line' [segment] is, here's what's really happening," says Boyd. "It could be, 'here's why they're doing this.' It could be, 'here's the take-away.'"

Boyd says the "bottom-line" comment is what separates CBS4's "Reality Check" from the other stations' ad-checks. So despite the blowback from the campaigns, she says it's worth it.

Reality Check airs on CBS4 during the 6 p.m. broadcast because, Boyd told me, they "require people to think" and "viewers at 10 p.m. are sometimes tired and don't want to think more."

So far this year, Channel 4 has analyzed more political ads than any other station in Denver (all are doing it), but as the election approaches, she predicts she'll spend more time on the campaign trail and less behind her desk.

"People start to tune out the political ads toward the end," says Boyd, who's been doing Reality Check since 2010 and has been at Channel 4 for 15 years. "By the time we get into September, Reality Check becomes less effective. It's something we've learned."

Boyd will not repeat an analysis of an ad that makes a claim that she's already addressed in a previous Reality Check. As the election nears, she expects to see fewer and fewer ads containing new allegations, meaning she'll focus her political reporting elsewhere.

"I try to apply a Reality-Check veneer to every story I do," She told me, "rather than reporting that this candidate said this and this candidate said that."

"The vast majority of people, their eyes glaze over when a political story comes on," Boyd says. "My challenge is to make it matter to them."