THE BLOG
10/18/2010 12:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fact Check vs. FACT CHECK

Don't you hate it when people play fast and loose with the facts? Political season has a lot of that going on. What follows is my opinion.

While doing research for another piece I hit this page.

I don't know if it will be there very long after this article gets the attention I hope this gets, but here's the core of what I am going after:

(Glenmoore, PA) - Today, the campaign of Congressman Jim Gerlach released a FACT CHECK on Manan Trivedi's misleading new television ad.

"Manan Trivedi's entire campaign ad is false and misleading. No one has ever attacked his military service and the fact is he hasn't lived in this district since he was four years old. Trivedi is the most liberal, out of touch candidate that has ever run against Jim Gerlach," said Mark Campbell, spokesman for Gerlach's campaign. "He supports higher taxes, more spending, and has very extreme positions like using tax dollars to pay for abortions, and supporting condom distribution in our public schools. You can read his documented answers here."

When most of us in the political world see something like this, we want to see the original. Since there was no URL, I went to the FactCheck.org web site. You know the one. The one everyone looks for when there needs to be a level playing field with credibility.

So when I went to look for something about this race nothing was there. That was troubling. I called, emailed and eventually got this response:

Hi Joe,

I hope nobody is confused by the way Rep. Gerlach (and many others) are using the term "Fact Check" these days. It's a generic phrase, and anybody can use it. But it shouldn't be mistaken for the one and only, original "FactCheck.org."

The critique to which you refer to is the product of Rep. Gerlach's campaign, and is a partisan political document. We haven't mentioned him or his opponent on our website at any time during this campaign, and we haven't examined that particular ad, or reached any conclusion about it one way or the other.

I hope that helps. Feel free to quote any of this as you please.

Brooks Jackson
Director, FactCheck.org

Brooks was very nice when I got her on the phone and suggested that it may be time for FactCheck.org to use a logo or something to denote that the reporting is accurate. I am sure it isn't the first time that suggestion was made, and it won't be the last.

In the common lexicon of today's world, FactCheck, as in FactCheck.org, has become somewhat of a Kleenex Brand in political circles. To fact check something is different than to FACT CHECK something. To say FACT CHECK it is to imply a brand or a proper noun. It is being used in this way in the mainstream media.

As one can see, there appears to be a level of intentional confusion being placed into the Gerlach attack piece. I guess that goes with "Voter Beware."

The really sad thing is in order to score a small point with the political ad, it appears a sitting Congressman's campaign has no trouble eroding the reputation of a legitimate watchdog organization.

It is almost as though the Gerlach Campaign can't use its own moral authority to call out a Trivedi ad as false. (I hope you notice that I am making no judgments on the validity of the Trivedi ad.) They had to make up some other authoritarian figure (FACT CHECK - not to be confused with FACTCHECK.ORG) as a shield. Oh, a higher authority said it, so it must be right.

But since they needed to make up an imaginary authority figure, how much of the rest of what they are saying will hold water? Maybe the campaign doesn't believe it has credibility of its own and that is why it needs to create something that will give it to them. Are those running the campaign caught with their own cynicism showing?

So the ultimate irony of this situation is: The Gerlach Campaign has eroded the credibility as the very thing they are using to gain credibility.

Pulling a stunt like this may produce a desired effect among those who are "his" people, but it desensitizes the rest of us to want to trust ANYTHING we read or watch.

The country is hungry for a pure source of truth - now more than ever. When someone who is supposed to be a leader in this country appears to be fouling one of the few reservoirs of good information, is it any wonder everyone looks around as we are ticked off at one another?