In this age of information and mobile phones with Google in our pocket, I ask myself, and hereby you: Why don't politicians get fact checked immediately?

I guess that a lot of what a politician says is free speech and his own opinion and cannot directly be corrected but, if we take the good Mr. Trump as an example (and I know I beat a dead horse at this time), we have a lot of occasions where a reporter with a phone could just invalidate most of what he is saying.

This is also highly noticeable on campaigns where a lot of politicians make ludicrous statements or straight up lie to their supporters. As a person who watches the political downfall of the American democratic system with great pain, I try to comprehend how people are still putting up with this utter nonsense.

Why is there no public or government agency immediately fact checking most of what politicians are saying? The truth, even when not a lot of people care, should be the most important thing.

  • 8
    How would this fact-checking manifest? interrupting?
    – user19831
    Jul 24 '18 at 12:09
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    This question seems overly broad. Good journalists who are interviewing someone should - and some do - interrupt and point out falsehoods. Asking for a reason why they don't might be on-topic (answers might be fear of loss of access, their viewers just not caring about facts, facts contradicting their political stance, etc).
    – tim
    Jul 24 '18 at 12:30
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    News programs should point out falsehoods - and some do - when reporting about issues. Some even do this (semi-) live (eg by having a banner such as "President X falsely claims Y"); but thorough fact-checking may take more than a couple of seconds in many cases. Asking why not all news organizations have such live-checking, or why some just don't care that much about facts in general. seems off-topic/too broad (the question currently isn't even restricted to news organizations; the question could also be interpreted as "why isn't there a government organization or similar to do fact checking")
    – tim
    Jul 24 '18 at 12:30
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    Who would this government agency be run by? I mean, who would decide who was in charge of it? Jul 24 '18 at 14:20
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    Exactly! Think about that: a government agency to tell you whether the government is telling the truth?
    – user15103
    Jul 24 '18 at 15:39

Fact checking is neither easy nor instantaneous.

The time taken to fact-check even a simple statement and do it thoroughly is measured in hours, not minutes.

For example, let's take one of Trump's most famous and simplest lies, one most clearly known to be false, that his inauguration was the biggest in history. To get a definitive answer you need to:

  • Go and find photographs of the crowd
  • Check that those photographs are not selective or published by biased sources
  • Compare to photographs of previous inaugurations
  • Check that those previous photographs are not selective or published by biased sources
  • Get metro ridership records
  • Check that those ridership records are genuine, not selective and not biased (yes, the Trump administration published statements including only half the ridership from the Obama inauguration in an attempt to claim the Trump inauguration was bigger)
  • Verify other claims and data that one side or the other is using in support of their case
  • Get multiple sources for anything you claim.

None of these are trivial to do, or can be done by a journalist standing in a press room whose job is to report on what is being said in the room.

  • Point taken, however some assertions are easy to check, or may even be something that the journalists have prior knowledge. Example: Sarah Sanders saying that the WH is looking into stripping J. Comey's TS security clearance, anyone that has been paying attention knows that Comey does not have TS clearance. So there is an appropriate question to be asked, and could have been asked immediately.
    – BobE
    Jul 24 '18 at 15:12
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    @BobE I've been paying attention and I didn't know that. Also it's conceivable that you only 'know that' because you have a favourite source who you believe, and they say that. Getting these things right is not obvious. Jul 24 '18 at 16:30
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    I "learned" that several months ago from the NYT or WPo,, I don't remember which and my confirmed by my cousin who works for the FBI doing security clearances. "when you are fired you lose clearances"
    – BobE
    Jul 24 '18 at 17:32
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    @BobE Which actually makes my point. If you didn't have your cousin to contact you probably wouldn't be able to confirm that. The bottom line is - checking facts takes work and time. Jul 24 '18 at 17:34
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    @BobE There's a difference between not having a clearance and not having an active clearance. Leaving a job that requires clearance (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) does inactivate your clearance, but it doesn't automatically revoke it. Now, if you were fired for violating the clearance, then your clearance would probably also be revoked, but it's not required if, for example, you're fired because your boss doesn't like you. Getting another job that requires a clearance is a lot easier with an inactive clearance vs. a revoked one.
    – reirab
    Jul 24 '18 at 18:54

Question: Why don't politicians get fact checked immediately?

If the emphasis is on "immediately", I generally agree that it may not be possible to challenge a politician's statement in real time. It maybe possible on occasion, but not consistantly. To that extent I agree with @Clayworth's answer.

However, if the "immediately" is dropped from the question, now asking 'Why don't politicians get fact checked?', the answer is they DO get fact checked.

Whether a population believes a "fact checker" or not is an entirely separate question and discussion.

  • 14
    This captures the most important aspect of this issue, that even if there was some perfectly neutral arbiter of truth, people whose worldviews don't align with reality would simply dismiss this fact-checker as fake news and carry on.
    – Gramatik
    Jul 24 '18 at 16:40
  • This is the best answer as it points out the question is based on a faulty premise.
    – user1530
    Jul 24 '18 at 18:33
  • Re possible on occasion: See for example this exchange from the second Obama-Romney debate.
    – Kevin
    Jul 24 '18 at 19:59

Who fact-checks the fact-checkers? Your wish requires that there be some institution that can never be corrupted, or have its own agenda, and which everyone trusts. You mention Google.

Google. Really?

Here are some other suggestions: CNN. Fox News. The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal. Facebook. Wikipedia.

Or how about these: The FBI. The Department of Justice. Any major university. The Catholic Church.

Do you begin to see the problem? There is no institution that cannot be accused of bias or corruption. And we are living in an age when all of these institutions are notably more biased, and less effective at hiding it, than in prior decades when we could believe (incorrectly) that the media and major corporations were trying to be impartial.

Another way to answer your question is to say: this "fact checking" is already happening. You can certainly go to your favorite left-wing blog to get instantaneous negative reactions to everything Trump says. You could go to your favorite right-wing blog to get instantaneous negative reactions to anything a prominent liberal says. They will tell you just what you want to hear: everything [the politician you don't like] says is a lie.


Why don't politicians get fact checked immediately?

They increasingly do, by other politicians, and by journalists and independent observers; especially on social media sites like Twitter.

You can find and follow reporters, politicians of all stripes, experts in any subject you can imagine, celebrities, and supporters and opponents of anyone or anything. Interested observers frequently live-tweet responses (cheers and jeers and snide remarks) about political speeches as they are happening.

Unfortunately, distinguishing "good" fact-checking from biased partisan opposition is not a simple matter.

Why is there no public or government agency immediately fact checking most of what politicians are saying?

The trivial answer is that government agencies don't exist on their own, someone has to create them. And nobody has garnered sufficient support to propose a government agency like this, pass appropriate legislation, and get it signed into law by the president.

The less trivial answer is that you are very unlikely to find widespread support for this idea in America:

  • Journalists would view this as their job, not the government's
  • There is a serious argument that this would violate the "free speech" provision of the 1st Amendment (since it would be a government agency doing this "fact-checking"), and be declared unconstitutional by the courts
  • Conservative politicians don't want to spend more money creating government agencies
  • Politicians in general seem unlikely to support an agency designed to fact-check themselves

Most importantly, how would the public have any confidence that this hypothetical agency would be truly independent? Would they really be as critical of their own leaders as they would their political opponents?

  • Ah, Twitter. Arguably the most unreliable source ever conceived, except perhaps for Facebook.
    – user285
    Jul 24 '18 at 20:22
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    @RobertHarvey Yep. Twitter gets a +1 on the "in real time" scale, -5 on the "necessarily reliable" scale. Although, if you carefully curate your own follow list, you'll be seeing the opinion of those you have grown to trust.
    – BradC
    Jul 24 '18 at 20:26
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    For a most people, “those you have grown to trust” means “those whose lies agree with you.”
    – WGroleau
    Jul 25 '18 at 2:51

One thing that I don't see mentioned yet is that many "facts" are open to interpretation. Sure, you might be able to come up with a few very firm facts that are easy to verify, but so much of the "fact checking" that I see comes down to interpreting the meaning of a saying, or the politician leaving out some qualifiers that makes their statement technically true, but possibly false depending on small, unspoken details.

Unfortunately, I don't have a hard example to give at the moment, but my main point is that most fact checking is not a simple search that leads to a "right or wrong" answer.


The answer is: there is no point to fact checking politicians. Exactly what is accomplished? If a politicians is found to be wrong on a fact it is not going to affect those who support him just as when the politician is correct about a fact that his antagonists don't believe, it is not going to change any minds.

Politics is not about cold hard facts, its about feelings and force of personality. How does that would be leader makes you feel? Can he be a presence in the room where everyone else has to stop and look?

For example, I can tell everyone that soft drinks have a ton of sugar and lead to diabetes and other health problems, or I can tell you that Michael Jackson endorses Pepsi. Which is going to be a bigger presence?

Politics is about the gut, not the brain.

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    This is how politics are conceived by the people but this is not how politics should be. If we accept that the political environment is already that poisoned. Maybe this is how people are looking at it at the moment but Politics should be cold hard facts.
    – Amundi
    Jul 24 '18 at 12:50
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    A good sentiment, but will never happen because of human nature. People will die for "Every man must do his duty" but will not die for "Enemy soldiers will shoot and attempt kill as many of you as they can with 15% of you are guaranteed to die". Further, the difference between a mob and a cabal is the leadership Jul 24 '18 at 12:56
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    I share your pessimism but i cannot allow myself to think that way because then we already have lost. For me this is a problem that needs work. Not a sad fact about human nature.
    – Amundi
    Jul 24 '18 at 12:59
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    I don't think it is pessimism, you are looking at this from the wrong point of view. This is not a flaw in human nature, it is a survival instinct, it is what keeps civilization from anarchy. I grew up in a third world country and believe me, you don't want anarchy. A strong personality keeps everyone rowing in the same direction, everyone rowing in the same direction develops a sense of community that the leader is constantly afraid of. Of course, this is in the "All things being equal" sense. In RL, things are more messy, but not as messy as Anarchy. Jul 24 '18 at 13:04
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    @BobE That is right on, to further belay the point (Apologies), since we, as the consumers of "fact checkers" cannot independently confirm the veracity of any fact-checking agency, we are at the mercy of reputation and belief of those agencies. In other words, when even Snopes can make mistakes, how are we to judge the absolutes of whether a human politician is being truthful or not? Jul 24 '18 at 16:32

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