If David Gregory won’t fact check Meet the Press, these college students will
by Simon Owens
“People can fact-check Meet the Press every week on their own terms,” Meet the Press’ David Gregory told the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, shrugging off the suggestion that the Sunday show should follow the lead of ABC’s ‘This Week,’ which recently received heaps of praise for teaming up with PolitiFact to fact-check each week’s guest so no untruth slips through unchallenged. The original idea for a fact checking counterpart stemmed from NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen who, along with others, showed disdain for Gregory’s flippant dismissal to a formal fact-checking process.
Chas Danner was one of the many annoyed by Gregory’s comment. As a 31-year-old undergraduate journalism student in NYC, Danner is a regular reader of Rosen’s and not long ago set off to find out whether there was a Facebook group trying to pressure Gregory to change his mind. “This would be a pretty easy thing to get a group going to help pressure Meet the Press,” he told me during a phone interview. “And so I went on and it turns out there was already a group started by this guy named Paul Breer. All I knew about him is that he’s a guy from Kansas. So I joined the group, made a couple quick graphics and then gave him some advice.”
Those back-and-forth messages led to the formation of Meet the Facts, which describes itself as a “non-partisan grassroots effort to encourage the NBC television program Meet The Press to incorporate a formal fact checking procedure for all statements made on air by its guests.” Though the main gist of its effort is to get NBC to take this burden upon itself, this week the group published a detailed analysis of the most recent Meet the Press episode, weighing the accuracy of the assertions on the show much in the same way as you’ll see Politifact and Factcheck.org assess statements. “We got a volunteer who emailed us and said, ‘if you need help, let me know,’” Danner said. “And he ended up being great helping us do research, and the three of us looked over the episode, tried to find stuff to check, and went out and dug into it.”
This task, they found out, was not easy. Danner estimated that between the three of them it took 12 hours to research and he spent the better part of a day trying to format it into a digestible blog post. It turns out that fact-checking an episode is a time-consuming process, which is especially important when you consider that all three were doing so without getting paid. If the group wants to continue this from week to week, they’ll likely have to amass more volunteers and devise an efficient way to split up the work.
Understandably, Danner would like to hand off much of this work to a third-party group, perhaps a university journalism program, and he’s open to anyone who wishes to team up with the group. He said it’s up in the air right now whether they’ll actually be able to fact check every week, so this is why the main thrust of Meet the Facts is to get Meet the Press to take its own initiative in organizing a fact checking organization, either from an outside group (what Danner prefers) or in-house.
“I think that’s certainly the essential goal right now, to get as many people as possible to take action, and do whatever they can and get [Meet the Press and other Sunday shows] to change course. This isn’t a hard sell, it’s a pretty simple thing. And beyond that, if Meet the Facts needs to turn into some kind of counterpoint to Meet the Press, where we provide that service, I think we’re ready to take it to that level. But it’s a matter of finding the resources, the human resources … I don’t imagine my life’s calling is to fact check Meet the Press forever, but this may change the culture of Sunday talk shows.”