- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fictional fact check

Beware, the fact checker cometh. Righteous scolds, content police and gaffe patrols are many these days, empowered by the Internet and a sense of mission somewhere between tattletale and patriot. Some are pros, some are not. But their findings can send veteran politicians scurrying from the campaign trail, too weary to defend themselves anymore. And fact-checking boldness grows. No one is excused. Already, the Bible is parsed for logic and accuracy by assorted academes. Perhaps the gaggle of eager Googlers will take on, say, the U.S. Constitution or the Gettysburg Address. Just imagine:

“Hey, wait a minute. Is it four score and seven, or four score and eight years ago here?”

Oh, it’s a scorched-earth policy across the media landscape all right, loaded with the land mines and IEDs of meaning monitors.

“I’m glad I’m out the press. Too touchy, too many snares. And I ask you. Is this really journalism?” demanded one scribe who recently ditched the mainstream media and resurfaced in federal service.

Good question.

“The new Great American Pastime. It’s fact checking,” says Craig Silverman of the Columbia Journalism Review. “Fact checking, along with its kissing cousin ‘calling [bovine excrement],’ is becoming one of the great American pastimes of the Internet age. We are in the midst of a blossoming of new forms of fact checking, particularly those that rely on crowdsourcing. This is a crucial addition to the discipline, because the traditional form of fact checking, which was primarily developed and used at American magazines, is declining at a rapid rate. As the professionals are told to pack up their World Almanac and Book of Facts and slouch off to the unemployment office, external groups and individuals are taking up the charge.”

The permutations of this new art are many.

“At the same time, the term ‘fact checking’ is so popular, and gets thrown around so much, that it’s losing its meaning. People say they’re fact checking a media report when they’re simply disagreeing with it. Major news organizations, caught up in the fact-check frenzy, are also abusing the idea. As noted by the Huffington Post, Mediaite, and a host of other Web sites, we reached a strange milestone when CNN dedicated a story to fact checking a comedy sketch from Saturday Night Live.”

Yeah, well. Hands off the Constitution, you guys.

Heroic measures

Attention, attention. Big cultural moment in process. Critics have demanded that Republicans get in touch with their roots — and indeed they have. The party has identified its official “heroes,” and here’s the list: Susan B. Anthony, Ronald Reagan, Pinckney Pinchback, Octavius Catto, Mary Terrell, Joseph Rainey, Jose Celso Barbosa, John Langston, Jackie Robinson, Hiram Revels, Frederick Douglass, Frank Johnson, Everett Dirkson, Ellen Foster, Edward Brooke, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clara Barton, Abe Lincoln.

Consult the newly unveiled Republican Web site (www.gop.com) for the snappy biographies — and make polite noises of appreciation. A hero is a hero. Still, it would be an interesting exercise to compare this list to a list of conservative “heroes.” Mr. Reagan, no doubt, would appear on both.

Quotes of note

“The Libertarian Party suggests that, in the future, the announcement date every year for Nobel Prizes be moved to April 1.” — Libertarian National Committee chairman William Redpath.

“I cherish the accomplishments of Margaret Thatcher and will always count her as one of my role models.” — Sarah Palin, on her Facebook page.

“One in five consumers have started their 2009 holiday shopping already.” — from a consumer analysis by Performics, a Chicago marketing group.

Days of yore

On this day in 1767, the English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon completed their survey of the boundary between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland as well as areas that would eventually become the states of Delaware and West Virginia, settling a long-standing dispute between the Penn and Calvert families over the borders. And voila: the Mason-Dixon line.

It took a while for the expanse to become a state: 142 years ago today, the U.S. formally took possession of Alaska after purchasing the territory — all 586,412 square miles — from Russia for $7.2 million, less than two cents an acre.

Because we sympathize with a friend who is trying to find a spouse on Match.com, we point out that the world’s first computer-arranged marriage took place on Art Linkletter’s “House Party” TV show on this day in 1958. Yes, 51 years ago.

Romance from another era: We also remember former first daughter Susan Ford, who announced her engagement to former Secret Service agent Charles F. Vance on this day in 1978. The couple were married from 1979 to 1988 and had two daughters; Miss Ford later married attorney Vaden Bales and now lives in Oklahoma.

Poll du jour

64 percent of Americans say high ticket prices have kept them from attending professional sports this year.

54 percent say they’d rather watch a pro game at home on TV; 42 percent prefer to see a game live.

26 percent of men say a win or loss by their team affects their mood the next day.

16 percent of women agree.

68 percent overall say football is the top pro sport.

15 percent cited baseball, 6 percent basketball, 3 percent auto racing, 1 percent golf.

Source: A Rasmussen reports survey of 1,000 adults conducted Oct. 7 and 8.

Follow Jennifer Harper at twitter.com/harperbulletin.

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