FlackCheck: Separating facts from political malarkey

Molly Wood Jan 5, 2012

The Iowa caucuses are behind us and they didn’t bring much clarity to the Republican field. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were separated by a mere eight votes with Ron Paul not far behind. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman are still in the race as well and many, many more states will be holding primaries and caucuses in the months to come. And even after all that is over, the general election is on the way. Whew. We’ll be hearing a LOT of political speeches in the near future.

Now there’s a new online way to try to separate the straight dope from the hot air, the brass tacks from the hooey, the truth from the not-so-much-the-truth. Flackcheck.org debuts today. It’s an attempt to accomplish the often dry task of political fact checking and have a few laughs along the way. No mean feat. In one of the videos featured on the site, Mitt Romney claims that if he’s elected, Iran will never have a nuclear weapon and if Barack Obama is re-elected, Iran will have such a weapon. Likewise, Romney guarantees employment to a college graduate if he wins office and guarantees unemployment to the same graduate if the President returns. This wild promising about unknowable turnouts is analogized to giving a free narwhal to every American.

Of course, there’s no shortage of political comedy in America right now. Just turn on any late night show. But Dannagal Young who works on the site and teaches at the University of Delaware says the goal here is different. “If you ask Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert why it is they do what they do,” she says, “they’re out to make people laugh, they’re out to have a good time, they’re out to make their audience entertained. We are hoping to have the audience have a good time, but at the same time, our hope is that the kind of attitudes that people will come away with will be sort of beneficial for democracy and for people’s ability to be informed.”

Flackcheck is an outgrowth of FactCheck.org, which has been picking apart political claims for years. It’s run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania where Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the director. She says there’s nothing wrong in making fact-checking a bit more appetizing with jokes.

“I’m hoping that we’re dipping our veggies in chocolate in a way that will increase the likelihood that we eat the broccoli that is factcheck.org,” she says. “And so one of the theories underlying this site is that we have an entire audience that doesn’t turn to traditional print journalism anymore. So, we’re asking the question, can we increase the likelihood that after having watched a two-minute video that features the highlights of a fact check of deception with a humorous twist, you will go to the link right below the video and read entire factcheck.org article. There’s an awful lot of content on web, but not a lot of it focuses on getting at accuracy and legitimate distinctions between candidates. We’re trying to increase the likelihood that we get more of that.”

Also in this program, the latest in egg-cooking technology! Because sometimes there are advances in egg-cooking technology. The new Piep Egg is a hard plastic egg that you throw in the pot with your actual eggs when you cook them. Then it alerts you via classic rock(!) when your eggs are ready to eat. “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple means soft-boiled, KISS’ “I Was Made For Loving You” denotes medium-boiled, and “The Final Countdown” by Europe is used for hard-boiled.

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