Fact-checking politics helps some, inhibits others
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 19:04
Senior Katie Oldham said she referenced social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter after watching the presidential debates. If she heard a topic that interested her, she said she used social media to further investigate but still paid close attention to what media outlets had to say.
Oldham said the facts and figures both President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney said during debates could be misleading. It is important to understand the candidates strategically use facts to support their claims, she said.
“Being a psychology major, I know how a statistic can be pulled out of context to skew the majority,” Oldham said. “Getting a quick synopsis of the debate is great, but the media will try to sway people by focusing their attention on a certain fact or issue.”
Numerous media outlets have offered live fact-checking during the debates. Websites such as Factcheck.org allowed people to ask their own questions based on statements made in the debates.
Political science and international relations professor James Magee said most Americans do not fact-check for themselves.
“Who has the time to check all of the facts from a debate?” Magee said. “We depend on the reporters to do that. It is one of the primary responsibilities of the news industry.”
He said because most people do not have the time, voters tend to look to polls to base their opinions on candidates. Polls tend to be fairly accurate and become more crucial as the election nears, Magee said.
Nevertheless, he said they do not have much of an influence on people because most have already made up their minds. According to Magee, 65 percent of people identify with a political party and will most likely not vote opposite of their political affiliation.
Junior Lisa George said political polls do not influence her because she makes her own opinions about the candidates. Although she identifies as a Republican, she said she is still unsure of who she will vote for on Election Day.
“Most of my family are Republicans so I would typically vote Republican, but Romney has been vague on so many issues that it has become very difficult this year to choose between the two candidates,” George said.
Magee said with the endless amounts of media coverage and polls, it becomes easy for Americans to not think for themselves. He said he wishes Americans would go to better lengths to obtain information and form their own opinions, which would in turn create a healthier and stronger democracy.
With the debates packing in as much information as possible in an hour and a half, keeping track of the many topics discussed each night may be a burden. Magee said he does not even watch the debates for the content. Instead, he looks at how the candidates present themselves and whether or not he thinks they are intelligent and he can trust them.
Likewise, Marvasi said he bypasses many of the issues in the debate and focuses on body language and preparedness.
Senior Rob Hartman, on the other hand, said he tries to stay away from the media altogether.
“The media is a monster,” Hartman said. “They can say whatever they want to influence a person. It is good that they encourage people to vote because that is important, but the messages they send out about one candidate or another are almost always negative.”
Magee said this election campaign is very different from years past because most presidential nominees usually do not skew the facts. He said he has been covering presidential elections since 1968, but has never seen candidates throw out numbers and misuse facts so much as they have this year.