Fact Checking: Does it change things?

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Fact checking journalism has become wildly popular during the current U.S. presidential election. Both candidates have given false claims during the first two debates, and news organizations have been quick to set the story straight.

Supporters of both Trump and Clinton gather near the MSNBC stage on the UNLV campus. (Gianluca Cuestas)

“Checkers” have been valuable in debunking claims made without backed up facts or explanations. During Face the Nation Diary Wednesday, Oct. 19, John Dickerson from CBS commented on the difference between previous presidential debates and current ones in comparing the tactics of Donald Trump and Ronald Raegan.

“So much of speeches in politics today is so far away from the old norm when in politics, a candidate had to make a case and needed evidence and facts to back up that case,” Dickerson said.

According to NPR, there were 29 fact-checking brands in the U.S. in 2015, 24 of which had been created after 2010. As of August 2016, there were 34 active state and local fact-checkers across the country, according to the Duke Reporters’ Lab global database of fact-checking ventures.

Politicians at both state and federal levels turn to fact checkers to substantiate their claims when it supports their arguments. According to the American Press Institute, House and Senate statements from 2013 and 2014 show that lawmakers cited national media fact checks 80 times in floor speeches and debates to reinforce their own point of view or to challenge an opponent’s argument.

According to Brendan Nyhan from Dartmouth College, Jason Reifler from the University of Exeter and their comprehensive July overview of fact-checking studies, fact checking may not necessarily be all that effective in correcting misconceptions.

“The strength of people’s directional preferences about political issues can also make it difficult to counter highly salient misperceptions,” the report said. “People have difficulty accurately updating their beliefs after finding out that information they previously accepted has been discredited.”

The report also supports the idea that beyond a hesitancy to trust facts that don’t reinforce a person’s current beliefs, there’s a partisan divide in trusting fact checks.

“Among high-knowledge subjects, 59 percent of Democrats had ‘very favorable’ opinions of fact-checkers, compared to 34 percent of Republicans,” the report said.

Jeremy Pope, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said people will discount information from sources they believe are biased. The functionality of fact checking depends on how the “checkers” are perceived.

“Voters are fairly resistant to messages that feel biased (from their point of view) and they can often ignore messages that — though truthful — are not seen as credible from the source,” Pope said.

Marilyn O’Leary, a Trump supporter from Houston, Texas, said he doesn’t believe checking the facts stated at the debate would affect her vote in any way.

“I don’t believe fact checking will affect my vote at all simply because of the way things have a tendency to get confused or turned around and misinterpreted,” O’Leary said. “In today’s world there is just too much deceit that can go on. I feel that if I hear it out of the mouth of the candidates, … that speaks to me more than the facts.”

Other voters like Audrey Martinez, a Hillary Clinton supporter from Chino Hills California, believe fact checking is necessary to making an informed decision.

“You have to fact check everything,” Martinez said. “It’s just, it’s not consistent.”

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[/vc_column][/vc_row]Rally attendees give their opinions about fact checking on the UNLV campus. (Gianluca Cuestas and Haley Hilton)

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