Daily Show's Jon Stewart admits PolitiFact is right, then misleads about its Lie of the Year rulings
As a Twitter friend pointed out, you know you're cool when the Daily Show devotes a whole segment to you (unless your last name is Weiner).
Host Jon Stewart actually apologized Tuesday for asserting that Fox News viewers are consistently ranked among the most misinformed, after the St. Petersburg Times' own fact-checking website PolitiFact pointed out that several survey results actually questioned that notion. (The upshot, is that viewers of all general interest news outlets often score badly on such polls, and there are some Fox News shows where the audience polls as more informed than, say, The Daily Show's viewers)
But then, Stewart went on to list several false rulings issued by PolitiFact that he said involved statements on Fox News, including the notion that the health care law championed by President Obama was a government takeover of health care (lie of the year 2010) and the notion that the health care law would require "death panels" of bureaucrats deciding when senior citizens and the disabled would be denied care (lie of the year 2009).
But Stewart's segment omits a rather obvious fact: PolitiFact's own Lie of the Year rulings don't actually mention Fox News at all.
This 2010 Lie of the Year story tags many members of the conservative political establishment for spreading the phrase, crediting its origin to pollster Frank Luntz and asking House Speaker John Boehner's office why they use the phrase when so many fact-checking organizations have concluded it is false.
In its inaugural Lie of the Year analysis in 2009, PolitiFact also failed to mention Fox, crediting former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for first using the phrase "death panels" and citing the various ways politicians on both sides of the debate handled the phrase.
But Stewart's presentation implied that PolitiFact ruled Fox false for using those phrases. Indeed, the media analysis website Mediaite reported it that way in its piece on Stewart's bit.
Also, the Daily Show bit never details how Fox supposedly used any of the falsehoods Stewart lists. Were they uttered by opinion-makers like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly -- asserting opinions are different than stating facts -- or presented during news reports? Or both?
On the surface, it seems silly to hold Stewart's comedy show to the same accuracy standards as a cable channel which purports to be a trustworthy, accurate source of news reporting. But Stewart and the Daily Show producers know the real juice exciting audiences about their show is the notion that the absurdities they present in their satires are true.
And if large numbers of viewers believe it is true, that makes the presentation ripe for fact-checking.
Liberal-oriented watchdog Media Matters does have a list of the ways Fox News hosts have referred to the health care bill as a government takeover. And I have often written about the ways they have quite deliberately tilted the news conversation against Democratic and liberal issues in their opinion and news products.
I also think it's odd that PolitiFact's rulings didn't mention Fox News or their role in spreading such misinformation. It did mention how many times CNN and the Washington Post used the phrase "government takeover," but did not provide a similar tally for Fox News or liberal oriented cable newschannel MSNBC.
Still, Stewart seems in danger of making the same mistake many Fox News critics have made before -- overlooking how subtle and well-crafted much of the channel's rhetoric is. Combating that requires specific, accurate critiques.
And, sometimes, just admitting when you get something wrong and moving on.
Check out the segment below, click on the links above and decide for yourself.