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The Uselessness of Fact Checking

By Matthew Yglesias on September 29, 2010 at 8:32 am

"The Uselessness of Fact Checking"

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Heather MacDonald’s excellent piece on Dinesh D’Souza opens thusly:

Forbes magazine has now “fact-checked” Dinesh D’Souza’s infamous September 27 cover story, “How Obama Thinks,” and has uncovered one “slight” misrepresentation, it says, of an Obama speech on the BP oil spill. Such a “fact-checking” feint is irrelevant to this travesty of an article; you can’t “fact-check” a fever dream of paranoia and irrationality. Sickeningly, while “How Obama Thinks” is useless as a guide to the Obama presidency, it is all too representative of the hysteria that now runs through a significant portion of the right-wing media establishment. The article is worth analyzing at some length as an example of the lunacy that is poisoning much conservative discourse.

The whole piece is worth reading, but I wanted to dwell on the aside about fact-checking simply because this is something people periodically get a bit confused about. The genius and the horror of something like D’Souza’s argument is that it’s perfectly possible to put together something utterly loopy that makes no factual errors whatsoever. Indeed, in some ways punctiliousness about the facts is the signature of the conspiracy theorist. Glenn Beck’s TV show is, in its way, the most fact-filled program on cable. It’s just that you can string together a lot of data points in a nutty way if you want to.

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