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Why Won't NBC Fact-Check Its Sunday Talk Shows?

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The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz noted this morning that NBC's "Meet the Press," still the most watched Sunday public affair show, is posed to undergo some cosmetic changes. It will not, however, follow ABC's lead on the fact-checking front.

[A]ccepting a challenge from New York University's Jay Rosen, interim host Jake Tapper has arranged for the St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact site to fact-check what "This Week" guests say after each program.

An "interesting idea," Gregory allows, but not one the NBC show will be emulating. "People can fact-check 'Meet the Press' every week on their own terms."

I'm not entirely sure what this means. At face value, it suggests a certain misunderstanding of the point of the exercise.

One of the Sunday shows invites a high-profile guest to discuss current events. The guest responds to pointed questions, and makes a variety of claims and arguments. Some of those claims and arguments will be accurate, and some won't. For the news consumer watching at home, the information gleaned from the interview is only useful if he/she knows whether the guest's comments are factual.

With that in mind, the Sunday shows have a couple of choices. First, hosts can become knowledgeable about the subject matter and fact-check the guests' claims during the program. Second, the shows can partner with independent fact-checkers like "This Week" has done with PolitiFact. Or third, some combination of the two.

Gregory's comments suggest a more traditional approach: let viewers figure things out "on their own terms." Why separate fact from fiction for news consumers when they can do that on their own?

Perhaps because they aren't well equipped to do this on their own, and rely on professional news outlets to provide them with reliable information.

For what it's worth, PolitiFact's fact-checking isn't part of the "This Week" broadcast, at least not yet, but has partnered with the show online. The first installment was published yesterday afternoon, and will apparently be updated again today.

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