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New sites fact check politicians, journalists

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In a recent example, "Gephardt Ad Quotes Dean Out of Context," FactCheck provides a summary of a misleading Gephardt campaign ad (as well as a video and transcript of the ad itself), and then exposes the claims to the cold hard light of reality. (In this case, a criticism Dean made about Medicare's administration was presented in the ad as a condemnation of the program itself.) Other pieces examine the claim that Wesley Clark is a late convert from the Republican Party, and the Republican National Chairman's assertion that "80 percent of the tax relief for upper-income filers goes to small businesses."

In all cases, articles are accompanied by available video and transcripts, relevant facts and interview excerpts, and so readers can confirm for themselves that the quotes supplied aren't being used out of context, links to sources and supporting documents. Naturally, the number of articles is fairly small this early in the election year, but there is likely to be no shortage of material as the various campaigns proceed.

As for any suspicions of partisanship, FactCheck is a creation of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania - an entity which does not accept donations from "business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals." But don't be surprised if, while the Democrats are still fighting it out to find a new leader, there are more pieces about Democratic statements than Republican.

So we have FactCheck watching the politicians, but who's watching the watchers? After all, "embedded reporters" are old hat in political campaigns, and following a year in which large numbers of the American population were turning to the British Broadcasting Corporation to get the facts about the Iraq war, and Clear Channel was actually organizing and paying for pro-war rallies, one might be forced to entertain the possibility that even established news organizations can be vulnerable to bias and simple sloppy journalism. And in recognition of the fact that "All the news that's fit to print" is occasionally, well...junk, the Columbia Journalism Review has launched the Campaign Desk.

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