Saturday, October 27, 2007

The one Pinocchio given by 'Fact-Checker' is fair, the text isn't fair, and Dobbs forgot to give himself two

The pushback against the "nine errors" meme the press used against Gore has had some effect, as Washington Post's 'Fact Checker' column reluctantly limits itself to giving just a single Pinocchio to the allegation of a few errors in Gore's movie. It seems our side can also work the refs too and almost get some balance.

The 'Fact Checker' rating system awards "One Pinocchio" for "Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions and exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods."

Having read some of the discussion of alleged error, this seems fair to me for omitting discussion of timing for a 20-foot sea rise and for overemphasizing climate change's role in Chad and Kilimanjaro. I really don't care that Gore said people "all" had to leave their islands when only "some" of them did, that seems just like a slip of the tongue.

The 'Fact Checker' system awards two Pinocchios for "Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily." The 'Fact Checker', Michael Dobbs, clearly deserves at least this many for his own columns referring to "nine errors" while omitting the 'scare-quotes' that the judge used. In this last column, Dobbs claims the judge didn't always use scare quotes, referring to point 18 (really point 17.iii) and point 19. Point 19 refers to "errors, or departures from the mainstream" which doesn't clearly acknowledge error. Point 17.iii does acknowledge "errors and omissions in the film" though, the only place that appears unambiguous on that point. Fact Checker misses the possibility that not using scare-quotes in only one circumstance could have been a simple oversight. It still doesn't provide support for 'Fact Checker' claiming the judge said "nine errors" unambiguously.

'Fact Checker' fails to understand that the use of scare quotes is intended to convey meaning. I wrote the Washington Post ombudsman about this (and I emailed Dobbs about writing her) so I hope the Post someday figures it out.

UPDATE: I'll add that the one Pinocchio is fair as to the specific allegations, but not for the entire movie as a whole, which deserves no Pinocchios. You can't expect perfection, and these are minor points that amount mainly to bad examples of otherwise true and correct phenomenon.

UPDATE 2: One sentence rephrased for clarity.

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