Facts Still Dead  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   February/March 2013

Facts Still Dead   

Columnist Rex Huppke, who wrote a widely read obit for Facts earlier this year, found little solace in the distortion-laden presidential campaign. Wed., November 14, 2012.

By Maddy Roth
AJR editorial assistant Maddy Roth (mroth@ajr.umd.edu) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.     


Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke attracted a great deal of attention last April when, disgusted by the avalanche of misinformation being tossed around on the campaign trail, he wrote an obituary for Facts.

The piece rapidly became a graveyard smash and an Internet sensation. It was shared on social media nearly 89,000 times in a matter of days.

Since that time, we've been through a hotly contested presidential election. So what was the impact on poor old Facts? Any likelihood of a resurrection, or did the politicos simply drive a stake through his heart?

Sounds like Huppke is leaning toward the latter.

"It got really bizarre," he says. "There was a level of dishonesty out there that was pretty striking."


Rex Huppke

Huppke cites Republican challenger Mitt Romney's widely debunked claim that Jeep was moving production jobs from the United States to China; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's evidence-free assertion that Romney failed to pay taxes for a decade; and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's error-laden convention speech as just a few of the many signs that Facts remains deeply buried. When Ryan said his iPod playlist "starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin," it was game over.

"It's hard, because we're bombarded with information, and if you have a life you're going to work, taking your kids to school, and finally you go home and fall asleep it's impossible to really keep on top of what's happening and what's right and wrong," Huppke says.

"For as great as all the access to information is, it has created an enormous amount of noise," he adds.

Huppke says the rise of blogs, which do not have the same checks and balances as traditional media, played a role in sealing Facts' fate. "But when you got to Twitter everyone and their uncle is a reporter."

Twitter is similar to a game of telephone, Huppke says. "If you have 20 people on the line, and you whisper something to the person next to you, it's totally different by the time it reaches the end of the line." Except this time, not everyone's laughing when the last person in line mistakes "banana" for "Romney's proposing a $5 trillion tax cut."

"Saying, 'I [read] this thing in the [newspaper] that Obama did' and 'I heard on Twitter what Obama did' is very different," Huppke says. "I think Twitter is like another vehicle for letting us zip around Facts."

Do people even miss Facts, or are they perfectly content hanging out with the survivors listed in Facts' obit, his brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and his sister, Emphatic Assertion?

"I think on the far right and far left there are people who want to hear what they want to hear..but I think there's a very broad middle that's too smart for that," Huppke says. "And I think it's a shame that both politicians, as well as ideological media outlets, have assumed that everyone's going to buy into it and [let] that be the end of it but I think the electorate is a lot smarter than that."

Huppke says those who find themselves really missing Facts can still turn to reputable news sources for consolation. "I still believe in the media, in the legitimate news organizations, the networks, the traditionally nonpartisan media outlets that will give you the best information," Huppke says. "Is it always right? No, of course not."

Huppke sees fact-checking Web sites FactCheck.org and PolitiFact, which analyze campaign trail claims, as Facts' guardian angels.

But, he says, there will always be people who see bias wherever they look. "I've written columns where both sides [Democrats and Republicans] have gotten mad at me for being biased, and it's like, 'Come on, I can't be both,' " Huppke says. "I could tell a conservative person that the New York Times is a good source and they would say it's a liberal rag, and I could tell a liberal person that the Wall Street Journal is a good source, and they would say it's" conservative.

For his part, Huppke hopes that Facts can stage a comeback. "I certainly would be delighted to see Facts come back to life, and bring all it once brought us, maybe because I have a personal attachment to Facts," Huppke says.

And he doesn't think that's out of the question.

"People are too smart to live in a fairy-tale world, and I believe we'll have some sort of correction over time where people will return to Facts and it will make everything better," Huppke says. "What will hopefully happen is that people will say, 'OK, enough of this,' and demand more truth out of their politicians and those who have misled them."

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