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New sites fact check politicians, journalists

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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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The Campaign Desk is a searchable weblog which will be active throughout the pre-presidential and presidential election campaigns, with the objective of examining political press coverage as it happens rather than in the traditional form of a post-election post-mortem. (In doing so, CJR hopes to have a beneficial impact on coverage during the campaign, when such an impact might actually be useful). Unlike FactCheck, the Campaign Desk doesn't provide every story with it's own mini-site complete with videos, sources and related links, but rather offers simple text critiques and reviews of press coverage (usually with direct links to that coverage).

Examples range from general topics, such as whether the press has a vested interest in a close Democratic leadership race, to an analysis of an ABC World News Tonight piece about Howard Dean and what he did - or didn't - know about domestic abuse allegations against an employee. There is also an interesting case study in how easily a badly reported story can spread - as elements of a Drudge Report article (which placed excerpts of testimony which were 11,500 words apart, in a single set of quotation marks) found their way into a Lieberman press release, and Reuters and AP news coverage. Fortunately, it's not all bad news at the Campaign Desk, and Tip of the Hat is especially dedicated to spotlighting news sources that "get-it-right."

As with FactCheck, Campaign Desk is very new on the scene and a work in progress, but listings in the site's index give a good indication of future developments. These include the categorizing of reports by medium (from network TV to the internet), issue (economy, Iraq, healthcare, etc.) and candidate. In the design arena, Campaign Desk has both an appealing overall look and some nice touches - such as a "Printer Friendly" option, and links to useful offsite resources including campaign schedules and candidate home pages.

With luck, both these sites will contribute to CJR's hope of improving political coverage in the next eleven months. They should certainly be regular destinations for journalists covering political issues, and for the rest of us, they can at least add an element of accuracy to the inescapable.

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