The Plain Dealer on a Potential Senator’s ‘Estrangement’ from Truth

Mandel says he won’t be swayed by fact-checks; reporter promises to stay ‘vigilant’

OHIO — When a candidate for office declares his intention to repeat falsehoods, what’s a reporter to do?

That’s the question lurking in a recent discussion, penned by Henry Gomez of The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, about the contentious U.S. Senate race in Ohio between incumbent Sherrod Brown and Josh Mandel, the Republican state treasurer.

Actually, Gomez’s piece is less about the race than about what his lede refers to as Mandel’s “outright estrangement” from the truth. Gomez zeros in on Mandel’s latest factually flawed accusation against his rival—that Brown is one of the politicians most responsible for pushing Ohio jobs into China. And Gomez notes that Mandel’s claim, “mixing audacity with absurdity,” had already earned a “Pants on Fire” rating from thePD’s PolitiFact Ohio project.

But apparently the Mandel camp has adopted a no-worries philosophy about these sorts of evaluations. The PD dialed up Mandel to have him identify at least one Ohio job dispatched to China based on a Brown vote. The reaction was enlightening, if not eyebrow-raising:

“If that’s the level of specificity you’re looking for, you’re the reporters — you go do the grunt work,” said Mandel, who lives in Beachwood. “Any reporter who doesn’t believe Sherrod Brown is responsible for jobs going to China is simply out of touch.” 

PolitiFact Ohio already had done the “grunt work” and found that the examples cited by Mandel’s campaign failed to back up his claim, hence the Pants on Fire rating. Right or wrong, Mandel vowed to repeat the assertion “again and again” and said he sees no downside. 

His claims, he added, are “100 percent” truth.

That sort of attitude gets to the dilemma described by the PD’s headline: “Even in an age of fact-check journalism, the political whopper lives.”

And there’s a reason deceptions and falsehoods persist in the face of fact-checking. Gomez spoke to experts including Dartmouth College professor and CJR contributor Brendan Nyhan, who is quoted as follows: “Our research finds that corrections of misinformation frequently fail to change people’s minds and sometimes makes things worse. It’s not clear how many people are swayed by a fact-check.”

So what’s a reporter to do? Anything he can to hold these guys’ feet to the fire.

One thing journalists can’t do is “throw in the towel,” Gomez said in an interview with CJR.

“These kinds of stories do show the relevance and we are doing the grunt work,” Gomez said. “We have to be vigilant.”

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