The Seattle Times Truth Needle Seeks Balance in its Skewering

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Every election year, newspapers like The Seattle Times provide readers with the invaluable service of calling bullshit on claims made by candidates and their campaigns. This year, in honor of our sky-scraping icon, the Times' BS Meter has been renamed the Truth Needle. And thus far, it's poked holes in one claim each made by Senate foes Patty Murray and Dino Rossi. So is this back-and-forth, with each candidate getting Truth Needled in equal measures, the way it's going to be until November?

"I can't say for sure that's how it will go," says Times' assistant metro editor Richard Wagoner, the man in charge of doling out assignments. "We are mindful of balance, certainly. But I wouldn't say we'll necessarily go back and forth, one after another."

Balance in news coverage seems like a noble pursuit. But old media often gets criticized for paying deference to both sides of a story without telling the reader which side is just making stuff up, a lame practice commonly characterized as "he said, she said" journalism.

The Truth Needle, then, would seem to be an antidote to this reporter-as-deaf-and-dumb-conduit form of news gathering. But deciding what gets needled is an act unto itself. And although every politician and every political party is equally capable of employing the dark arts to fit its needs, oftentimes one candidate does end up lying a lot more than another. Which would imbalance the balance Wagoner says he's seeking.

Wagoner says he looks for Truth Needle subjects by scrutinizing boasts in press releases and ads that seem dubious or could make for a good story. A process that will ramp up now that we're past the primaries and closer to the full media blitz that is campaign season, and will soon come to include misstatements from initiative backers and candidates in competitive House races.

So far, the Truth Needle has rejected Rossi's claim that Murray has voted for every spending bill since 2004 and smacked down Murray's argument that a bill she helped pass saved 3,000 teaching jobs. The Times has also run an Associated Press "Fact Check" -- the AP's version of the Truth Needle -- that said Murray was wrong to portray Rossi as a hypocrite for opposing earmarks.

That would be three claims against Murray to two for Rossi. If balance is part of the goal, as Wagoner said it is, expect Dino to face the needle next.

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