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WEB REIVEW: Just the facts

Jim Cota
September 1, 2012
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Jim Cota
Television news outlets can’t seem to resist the temptation to include their own analysis, newspapers seem unable to simply report the facts (er, except this one, of course), and radio talk show personalities—on both sides of the political spectrum—seem more interested in increasing the divide between us than improving the level of discourse.

It’s human nature, I suppose, that we don’t want to be wrong. It’s uncomfortable to find out that something we believe, even something we were sure was right, turns out to be wrong. Americans love to argue, love to challenge, and love to persuade. But we’re not all that keen on being challenged or persuaded ourselves.

But the problems we’re facing as a nation are very real. Unemployment, debt, crumbling infrastructure, education, rising costs of health care, the impending Social Security crisis … you need not look long or hard to find examples of tough issues that drive passions at every step.

So it’s more important than ever that we have the facts. In previous articles, we’ve discussed sites that work to dispel rumors and lies or get to the bottom of claims made by one party or another. Examples include Snopes (snopes.com) for myths and urban legends and Fact Check (factcheck.org) for political distortion.

But a new site has emerged this year that deserves special consideration. Face the Facts USA (facethefactsusa.org) is a nonpartisan, independently funded initiative supported by George Washington University and based at their School of Media and Public Affairs. The idea is simple: Students and faculty work with journalists and media professionals to research facts. Then they present the information to inform conversation and thoughtful consideration of public policy issues.

The project was started as a direct result of the current political and governance climate. Its stated reason for existing is to “slice through the hyperbole and spin that gunk up the biggest issues facing America today—and present exhaustively researched and vetted facts in a compelling, easy-to-digest way.” The goals of the organization are to insert more factual data into meaningful conversations, debunk myths and misconceptions, and encourage people to get involved to push for solutions that move us forward as a nation.

It’s planning to release 100 facts in 100 days, broken down into 10 primary categories, including topics such as jobs & economy, national security, health care, life in America, and energy & environment.

Each of the facts has been well researched and, where possible, presents opposing views and additional stories to help you discern for yourself what the situation is and how you feel about it. Many of the stories have accompanying video or some interactive element that aids in clarity and can boil the topic down to salient points—perfect for sharing with your middle-school and older children to help them understand big, complex issues.

The first fact was on the debt and deficits: In 2011, the federal deficit rose $41,210 a second. Fact No. 10 was that the United States was a net exporter of fuel for the first time since 1949 (meaning we exported more refined gas, diesel and other fuels than we imported). Fact 13 explained that the amount of spending on prescription drugs through Medicare has increased 22 percent since the inception of the Medicare prescription drug program. During the same time, private-insurance spending on prescription drugs rose only 6 percent.

Fact 16—my favorite so far—took an in-depth and frightening look at our infrastructure of bridges across the country (including right here in Indianapolis) and reported that 605,000 of them are classified as structurally deficient. This particular story includes an interactive map that allows you to zoom in on your area to see bridges near you that have been restricted to light vehicles, are in need of immediate repair, or are outright closed.

I don’t know if there is anyone left in the country who is undecided about whom they plan to vote for. But I do know that there are lots and lots of people who made that decision based on shaky data, myths or an outright misrepresentation of the facts. I hope Face the Facts USA will help reverse this trend; lead to increasingly informed and civil discussions; and help us to find good, workable solutions for the problems we’re facing.•

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Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.
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