Some of you disagreed with my view that saying that birtherism was “long discredited” or “long debunked” isn’t good enough, but I think that’s a real symptom of one of the major issues in journalism that fact checking has done nothing to change. Being “discredited” or “debunked” are different ways of saying that a statement isn’t believed by the community, but it’s not a categorical statement that something is false. The statement “the sun rose in the west this morning” doesn’t need to be “debunked” or “discredited’—it’s plainly, verifiably false. If the fact checking movement in journalism were having any real impact, wouldn’t journalists just say that birtherism is, similarly, “false”? It’s a simple, discrete and verifiable fact that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. Yet four years after the fact checkers called out the birthers, journalists just can’t say that Donald Trump made a false accusation about Obama’s place of birth. It’s a “long-discredited accusation” in the Times and a “long-debunked contention” in the Post. I don’t know where to look to find better examples of the total failure of the fact checking project.
So why aren't Birther statements by Trump and others given "Pants on Fire" and "Four Pinocchios" ratings? They're relevant political statements being made by campaign surrogates and/or Republican political officials about the President. They are absolutely the bailiwick of the Kessler/PolitiFact crew. It would take all of five minutes to write the article, and yet they never get written.
It's not just the fact checkers either. Journalists simply aren't going to antagonize someone as rich as Trump, period. It's fine to call the President a liar in "context" but when someone says "Earth's atmosphere is full of deadly methane" or "the speed of light is 4 miles an hour" or "President Obama was born in Kenya" you call them on it.