The Usefulness of O-Meters

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Much of the visceral reaction to PolitiFact is, I think, a function of the Truth-o-Meter — partly its operators frequently attempt to apply it to statements that are open to interpretation (rather than statements of fact) and partly because it clicks from truth to Pants on Fire in just a few stages.  When I’ve brought this up with PolitiFact practitioners, they say the meter is the gimmick that grabs the eye.

The Rhode Island Republican Policy Group’s new Waste-o-Meter, although a gimmick, isn’t quite the same thing:

“Our press corps has done a great job of exposing wasteful practices and spending in our state government,” said state. Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, citing a series of stories that have appeared in The Providence Journal.

“They report findings and citizens fume about the waste. After a few days, the frustration dies down and the people of Rhode Island continue with their busy lives, forgetting about the latest assault to their wallets. … Those in charge are not held responsible for the waste and so it continues, without corrective action,” Morgan said, “no one is held accountable.”

So, “we have constructed a visual reminder for citizens and for our policy makers. The Waste-O-Meter is a giant thermometer which will track the instances of waste in government. Every two weeks, we intend to add to the thermometer as we uncover more examples of wasteful spending,” she said in a statement, prepared for release at a 1:30 press conference in the House minority office at the State House.

A continual frustration for folks who follow this stuff is that it all becomes noise after report after report of waste and abuse.  Visuals are definitely helpful.  Maybe there should be a scandal board somewhere at the State House, too.



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