The closer we get to each election, the more promises, “statistics” and divisive talk we hear from both sides of the party aisle. And while the Internet has made more “facts” available than ever before, the web has also given rise to increasingly sophisticated techniques to manipulate the media and public. Special interest groups hire PR firms to spread fabricated news under the guise of factual articles, while individuals with biased viewpoints establish websites plagued by untruths and inaccurate statements to advance a particular viewpoint. Both phenomena have contributed to a flourishing environment for fact-checking organizations and websites that dig deep into stories, press releases, etc. in an effort to establish the truth. Ironically, political fact checkers have become so entrenched in the political landscape that they even became part of the 2012 presidential campaign, when a pollster for GOP candidate Mitt Romney declared, “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” That said, here’s a look at five of the best-known sites dedicated to exploring the facts behind the rhetoric.
The “fact-checking movement,” as one industry insider calls it, has evolved to the point where the fact checkers are even being checked. But such wariness of the so-called information watchdogs may stem from the emergence of fact-checking groups that wear their differing worldviews like a badge of honor. Founded in 2010, PoliticalCorrection.org calls itself an expansion of Media Matters Action Network, furthering that progressive information and research center’s work of “highlighting and correcting conservative misinformation.” It claims to be the only organization “comprehensively monitoring the House and Senate floors,” adding that, as such, it’s been able to “highlight conservatives’ extreme rhetoric and show Americans the real nature of today’s Republican Party.” The Huffington Post reports PoliticalCorrection.org’s purview extends beyond media analysis to lead public action campaigns, team up with other progressive groups and target specific lawmakers. In turn, the site’s fact check sections are organized by “people,” as well as organizations, and may be sorted by dates and by issues. Separate sections are also dedicated to key issues, such as health care, immigration and the economy.
The conservative’s answer to PoliticalCorrection.org, NewsBusters.org was launched in 2005 by the longstanding Media Research Center. Bearing the tagline of “exposing and combating liberal media bias,” the site also credits a young conservative blogger and political activist, Matthew Sheffield, for its launch. The multi-media NewsBusters site features stories bearing titles like “Reporters So Busy Covering Ryan’s Marathon Error They Ignore Multiple Media Flubs,” and also encourages user participation via forums to discuss topics, including the latest news headlines. Its broadcast component, NewsBusted, features a faux news anchor who appears to be the conservative alternative to Bill Maher, employing humor and camp to weigh in on the latest perceived liberal media spin and opinions. The MRC has also spun off a number of other projects, including TimesWatch, which it says is devoted to “documenting and exposing the liberal political agenda of the New York Times.”
This project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center touts itself as a “nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate for voters.” Its roots date to 2003 when Brooks Jackson, a journalist who covered Washington and national politics for more than three decades, joined the APPC and started FactCheck.org within the year. Jackson’s staff includes the director of the center, as well as professors and journalists who respond to reader questions about statements they’ve heard as part of its “Ask FactCheck” section. It also highlights some facts in its weekly mailbag, touts featured articles and has a “wire” which analyzes key claims. It has also dedicated a section, the “Viral Spiral” to those false or misleading rumors that have gone viral on the web in the form of chain emails or statements made in blogs that have spread like wildfire. Jackson himself originated the “adwatch” and “fact check” type of stories, beginning with the 1992 presidential election and during his time with CNN. He further made a name for himself in this investigative environment by securing national awards with the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal for his in-depth reportage, according to FactCheck.
2. Washington Post’s The Fact Checker
The Fact Checker is actually a blog started by longtime Post foreign correspondent and New America contributor, Michael Dobbs, in 2007. Now run by veteran Post diplomatic journalist Glenn Kessler, it awards politicians for their truthfulness with a “Gepetto” and slams their most outrageous falsehoods on a scale of one to four “Pinocchios.” The multi-media blog boasting the subhead “Checking the truth behind the political rhetoric,” includes written transcripts of broadcast interviews, as well as analysis behind the transcripts, either debunking or substantiating the comments made in the interviews. Fact Checker also devotes full sections to President Barack Obama, GOP candidates, political ads, Congress and key issues, including Medicare, budget cuts, welfare reform and “dueling” job growth statistics. Dobbs notes that the modern fact-checking movement dates back some 30 years, when President Ronald Reagan famously asserted: “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles.”
Chances are, this project of the Tampa Bay Times is the first fact-checking site that comes to mind. While not the “granddaddy of ’em all,” the five-year-old undertaking started by veteran political reporter and Times D.C. bureau chief, Bill Adair, has already made quite a name for itself — seizing a Pulitzer and boasting some half a million unique visitors each month. PolitiFact.com has differentiated itself, in part, from others on this list with its in-your-face verbiage and clever layout; after all, it includes a “Truth-O-Meter” to rate politicians’ statements in the following categories: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and “Pants on Fire” — with the last and worst of the ratings set aside only for those statements that are not only inaccurate but preposterous. Its “Flip-O-Meter” is what it sounds like — rating public officials on their consistency when it comes to their “evolving” stances on issues like abortion, gay marriage, tax cuts and health reform as either “No Flip” (staying true to his or her word) “Half Flip” (partial change of position, inconsistent statements) or “Full Flop” (complete reversal of opinions, leading many to question: “Is this the same person I voted for?”). PolitiFact, which employs reporters and editors with the Times to find the truth in statements in their original form — not those paraphrased or garnered from secondary sources — has also rolled out a special “Obameter” and “GOP Pledge-O-Meter” to scout statements made by both parties as we approach election day, keeping score of how many promises by the administration and Republican Congressional leaders alike were kept, how many fell victim to compromise and how many were broken, as well as those stalled or in progress.