Marketplace: Fact-checking Facebook

I appeared on the radio program Marketplace recently to discuss PolitiFact’s fact-checking of Facebook. It was a good conversation; we talked about the persistence of false information and the historical challenge of fact-checking. Click below to listen to the program or visit the Marketplace website.

10 things I like about George Washington

I made a new friend this summer: George Washington, the first president of the United States.

We got acquainted through Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow’s 900-plus page biography that  makes Washington seem so real, so human, and so appealing that I got excited about America’s democratic experiment all over again.

And obsessed with all things George Washington. I should note that I decided to read Chernow’s doorstopper of a book after reading and loving the much shorter (at 352 pages) Washington biography, His Excellency George Washington, by Joseph J. Ellis. Both are fantastic reads that I recommend, so you have both long and short options.

Here’s my list of 10 things I like about George Washington, in no particular order:

  1. He believed public service should be done for the public good, not to get rich. He often refused salary or other compensation he was due.
  2. He didn’t like being famous and tried to avoid pageants and public displays in his honor. Sometimes he would sneak out of town early to avoid a farewell parade.
  3. At a time when slavery was widely accepted in his home state of Virginia, he freed the people he held in bondage when he died, taking measures in his will to establish their care.
  4. He liked women a lot and had many female friends. Elizabeth Willing Powel, the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia, gave him political advice and was a close confidant.
  5. He was an emotional person, prone to outbursts, but he worked hard to restrain himself in words and deeds.
  6. He was athletic and liked to ride his horse and dance.
  7. He was a researcher, studying up on business and politics. He consulted widely before he made decisions and considered all sides.
  8. He didn’t have his own children, but he was generous and kind to his step-children, nieces, nephews and children of friends. He offered them good advice through his letters.
  9. He had high standards for his friends, advisers, and staff, and he was very loyal to those who met his expectations.
  10. He was charmingly self-conscious about his false teeth.

The Atlantic’s Humanity + Tech event: How can we combat fake news and digital misinformation?

I was on a panel recently in The Atlantic’s Humanity + Tech event, underwritten by Google and in collaboration with MIT Media Lab. We had a fascinating discussion about combatting misinformation and fake news. Here’s the video via YouTube.

Bots & Ballots podcast

I was pretty sick with near laryngitis when I recorded this podcast last month for Bots & Ballots. But I’m glad I did it because I thought it was an interesting conversation. This is what I said is the problem with politicians saying things that aren’t true: “It distracts the conversation from reality and addressing real problems in a constructive way. That’s a huge part of the negative consequences of political lying — you never get to the real issues because you’re too busy trying to establish what’s actually real.”

Listen to the podcast or read a Yahoo News summary.

The fake news of George Washington’s era

I know some people don’t like the term “fake news,” but I still tend to use it to describe intentionally fabricated information masking as a legitimate news story. “Fake news” does not mean “any news I don’t like.” (See this story for more on that issue.)

My interest was piqued recently when I learned that President George Washington had to deal with phony reports claiming he had actually been sympathetic to the British during the Revolutionary War. It’s a conspiracy theory that actually doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it was a real thing in Washington’s day, and one of his final acts as president was to lodge a formal rebuttal — really a type of fact-check — with the secretary of state’s office. Here’s the story I wrote about the episode for PolitiFact:

Politics in 2018 can seem so relentlessly negative, it’s tempting to seek escape in reading stories of the Founding Fathers.

Take George Washington.

Far from the staid-looking fellow on the $1 bill, Washington was a tall and athletic man, a skilled soldier, an avid horseman and a graceful dancer. Known for his eloquent silence, he instinctively deflected attention from himself so as to emphasize the birth of a new country and government by the people.

Still, there were ways in which George Washington’s life is like today. Here’s one: He had to fight fake news.

Forged letters from before his presidency claimed to show in his own words that he privately sympathized with the British monarchy and thought the American cause was doomed. The letters also suggested that Washington thought Americans weren’t ready for democracy. MORE …

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Global Fact V in Rome

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Fact-checkers from around the world gathered at the end of June in Rome for Global Fact V, the international fact-checking conference. It was a smashing success, with many great panels and discussions. (Read coverage of the conference events via Poynter.org.) … Continue reading

My father’s obituary

My father died recently, and I wanted to honor him by writing an obituary that captured his adventurous and rich life. With my mother’s help reminding me of key events, and my husband’s help editing, this is what I wrote:

Leo Drobnic, 76, a retired practitioner of Chinese medicine in the Austin area, died Friday, April 27.

Leo’s lifetime spanned three continents. He was born in 1941 in Milocer in the former Yugoslavia to servants of the royal family. Shortly after World War II, his parents escaped communism with Leo and his younger brother, Jose, crossing from their native Slovenia into Italy. The family spent 1948 as refugees in Italy’s displaced person camps while attempting to reach the United States. Unable to immigrate to America, the family instead traveled to Venezuela, where they opened a restaurant. Leo attended high school and some college in Caracas. When civil unrest interrupted his studies, Leo made a second attempt to reach the United States, this time successfully. He studied engineering and computer science at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

At LSU, Leo met Faye Marin of Patterson, La. They married in 1968 and had two daughters. Leo worked briefly as an engineer at McDermott Shipbuilding near Morgan City, then joined Patterson State Bank, where he worked alongside other members of the Marin family.

In 1990, Leo began a major career change. He left Louisiana to study massage therapy at the New England School of Shiatsu in Boston, Mass. After graduating, he moved to Austin and opened a professional practice. He expanded his studies into Chinese acupuncture and herbs at the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine. For nearly 20 years, Leo practiced Chinese healing, working with clients around the Austin area. He retired to Creekside Villas in Buda, Texas.

Leo died of congestive heart failure and other complications. He was treated with care at Seton Medical Center Hays in Kyle, Texas, and was surrounded by loved ones at his passing.

Leo is survived by his daughters, Marina Drobnic of Houston, Texas, and Angie Drobnic Holan and her husband Mark Holan of Arlington, Va.; his brother Jose Drobnic of Andover, Mass.; and his former wife Faye Drobnic of Lafayette, La.

A funeral Mass will be held 11 a.m. May 26 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Patterson, La. In lieu of flowers the family asks donations be made to the Seton Hays Foundation, 1345 Philomena St., Austin, Texas 78723; or Hospice Austin, 4107 Spicewood Springs Rd., Suite 100, Austin, TX  78759.

Book Review of ‘A Higher Loyalty’ by James Comey

I wrote a review of former FBI director James Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty” on deadline,  because we wanted to get our report up as soon as possible. I got a copy of the book on Tuesday and then read it, wrote the review and had the piece edited so it could publish on Thursday. It begins:

In 2016, as the director of the FBI, James Comey publicly dissected Hillary Clinton’s email server controversy. Later, we learned that Comey was keeping to himself the beginnings of an investigation into Russia’s active interference in the U.S. election and potential connections to the Donald Trump campaign.

It was a perplexing contradiction for someone who said he was apolitical and above the fray.

Now James Comey wants to explain himself. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership is Comey’s story of what he did and why. MORE …

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Talking about fact-checking in Germany

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I traveled to Germany recently to talk about fact-checking and U.S. politics at the German-American Institutes. Here are some photos from the trip.

PolitiFact’s fact-checking methodology

Over the years, PolitiFact has published many explanations of its fact-checking methodology, as well as the websites policies and practices. We recently published a significantly revamped version that includes many of the principles developed through the International Fact-checking Network. The IFCN’s code of principles deeply informs this version of our methodology, called “Principles of the Truth-O-Meter: PolitiFact’s methodology for independent fact-checking,” and it’s my favorite version yet when it comes to explaining how and why PolitiFact does what it does.

It starts:

Fact-checking journalism is the heart of PolitiFact. Our core principles are independence, transparency, fairness, thorough reporting and clear writing. The reason we publish is to give citizens the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy.

Since our launch in 2007, we’ve received many questions about how we choose facts to check, how we stay nonpartisan, how we go about fact-checking and other topics. This document attempts to answer those questions and many more. MORE …