Category Archives: Fact-checking

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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 …

A fact-checker’s guide to Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’

From time to time, I happily get to review books for PolitiFact. Here’s my latest, a review of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. (And here are links to more book reviews I’ve written.)

Even books about Donald Trump seem to break norms: Trump hasn’t been in office a year, and already there’s a gossipy insider account that claims to show the real goings-on of the Trump White House. Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House portrays an infighting senior team at each other’s throats, and a president too narcissistic and distracted to be capable of governing.

Is it accurate? Many details are simply wrong. Whether the larger narrative is true is a different question. …

A bigger problem with Fire and Fury, however, is that by any standard of sound journalism it has big problems with transparency and sourcing. MORE …

PolitiFact’s 2017 Lie of the Year

PolitiFact recently published its Lie of the Year for 2017. Here’s how the story begins:

A mountain of evidence points to a single fact: Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election of 2016.

In both classified and public reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered actions to interfere with the election. Those actions included the cyber-theft of private data, the placement of propaganda against particular candidates, and an overall effort to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process.

Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have held open and closed door hearings to probe Russia’s actions. The congressional investigations are ongoing.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have investigated their own networks, and their executives have concluded — in some cases after initial foot-dragging — that Russia used the online platforms in attempts to influence the election.

After all this, one man keeps saying it didn’t even happen.

“This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,” said President Donald Trump in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in May. MORE …

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Talking about fact-checking in Brazil at Festival 3i

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Earlier in November, I was a guest speaker at Festival 3i in Rio de Janeiro, where I talked about fact-checking in a partisan environment. Here are some photos from the trip.    

PolitiFact turns 10

PolitiFact turned 10 years old in August this year, and we celebrated the anniversary with reflection and gratitude.

I wrote a column looking back at how fact-checking has become both easier and harder. The work itself — researching, reporting and publishing — is flourishing, while our political discourse has gotten meaner and more partisan. Read my thoughts here.

From left: Aaron Sharockman, Politifact’s executive director; Angie Holan, Politifact Editor; PolitiFact founder Bill Adair, and Tampa Bay Times Editor and Vice President Neil Brown at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, August 22, 2017. (Photo by Eve Edelheit of the Tampa Bay Times)

We also held an event at the Poynter Institute where myself, founding editor Bill Adair and Tampa Bay Times executive editor Neil Brown discussed PolitiFact’s birth; we also took questions from the audience. Read a report about the event.

CNN’s ‘Reliable Sources’ and fact-checking President Trump

CNN’s Brian Stelter of Reliable Sources recently penned a column on the impact of fact-checking on President Donald Trump and his administration. Then Brian invited me and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler on the show to discuss it.

I told Brian that people “are better informed than ever about what politicians say and if their statements are literally true or not,” partly thanks to specialized fact-checkers, and partly thanks to “traditional political journalists putting corrective information into their reports much more than they used to.” Read his full column and check out the Reliable Sources segment below.

Fact-checkers meet in Spain for Global Fact 4

MADRID — For the fourth year in a row, I’ve gathered with fact-checkers from around the world to discuss best practices and highest principles, with lots of time for socializing. We come together to confab, commiserate and encourage as we all go about our work of holding the powerful accountable and giving our readers the facts on what’s true and what’s not.

Global Fact 4 drew 190 attendees from around the world. (Photo by Mario Garcia)

I saw two major themes at this year’s conference: technology and trust.

For technology, Bill Adair of Duke Reporters’ Lab showed us the latest on automation and Share the Facts, coding that allows fact-checks to be shared and highlighted in search findings. Meanwhile, the UK fact-checkers at Full Fact showed us how they’re using automated processes to identify and flag false statements and then present corrective information simultaneously. Both efforts are exciting and point to new ways of getting accurate, vetted information in front of people on the Internet.

Interestingly, basic trust struck me as the trickier issue. Several speakers mentioned the high levels of partisanship among the general public, a.k.a. our audience. That partisanship sometimes makes people hostile to fact-checking or evidence-based findings that contradict their world view. As one academic put it, partisanship is a social identity, not a cognitive tool. That means people can perceive fact-checking as threatening (or bolstering) to their own sense of identity, instead of simply seeing fact-checks as information that helps them make decisions. Reaching out to audiences that are suspicious of fact-checking remains one of our most important tasks, and we’re still figuring out the best ways to understand and address their concerns about our processes and work.

Laura Zommer of Chequeado and I present on fact-checking methods at Global Fact 4 in Madrid. (Photo by Mario Garcia)

The International Fact-checking Network, which grew out of the first year’s conference, hosted this event and announced new grants to increase fact-checking’s reach around the world. The next few years will be exciting, and I’m already looking forward to Global Fact 5 in 2018.  

Thoughts on International Fact-checking Day

PolitiFact joined with other fact-checkers from around the world to observe International Fact-Checking Day on April 2. Here’s the column I wrote about why we need a day to celebrate fact-checking and how the International Fact-Checking Network came up with the idea. It starts:

With all the phony headlines and hoaxes floating around the Internet, it can feel like April Fool’s any day of the year.

At PolitiFact, we’re debunking more false claims than ever. It’s a sad trend that people will maliciously invent fictitious stories and then pass them off as real, hoping for clicks. That’s our definition of fake news.

The hoax stories tend to straddle the line between absurd and disturbing. READ MORE …

C-SPAN’s ‘Washington Journal’ and tracking President Barack Obama’s campaign promises

On C-SPAN, I recently talked about PolitiFact’s Obameter project, which tracks President Barack Obama’s campaign promises.