Category Archives: Fact-checking

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

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 …

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.