Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Fact-checking the candidates

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An initiative we can all, across the political spectrum, embrace: fact-checking the presidential candidates. The St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly are cooperating in the launch and operation of a new Web site, PolitiFact.com, devoted to following the presidential campaign and reporting on the factual accuracy of candidates’ statements. This should be fun.

Romenesko:

The Poynter-owned St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly are dedicating a team of reporters and researchers to examine the rhetoric of presidential candidates and then make a call: Is the claim true or not? “You might think such work would be standard journalistic fare,” writes Times executive editor Neil Brown. “But many news organizations can spend less money and get less grief if their political reporting sticks to stenography and puffery.”

From the story making the announcement:

… Sorting out the “truth” may seem a treacherous endeavor in such a politically polarized time. But we believe our journalists can play a greater role as an honest broker for voters bewildered by the barrage of campaign talk.So in a move rare for a news organization, we’re dedicating a team of reporters and researchers to meticulously examine the rhetoric of candidates and their partisans, and then make a call: Is the claim true or not?

You might think such work would be standard journalistic fare. But many news organizations can spend less money and get less grief if their political reporting sticks to stenography and puffery.

It’s easier to record the words and claims of competing candidates than to vet their accuracy. It’s easier to write about the strategy of using negative advertising than to do the painstaking research to sort out whether the claim is actually true or false.

What’s more, cynical political operatives, partisan pundits on cable TV and talk radio, and ideological bloggers are good at manipulating “facts” to manufacture an aura of accuracy and attack those who would challenge them.

“News organizations are reluctant to get into this kind of thing because it takes an enormous commitment of resources,” said Brooks Jackson, director of Factcheck.org, a Web site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “And you take a pounding from both sides, Democrats and Republicans.”

To be sure, there are still frequent “ad watch” stories by local news organizations, and national newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post continue to report vigorously.

Nonetheless, PolitiFact.com will stand out for the way it directly evaluates candidate claims. Its signature feature is the Truth-O-Meter, in which editors rate each claim from the most truthful to the most ridiculous, which could be tagged “pants on fire.”

The St. Petersburg Times brings some advantages to this work.

We are independent, both of corporate chains and of political affiliations. Our corporate sibling – Congressional Quarterly – has an unmatched reputation for accurate, nonpartisan journalism about politics and policy. PolitiFact’s team includes the research and reporting departments of both publications.

Moreover, we are true believers in journalism as an instrument of democracy. Even as we seek to reach customers in new ways, we see our primary obligation as helping citizens participate fully in the democratic process. We try to meet that obligation by publishing strong newspapers and Web sites. PolitiFact fits with that mission. And if this effort succeeds, we anticipate widening the scope to state and local candidates.

The guiding force behind PolitiFact – and the creator of the Truth-O-Meter – is Bill Adair, our Washington bureau chief.

Adair, an Arizona native, has been with the Times for 18 years. He covered local news, transportation and aviation before joining the Washington staff in 1997. He has covered two presidential campaigns, has written extensively about the Supreme Court, Congress and lobbying, and has traveled with both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Adair will be the full-time writer and editor. It’s a natural role for him dating back decades; 22 years ago in his senior thesis at Arizona State University, he analyzed how the hospital lobby killed a state health care initiative with an unchecked campaign of lies and exaggerations.

Now, with so many candidates working so hard to offer positions that are less about reality and more about staying “on message,” he makes the case that PolitiFact’s time has come.

“With the torrent of confusing information in campaigns, I hear this all the time: ‘Just tell me whether it’s true,'” says Adair.

We invite you to give it a try. And if you have heard a candidate make a claim only to wonder whether it’s true, drop us a line.

Written by Leisureguy

4 September 2007 at 9:59 am

One Response

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  1. This is a great site – I love the meters. I will be interesting to compare this site to factcheck.org during the election season and see if they agree!

    Like

    Jeff

    4 September 2007 at 11:42 am


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