|Owner||Tampa Bay Times|
|Slogan(s)||Sorting out the truth in politics|
|Alexa rank||4,987 (October 2016)|
PolitiFact.com is a project operated by the Tampa Bay Times, in which reporters and editors from the Times and affiliated media outlets "fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups". They publish original statements and their evaluations on the PolitiFact.com website, and assign each a "Truth-O-Meter" rating. The ratings range from "True" for completely accurate statements to "Pants on Fire" (from the taunt "Liar, liar, pants on fire") for false and ridiculous claims.
The site also includes an "Obameter", tracking President Barack Obama's performance with regard to his campaign promises, and a "GOP Pledge-O-Meter", which tracks promises made by House Republicans in their "Pledge to America". PolitiFact.com's local affiliates keep similar track of statements and figures of regional relevance, as evidenced by PolitiFact Tennessee's "Haslam-O-Meter" tracking Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam's efforts and Wisconsin's "Walk-O-Meter" tracking Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's efforts.
While PolitiFact has won several awards, the site has been both praised and criticized by independent observers, conservatives and liberals alike. Both liberal and conservative bias have been alleged at different points, and criticisms have been made that PolitiFact attempts to fact-check statements that cannot be truly "fact-checked".
PolitiFact.com was started in August 2007 by Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair, in conjunction with the Congressional Quarterly. In 2013, Adair was named Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, and stepped down as Bureau Chief at the Times and as editor at PolitiFact.com. The Tampa Bay Times' senior reporter, Alex Leary, succeeded Bill Adair as Bureau Chief on July 1, 2013, and Angie Drobnic Holan was appointed editor of PolitiFact in October, 2013. Adair remains a PolitiFact.com contributing editor.
In January 2010, PolitiFact.com expanded to its second newspaper, the Cox Enterprises-owned Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas; the feature, called PolitiFact Texas, covers issues that are relevant to Texas and the Austin area.
In March 2010, the Times and its partner newspaper, The Miami Herald, launched PolitiFact Florida, which focuses on Florida issues. The Times and the Herald share resources on some stories that relate to Florida.
Since then, PolitiFact.com expanded to other papers, such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Providence Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Plain Dealer, Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Knoxville News Sentinel and The Oregonian. The Knoxville News Sentinel ended its relationship with PolitiFact.com after 2012. In 2014, the The Plain Dealer ended its partnership with PolitiFact.com after they reduced their news staff and were unwilling to meet "the required several PolitiFact investigations per week".
"Lie of the Year"
Since 2009, PolitiFact.com has declared one political statement from each year to be the "Lie of the Year".
In December 2009, they declared the Lie of the Year to be Sarah Palin's assertion that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 would lead to government "death panels" that dictated which types of patients would receive treatment.
In December 2010, PolitiFact.com dubbed the Lie of the Year to be the contention among some opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that it represented a "government takeover of healthcare". PolitiFact.com argued that this was not the case, since all health care and insurance would remain in the hands of private companies.
PolitiFact's Lie of the Year for 2011 was a statement by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) that a 2011 budget proposal by Congressman Paul Ryan, entitled The Path to Prosperity and voted for overwhelmingly by Republicans in the House and Senate, meant that "Republicans voted to end Medicare". PolitiFact determined that, though the Republican plan would make significant changes to Medicare, it would not end it. PolitiFact had originally labeled nine similar statements as "false" or "pants on fire" since April 2011.
For 2012, PolitiFact chose the claim made by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that President Obama "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" at the cost of American jobs. (The "Italians" in the quote was a reference to Fiat, who had purchased a majority share of Chrysler in 2011 after a U.S. government bailout of Chrysler.) PolitiFact had rated the claim "Pants on Fire" in October. PolitiFact's assessment quoted a Chrysler spokesman who had said, "Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China." As of 2016, 96.7 percent of Jeeps sold in the U.S were assembled in the U.S., with roughly 70 percent North American parts content. (The vehicle with the most North American parts content came in at 75%).
The 2013 Lie of the Year was President Barack Obama's promise that "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it". As evidence, PolitiFact cited 4 million cancellation letters sent to American health insurance consumers. PolitiFact also noted that in an online poll, readers overwhelmingly agreed with the selection.
PolitiFact's 2014 Lie of the Year was "Exaggerations about Ebola", referring to 16 separate statements made by various commentators and politicians about the Ebola virus being "easy to catch, that illegal immigrants may be carrying the virus across the southern border, that it was all part of a government or corporate conspiracy". These claims were made in the midst of the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa when four cases were diagnosed in the United States in travelers from West Africa and nurses who treated them. PolitiFact wrote, "The claims -- all wrong -- distorted the debate about a serious public health issue."
PolitiFact's 2015 Lie of the Year was the "various statements" made by 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Politifact found that 76% of Trump's statements that they reviewed were rated "Mostly False," "False" or "Pants on Fire". Statements that were rated "Pants on Fire" included his assertion that the Mexican government sends "the bad ones over" the border into the United States, and his claim that he saw "thousands and thousands" of people cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
PolitiFact.com was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2009 for "its fact-checking initiative during the 2008 presidential campaign that used probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters".
A Wall Street Journal opinion editorial by Joseph Rago in December 2010 called PolitiFact "part of a larger journalistic trend that seeks to recast all political debates as matters of lies, misinformation and 'facts,' rather than differences of world view or principles".
TV critic James Poniewozik at Time characterized PolitiFact as having the "hard-earned and important position as referee in the mudslinging contest–a 'truth vigilante,' as it were", and "PolitiFact is trying to do the right thing here. And despite the efforts of partisans to work the refs by complaining about various calls they’ve made in the past, they’re generally doing a hard, important thing well. They often do it better than the rest of the political media, and the political press owes them for doing it." Poniewozik also suggested, "they need to improve their rating system, to address the irresponsible, the unprovable, the dubious. Otherwise, they’re doing exactly what they were founded to stop: using language to spread false impressions."
Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard criticized all fact-checking projects by news organizations, including PolitiFact, the Associated Press and the Washington Post, writing that they "aren’t about checking facts so much as they are about a rearguard action to keep inconvenient truths out of the conversation".
In December 2011, Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy wrote in the Huffington Post that the problem with fact-checking projects was "there are only a finite number of statements that can be subjected to thumbs-up/thumbs-down fact-checking".
Matt Welch, in the February 2013 issue of Reason magazine, criticized PolitiFact and other media fact-checkers for focusing much more on statements by politicians about their opponents, rather than statements by politicians and government officials about their own policies, thus serving as "a check on the exercise of rhetoric" but not "a check on the exercise of power".
Analysis of PolitiFact's ratings
University of Minnesota political science professor Eric Ostermeier did an analysis of 511 selected PolitiFact stories issued from January 2010 through January 2011, stating that "PolitiFact has generally devoted an equal amount of time analyzing Republicans (191 statements, 50.4 percent) as they have Democrats (179 stories, 47.2 percent)". Republican officeholders were considered by Politifact to have made substantially more "false" or "pants on fire" statements than their Democratic counterparts. Of 98 statements PolitiFact judged "false" or "pants on fire" from partisan political figures, 74 came from Republicans (76 percent) compared to 22 from Democrats (22 percent) during the selected period reviewed. Ostermeier concluded "By levying 23 Pants on Fire ratings to Republicans over the past year compared to just 4 to Democrats, it appears the sport of choice is game hunting — and the game is elephants." The study was criticized by PolitiFact editor Bill Adair and the MinnPost, with Adair responding, "Eric Ostermeier's study is particularly timely because we've heard a lot of charges this week that we are biased—from liberals […] So we're accustomed to hearing strong reactions from people on both ends of the political spectrum. We are a news organization and we choose which facts to check based on news judgment."
A writer with the left-leaning magazine The Nation argued that findings like this are a reflection of "fact-checkers simply doing their job […] Republicans today just happen to be more egregiously wrong". A writer with the right-leaning Human Events claimed that after looking at Politifact's work on a case-by-case basis a pattern emerged whereby Politifact critiqued straw man claims; that is, "dismissed the speaker’s claim, made up a different claim and checked that instead". The conservative magazine noted Politifact's use of language such as "[although the speaker] used [a specific] phrase […] in his claim, [it] could fairly be interpreted to mean [something more general that is false]". Human Events cited Bryan White's PolitiFactBias blog to state that "from the end of that partnership [with the Congressional Quarterly] to the end of 2011, the national PolitiFact operation has issued 119 Pants on Fire ratings for Republican or conservative claims, and only 13 for liberal or Democratic claims".
- "Politifact.com Site Info". Alexa Internet. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
- "PolitiFact.com". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
- Adair, Bill. "Principles of PolitiFact, PunditFact and the Truth-O-Meter". PolitiFact. Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
- "Haslam-O-Meter: Tracking the promises of Bill Haslam". PolitiFact Tennessee. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
- "Walk-O-Meter: Tracking the promises of Scott Walker". PolitiFact Wisconsin. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
- Claiming persistent bias, Democratic Party to stop taking PolitiFact’s calls; Milwaukee Magazine; Erik Gunn; June 14, 2011
- PolitiFact RI once again shows right-wing bias; Rhode Island Future; Samuel Bell; May 25, 2013
- Bill Adair, PolitiFact Editor, Named Knight Professor at Duke; April 5, 2013
- "New editors named for PolitiFact and PunditFact" Tampa Bay TimesOctober 10, 2013. Angie Drobnic Holan PolitiFact Editor Staff bio
- McElroy, Jack. "News Sentinel dropping out of PolitiFact". Knoxnews.com. The E.W. Scripps Co. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
- Diadiun, Ted. "Coming: Truth squad reporting without the gimmicks - Ted Diadiun". Cleveland Plain Dealer. Northeast Ohio Media Group LLC. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
- PolitiFact's Lie of the Year: 'Death panels', Angie Drobnic Holan, PolitiFact.com, December 18, 2009
- PolitiFact's Lie of the Year: 'A government takeover of health care', Bill Adair and Angie Drobnic Holan, PolitiFact.com, December 16, 2010
- Lie of the Year 2011: 'Republicans voted to end Medicare', PolitiFact.com, 20 December 2011
- "Democrats say Republicans voted to end Medicare and charge seniors $12,000". PolitiFact. April 20, 2011. Retrieved December 22, 2011.
- Holan, Angie Drobnic (December 12, 2012). "Lie of the Year: the Romney campaign's ad on Jeeps made in China". PolitiFact. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
- Bunkley, Nick (July 21, 2011). "Government Sells Stake In Chrysler". The New York Times.
- "Mitt Romney says Obama's Chrysler deal undermined U.S. workers". PolitiFact. October 29, 2012. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
- "Jeep most American-made brand with nearly 97 percent of its vehicles born in the USA". KCTV5 News, Kansas City. June 28, 2016. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
- "15 Trucks, SUVs, and Vans With the Most North-American-Made Parts". Motor Trend. February 20, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
- Drobnic Holan, Angie (December 12, 2013). "Lie of the Year: 'If you like your health care plan, you can keep it'". PolitiFact.com. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- Angie Drobnic Holan and Aaron Sharockman (December 15, 2014). "2014 Lie of the Year: Exaggerations about Ebola". PolitiFact.
- 2015 Lie of the Year: the campaign misstatements of Donald Trump, Angie Drobnic Holan and Linda Qiu PolitiFact.com, December 21, 2015
- The 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winners Retrieved 2010-08-16.
- "PolitiFiction: True 'Lies' about Obamacare". Wall Street Journal. December 23, 2010. Archived from the original on 2015-02-01.
PolitiFact's decree is part of a larger journalistic trend that seeks to recast all political debates as matters of lies, misinformation and 'facts,' rather than differences of world view or principles. ... PolitiFact is run by the St. Petersburg Times and has marketed itself to other news organizations on the pretense of impartiality.
- Poniewozik, James (August 8, 2012). "PolitiFact, Harry Reid's Pants, and the Limits of Fact-Checking". Time.
But if their rating system–designed, ironically, to abet the truth by making it as easy to spread via catchphrase as a lie–is sending false messages, then they need to improve their rating system, to address the irresponsible, the unprovable, the dubious. Otherwise, they’re doing exactly what they were founded to stop: using language to spread false impressions. You can tell them a guy told you that about them.
- Lies, Damned Lies, and ‘Fact Checking’, Mark Hemingway, The Weekly Standard, Dec. 19, 2011
- PolitiFact and the Limits of Fact-Checking, Dan Kennedy, Huffington Post, December 13, 2011.
- Welch, Matt (February 2013). "The 'Truth' Hurts: How the fact-checking press gives the president a pass". Reason.
- Ostermeier, Eric (February 10, 2011). "Selection Bias? PolitiFact Rates Republican Statements as False at 3 Times the Rate of Democrats". Smart Politics.
- Brauer, David (February 15, 2011). "Politifact responds to U researcher's anti-GOP bias claim". MinnPost. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
- Chris Mooney, "Reality Bites Republicans" The Nation 16 May 2012
- Jon Cassidy, "Politifact Bias: Does the GOP tell nine times more lies than the left? Really?" Human Events 30 August 2012