Sorting truth from falsehood is tough at any time. It’s far harder in this digital age with a bedlam of personal opinions published on Facebook or Twitter or personal blogs. Add an election year to the mix — in the midst of the Republican primary campaign charges fly back and forth — and distinguishing fact from fiction seems close to impossible
Fortunately, a helping hand has appeared with the advent of an industry devoted to fact-checking.
A leader in the field is FactCheck.org, which played a role in the 2004 vice-presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards. Mr. Cheney said that the website had defended his actions as CEO of the troubled defense contractor, Halliburton. In reality, the website had said that “Edwards was mostly right.”
Another is PolitiFact.com, operated by the St. Petersburg Times. Its reporters and editors fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups. They give each statement a “Truth-O-Meter” rating ranging from “True” to “Pants on Fire.” The site also tracks President Barack Obama’s record on keeping his campaign promises and House Republicans’ promise-keeping with regard to their “Pledge to America.”
The Bangor Daily News sometimes features its meters on our Opinion pages.
Mark Matthew, a political reporter for ABC7 in San Francisco, lists his own “Whoppers of the Year.” For 2011, the worst was congressional Republicans’ reference to the president’s health care law as “job-killing.” He said the charge was “just not accurate.” He cited the Congressional Budget Office estimate that there would be a loss of a few low-paying jobs starting in 2014 because workers will be better off financially and won’t stay in jobs just to keep their health care coverage.
Among his other 2011 whoppers: Democrats’ charge that the Republicans propose to “end” Medicare, since they just plan to privatize it, and Republican statements that most of the “millionaires” who would pay higher tax rates under a Democratic proposal are job-creating small-business owners. He quoted a study that showed that only 13 percent of those reporting incomes of $1 million or more got even a quarter of their income from small-business sources.
Other fact checkers include FactCheckEd.org for high school teachers and students, the Washington Post’s “The Fact Checker” with its one to four “Pinocchios” to grade politicians’ statements, and Bama Fact Check, a project of Alabama newsgathering organizations.
Despite all these efforts, the lies and deception keep piling on. Among the worst offenders are the bloggers, often anonyomous. Unlike newspapers, bloggers don’t use editors to help verify accuracy. ABC7’s Matthews tells of questioning someone at the Hoover Institution about a report that Nancy Pelosi had nonunion workers picking her grapes. The person said, “I don’t have to fact-check my allegation; it’s up to her to deny it.”
Speaking of whoppers, probably the biggest is the frequent charge by Rick Perry and other Republicans that President Obama is a socialist. The Huffington Post nailed that one a few days ago. It got an e-mail from the Socialist Party USA that said: “The notion that Barack Obama is a socialist ranks among the greatest fairy tails in American society — right up there with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the idea that if you work hard enough your children will lead a better life than you. Socialists know that Obama is another corporate-funded politician placed in the White House to protect the wealth and status of the 1 percent.”