Fact-Checking the Pundits: Ready to Watch Them Squirm?

PolitiFact, the website that measures statements by politicians and talking heads against the public record, must be doing something right.

Right-wing commentator/politician Sarah Palin once demanded to “fact check the fact checkers.” From the other end of the political spectrum, TV commentator Rachel Maddow says PolitiFact is “terrible.”

Starting Nov. 4, the folks behind PolitiFact will double the fun by launching PunditFact, taking exclusive aim on “pundits, columnists, bloggers and the hosts and guests of talk shows.”

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Judging public figures to be truth-tellers or liars – not to mention awarding the dreaded “Pants on Fire!” label – can, of course, be controversial. But the editor of PunditFact, Aaron Sharockman, says he will be an equal opportunity scold. Bill O’Reilly or John Stewart would get equal criticism.

“We’re trying to help the viewers, the listeners and readers to make the best informed decisions they can on the issues of the day,” Sharockman says.

“Whether it’s Social Security or Medicare, or the new health care law, we want to give them the information in a transparent way that shows our sources – everyone we’ve talked to – that details exactly the process we went through to reach our conclusion – to help those people make the decision they need to make.”

The Tampa Bay Times operates PolitiFact, and the site has some local offshoots in Texas and eight other states. The Times, in turn, is owned by the Poynter Institute, a journalism school and think tank. Poynter is a partner in PunditFact.

With about 7,700 facts held up to its “Truth-O-Meter” in the past six years, the journalists at PolitiFact have a lot of practice separating truth from fiction. A couple of recent examples:

  • Republican Governor Paul LePage of Maine says: “About 47 percent of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work.” That’s a “Pants on Fire!” dud, according to PolitiFact, and “unless LePage thinks newborns and nonagenarians ought to get off their tushes and find a job, this is a ridiculous claim.”
  • The NextGen Climate Action Committee, a Democratic-aligned PAC, says that Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli wants to “eliminate all forms of birth control.” “Pants on Fire!” says PolitiFact. “NextGen doesn’t have a speck of proof to bolster its incendiary claim that Cuccinelli wants to ban all forms of birth control.”

Will PunditFact deliver similar zingers? Watch this video promoting the Nov. 4 launch:

 

 

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ACA = Affordable Care Act = Obamacare