As people try to assess what is true and what is not in the information conveyed by politicians, newsmakers and news organizations, there has been a rise in fact-checking.
Of course, in the current climate, there have been noisy arguments about what constitutes proper fact-checking, not to mention what is, in fact, a fact.
But several websites have demonstrated even-handedness in their dealing with others’ claims, and make worthwhile reading companions to campaign rhetoric.
• FactCheck.org (www. factcheck.org), a self-described “nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics,” A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and overseen by longtime newsman Brooks Jackson, its detailed analysis of speeches and advertising has included such complaints as this: “The presidential campaign is overflowing with claims from both sides designed to scare seniors into thinking Medicare is being gutted or about to end altogether.”
• PolitiFact.com (www.politifact.com) is a venture by the Tampa Bay Times and partner news organizations, among them the Plain Dealer of Cleveland.
Bill Adair, Washington bureau chief for the Times, is the site’s founder and editor.
It is livelier rhetorically than FactCheck, with items like a Truth-O-Meter that rates factual claims on a range from “true” and “mostly true” to “pants on fire.” Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have gotten “pants on fire.”
• Snopes.com (www.snopes.com) is a more general-purpose truth-seeking site founded by Barbara and David Mikkelson, a husband and wife who live and work in the Los Angeles area. It can tell you if entering the reverse of your PIN number in an ATM will summon police (it won’t) and whether Denzel Washington recently made a big donation to an Army medical center. (He did, though not as big as a widespread email suggests, and he didn’t write a check on the spot, and he didn’t have a son who was a Marine — and this all happened almost eight years ago.)
But Snopes also ventures into some political issues, such as whether supposed Kenyan birth certificates for the president were real. (Snopes.com concluded they were bad forgeries.)
Snopes (which some fans refer to as “Snoops”) even fact-checked itself when it addressed a rumor that it was secretly funded by “the Democratic Alliance, a funding channel for uber-Leftist (Marxist) Billionaires.” The site insists it is “funded through advertising revenues” and not associated with political organizations, that the Mikkelsons are “wholly apolitical” and that Barbara, as a Canadian citizen, cannot even vote in the United States.
Do you use fact-checking sites? Which ones do you think are the most useful or even-handed? Join the online conversation about media and civility at the Civic Commons.