The story

About PolitiFact

Each election year we hear this lament from our readers suffering the barrage of campaign rhetoric: “just gimme the truth.”

That’s the mission of PolitiFact. The St. Petersburg Times of Florida and Congressional Quarterly of Washington, D.C. – two of America’s most trusted, independent newsrooms – have created the site to help voters separate fact from falsehood in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Journalists and researchers from the Times and CQ will fact-check the accuracy of speeches, TV ads, interviews and other campaign communications. We’ll publish new findings every day on PolitiFact.com, and list our sources for all to see.

PolitiFact (pronounced puh-lit’-eh-fact) is bolder than previous journalistic fact-checking efforts because we’ll make a call, declaring whether a claim is True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True or False. We even have a special category for the most ridiculous claims that we call “Pants on Fire.”

The St. Petersburg Times is Florida’s largest newspaper and the winner of six Pulitzer Prizes. Washington-based Congressional Quarterly is the authoritative news source for coverage of Congress and politics. CQ and the Times are affiliates of the Times Publishing Company, which is owned by the Poynter Institute, a center for journalism education in St. Petersburg.

PolitiFact will offer readers the choice of quick scorecards or longer stories explaining the issues and our rulings. It is a vibrant database that allows users to search for candidates’ records of accuracy based on their names, issues, or the rulings on our Truth-O-Meter. The site will include video of campaign ads and candidates’ speeches.

We'll also publish an “attack file” – a home for fact-checking the attacks candidates make against each other. We recognize that in a world of political bloggers and “independent” political action committees, attacks don’t just come from the candidates themselves. So we will also check out many claims that enter the public discourse via a talk show host, a blogger or even a fictional character in a YouTube video.

We think PolitiFact breaks new ground in political journalism. As voters get bombarded with confusing claims and counter-claims, they can turn to PolitiFact to find out what’s right and what’s not.

How the Truth-O-Meter works

The heart of PolitiFact is the Truth-O-Meter, which we use to rate the candidates’ claims and attacks.

The Truth-O-Meter is based on the concept that – especially in politics - truth is not black and white. Depending on how much information a candidate provides, a statement can be half true or barely true without being false.

PolitiFact writers and editors spend considerable time deliberating on our rulings. We always try to get the original statement in its full context rather than an edited form that appeared in news stories. We then divide the statement into individual claims that we check separately. For example, a Bill Richardson TV ad produced two claims. (We only make Truth-O-Meter rulings on those individual claims. We don’t make them in our articles because they often summarize multiple Truth-O-Meter items that had different rulings.)

When possible, we go to original sources to verify the claims. We look for original government reports rather than news stories. We interview impartial experts.

We then decide which of our six rulings should apply:

TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.

MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

HALF TRUE – The statement is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

BARELY TRUE – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

How we choose the facts to check

Every day, the presidential candidates unleash a torrent of words: speeches, TV ads, press releases, Web pages, letters to contributors, interviews. Together it forms a huge river of rhetoric that can be overwhelming. Who can you believe?

Our goal at PolitiFact is to sort out the candidates’ claims and determine how true they are. With so many claims made every day and a modest staff, we use our best news judgment in deciding which facts to check.

First, we only check things that can be verified. We can’t verify an opinion like “the Iraq war was a mistake” or “taxes are too high.” But we can confirm factual statements such as “John McCain voted both ways on the Bush tax cuts” (True) or “Some of the candidates don’t believe in God” (False. They all believe).

We choose items that pique our curiosity or look questionable. We checked a claim by Sen. John McCain that it’s virtually impossible to fire a federal employee. That’s long been the conventional wisdom, but we wondered if it was true. (It is). We checked Sen. Barack Obama’s claims about fuel efficiency because they seemed far-fetched.

Every day, we scour the transcripts of the candidates' speeches, debates and interviews for verifiable claims that look questionable. We welcome suggestions about facts we should check. Send them to truthometer@politifact.com.

Advertisement
Browse
Contribute

No, we don’t want to take your money. But we are more than willing to listen if you know of any facts or story ideas for the Truth-O-Meter. truthometer@politifact.com

PolitiFact.com

PolitiFact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly to help you find the truth in the presidential campaign. Every day, reporters and researchers from the Times and CQ will analyze the candidates' speeches, TV ads and interviews and determine whether the claims are accurate. >> More

Logos
Candidates
Feeds
RSS feeds for PolitiFact

PolitiFact has several RSS feeds to help you stay up to date on what's on the site. To see all the feeds, go here.