A broken promise about a tattoo and the need to fact-check everyone
"When we put together the IFCN code of principles three years ago, we said that fact-checkers 'do not concentrate their fact-checking on any one side.'"
By Bill Adair – June 19, 2019 | Print this article
My opening remarks from Global Fact 6, Cape Town, South Africa, on June 19, 2019.
It’s wonderful to be here and see so many familiar faces. It’s particularly cool to see our new team from the IFCN, not just Baybars and Cris, but also Daniela Flamini, one of our journalism students from Duke who graduated last month and is now working for the IFCN.
And it warms my heart to see my old friend Stephen Buckley here. When Stephen was dean of the faculty at Poynter, the two of us organized the first Global Fact meeting in London in 2014. That wasn’t easy. We had difficulty raising enough money. But Stephen was determined to make it happen, so he found some money from a few different accounts at Poynter. Global Fact – and our important journalistic movement – would not have happened if it weren’t for him.
I’m impressed by this turnout – more than 250 attendees this year! I confess that when I saw the headline on Daniela’s story last week that said this was “the largest fact-checking event in history”… I wanted a fact-check. But I did one, and as PolitiFact would say, I rate that statement True!
I want to start today with a quick reminder of the importance of holding people accountable for what they say — in this case…me.
You will recall that last year at Global Fact, I promised that I would get a tattoo. And after some discussion, I decided it would be a tattoo of my beloved Truth-O-Meter. But a year went by and a funny thing happened: I decided I didn’t want a tattoo.
Now, as fact-checkers, we all know the importance of holding people accountable for what they say. We did that at PolitiFact with the Obameter and other campaign promise meters. PolitiFact has a special meter for a broken promise that usually features the politician with a big frown. We have fun choosing that photo, which has the person looking really miserable.
So I’ve created one to rate myself on the tattoo promise: The Bill-O-Meter. Promise broken!
My message today to open Global Fact is also about accountability. It’s about the need to make sure we fact-check all players in our political discourse.
Julianna Rennie and I recently wrote a piece for Poynter that looked at a new trend in the United States we call “embedded fact-checking.” It’s the growing practice of reporters including fact-checks in their news articles, when they drop in a paragraph or two that exposes a falsehood. For example, they may write that someone “falsely claimed that vaccines cause autism.”
We were glad to find a growing trend of embedded fact-checking in news and analysis articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the AP over the past four years. But we also found the subject was nearly always the same: Donald Trump. It was wonderful to see the trend, but it was lopsided.
Trump is a prime target for fact-checking because his volume of falsehoods is unprecedented in American history — and probably in world history, too. Journalists rightly should question everything he says. And you may have similar figures in your own countries who deserve similar scrutiny.
But we shouldn’t focus so much on Trump that we neglect other politicians and other parties. That’s true not just in the United States but everywhere. Indeed, when we put together the IFCN code of principles three years ago, we said that fact-checkers “do not concentrate their fact-checking on any one side.”
In the United States and around the world, we need to make sure that we check all the important players in the political discourse, whether it is for news stories or our fact-checking sites.
So my message for you today is a simple one: check everybody. Hold everyone accountable.