Fact-checking comes to the Amazon Echo

New skill from the Duke Reporters’ Lab allows users to 'ask the fact-checkers'

By Erica Ryan – October 21, 2016 | Print this article

The Duke Reporters’ Lab has created a new fact-checking app for the Amazon Echo.

The app is a spin-off of Share the Facts, a project that has expanded the reach of fact-checking. The launch partners are PolitiFact, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker and FactCheck.org.

With the new Share the Facts skill, owners of the Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices, including the Tap and the Dot, can “ask the fact-checkers” about claims they hear from presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as other candidates and politicians who have been checked.

Share the Facts is now available in the Skills section of the Alexa app. (To find it, open the Alexa app on your smartphone, click on the left navigation panel, and then select “Skills.” From there, you can search for “Share the Facts” and select “Enable Skill.”)

We encourage you to try checking candidates’ claims from your couch after watching a campaign ad or during a discussion around the dinner table.

To begin a query, say: “Alexa, ask the fact-checkers.” (If you’re using the Tap, you’ll need to press the microphone button first and then say, “Ask the fact-checkers.”)

We have found it often works best if you wait for Alexa to reply, “Welcome to Share the Facts. We consolidate fact-checks from some of the most respected journalists in the U.S. Ask me to check a fact you’re wondering about” — and then ask your question, such as:

  • “Did Donald Trump oppose the war in Iraq?”
  • “Was Hillary Clinton right that her email practices were allowed?”
  • “Is it true that 300,000 Floridians have lost their health insurance because of Obamacare?”

Try to use the most important keywords in your question, following the examples above.

Share the Facts uses natural speech recognition to analyze and answer your questions from our database of roughly 2,000 professionally curated fact-checks. We scale our results so that they are timely and have the most consensus among our partners.

We welcome your feedback on our new Echo skill Share the Facts. Please send your thoughts to Share the Facts project manager Erica Ryan.

Back to top

Lessons from our first experiment with pop-up fact-checking

More than 380 people tried our pop-up fact-checking during the presidential debate.

By Bill Adair – October 20, 2016 | Print this article

Several hundred people who watched the presidential debate last night got a preview of what fact-checking will look like in the future.

More than 380 beta testers of our Reporters’ Lab browser extension saw fact-checks pop onto their screens in near-real time. The pop-ups were actually tweets from PolitiFact that said when statements from Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump were true, false or somewhere in between.

The pop-ups provided instant fact-checks from PolitiFact's Twitter feed.
The pop-ups provided instant fact-checks from PolitiFact’s Twitter feed.

The “FactPopUp” tool, built by Reporters’ Lab student Gautam Hathi, used the notification feature in the Chrome browser to display the PolitiFact tweets. The pop-ups appeared over a livestream of the debate. They were generated by Aaron Sharockman, a PolitiFact editor who was tweeting links to items that had been previously published.

Viewers saw 29 pop-ups with messages such as “Trump said Clinton would double taxes for Americans. False.”

We had modest expectations. We knew that the success of the test depended on Sharockman’s speed finding previous fact-checks and the time delay for the NBC News livestream we were using. It turned out that Sharockman was quite fast and the NBC livestream was slightly delayed, which made the pop-ups appear very quickly for most users.

I was so pleased at one point that I tweeted:

Still, there are many lessons and plenty of things we can improve:

Ease of installation. We tried to make it as easy as possible, but we were relying on Chrome’s notifications and Twitter for the pop-ups, so the sign up and installation was more complicated than we wanted. Users needed a Twitter account to activate the browser extension. Next time, we probably should build it as a standalone tool that doesn’t rely on Chrome or Twitter.

Type size. This was another challenge because of our reliance on Chrome notifications. We’d like to increase the size of the type (we had to rely on the standard font size) and the length of the messages (we were limited to about 80 characters). Building it as a standalone tool would allow us to make the type larger and the fact-checks slightly longer.

Location of the pop-ups. We discovered a difference in the location of the pop-ups for Mac and PC users. On the Mac version, they appeared in the upper right, which sometimes blocked Hillary Clinton’s face when NBC was showing a split screen. On the PC version of Chrome, they appeared in the lower right, which seemed less obtrusive.

Dwell time. We had tinkered with how long the pop-ups stayed on the screen. They need to stay long enough that people can read and digest them, but not too long. When the pop-up is in the lower right, you could have a a slightly longer dwell time because it doesn’t block anyone’s face.

Other functions. It’s worth exploring other functions such as the ability to save a fact-check to read later or immediately share it with others. Two of our testers suggested synchronizing the pop-ups with a video recording so users could go back to them later or see where they occurred in the debate.

Overall, we’re quite pleased with our pioneering effort at pop-up fact-checking. It shows great promise not just for future debates but also for live events such as major speeches. We’ll be making it available in GitHub for others to try and build on.

We’d love to hear your feedback. You can write to me at bill.adair@duke.edu.


Back to top

Trump-Clinton debate

Duke students track the facts in this debate ‘live slog’

Journalism class monitors claims as the candidates face off during Wednesday's presidential showdown in Las Vegas.

By Mark Stencel – October 19, 2016 | Print this article

The facts were flying in Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump — and a team of 18 student “watchdogs” from an election reporting class at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy were among those watching. Our class was on the lookout for the statements that had been scrutinized by independent media fact-checkers, before and in some cases during the 90-minute debate in Las Vegas. The class shared links to those and some other findings the students thought were relevant in the live blog below. (Please note: This was a breaking news exercise done in real time for educational purposes. We’ll be discussing these posts in our class on Thursday — including the value and reliability of the sources we selected and linked to. So we would encourage you to read our postings with that in mind and to check the links and carefully evaluate those findings for yourself.)

Back to top

Reporters’ Lab to experiment with pop-up fact-checking during debate

The beta test of the Chrome extension will allow viewers to see real-time fact-checking with a livestream of the debate.

By Bill Adair – October 17, 2016 | Print this article

On Wednesday, the Duke Reporters’ Lab will test a new tool that will provide on-screen fact-checking during the third presidential debate.

The tool, a free extension for Chrome browsers, will provide real-time fact-checking from PolitiFact. Users will see a livestream of the debate with occasional messages that will pop onto the screen showing PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter rating for statements by the candidates.

We welcome your feedback. To try the tool, you must have the Chrome browser and download the extension. Follow the directions to get a personal identification number to activate it.

The “FactPopUp” tool was built by Gautam Hathi, a Duke computer science student who works in the Reporters’ Lab. The pop-ups will be generated by a PolitiFact editor watching the debate. When the editor hears one of the candidates make a claim that PolitiFact has checked before, the editor will quickly publish a tweet with a summary and the Truth-O-Meter rating. The summary and the rating then pop up on the livestream.

Viewers who take part in the beta test of our new browser extension will see fact-checks appear on a livestream of the debate.
Viewers who try our new browser extension will see fact-checks appear over a livestream of the debate.

Our private tests in the first two debates have been encouraging. The fact-checks pop up relatively quickly after the candidate makes the claim. It is reminiscent of the VH1 show Pop Up Video, which provided sometimes irreverent annotation to rock videos in the 1990s.

Our Chrome tool has some limitations. You need to have your own Twitter account so you can receive the fact-checks from PolitiFact’s tweets. And the browser extension can only provide pop-ups for statements that PolitiFact has previously researched and rated. And its quickness depends on the editor’s knowledge of PolitiFact’s 500-plus fact-checks on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The extension is being released as a beta for public testing, not as a final product. Hathi is optimistic that the extension will work well, but cautions that in some tests there have been delays in showing the pop-up.

Still, we’re hopeful that this will be a small first step toward the “Holy Grail” of fully automated fact-checking. Once we work out the bugs, we will make the browser extension available as an open source tool that can be used by others. Please send us feedback at factpopup@gmail.com.

The Reporters’ Lab, which is part of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, is exploring a variety of ways to automate fact-checking and expand the audience for this growing form of journalism. Earlier this year we unveiled the Share the Facts, a widget that provides a new way for readers to share fact-check articles and spread them virally across the Internet..

Back to top

Donald Trump

Duke Ad Watch: Clinton, Republicans find common ground against Trump

The Democratic presidential candidate is crossing party lines for attacks against her opponent

By Hank Tucker – October 16, 2016 | Print this article

Hillary Clinton is getting support in her attack advertising from an unusual source: Republicans.

Widely respected and ordinary Republicans alike are crossing party lines to attack Trump, with several Clinton ads featuring prominent GOP politicians denouncing their nominee. Most of the conservative attacks against Trump are not on specific policy issues, but instead on a lack of trust in a potential Trump presidency with access to the nuclear codes.

Hillary for America’s “Confessions of a Republican” ad, which first aired in June, echoes an ad by the same name supporting Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson during the 1964 campaign. Clinton’s simple commercial shows William Bogert — an old Republican actor — in black and white, sitting in a chair and talking straight to the viewer, just like a younger Bogert did 52 years ago.

Bogert, who is never named in the ad, claims to come from a family of Republicans, but attempts to distinguish Trump from Republican presidential nominees of years past.

“Donald Trump — he’s a different kind of man,” Bogert says. “This man scares me.”

Bogert raises his voice when he says Trump wants to be “unpredictable” with nuclear weapons, calling the nominee a “threat to humanity.”

There is no background music and no text for the majority of the ad, starkly contrasting with many of Clinton’s campaign ads in this cycle. But its simplicity may connect with moderate voters in their living rooms.

In the event a relatable Republican like Bogert cannot convince his peers to vote against Trump, the Clinton campaign has also used clips of conservative politicians and advisors trying to convey a lack of trust in Trump.

“Unfit,” a Hillary for America ad released in August, features sound bites from Michael Hayden, the former CIA director under George W. Bush; Max Boot, a conservative foreign policy analyst; and Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post.

All three right-wing voices question Trump’s judgment and plant fear in viewers’ minds about what he would do if he had access to nuclear weapons, an issue Clinton wants to keep at the forefront of the campaign.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want a person of that temperament in control of the nuclear codes?’” Krauthammer says. “As of now, I’d have to say no.”

Hillary for America continued its bipartisan assault on Trump with a September ad titled “Agree,” using voices from such Republican politicians as Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake. As opposed to the bureaucrats that condemned Trump’s glib treatment of nuclear weapons, these are legislators suggesting to their conservative constituencies that Trump will not represent their views.

The ad does not have much substance beyond a condemnation of Trump, but its power is in the magnitude of elected Republicans that have spoken out against him.

Politicians crossing party lines for endorsements is not a new phenomenon. Former Democratic governor and senator Zell Miller gave a fiery speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention endorsing Bush. Four years later, former Democratic senator Joe Lieberman — Al Gore’s running mate in his 2000 presidential campaign — endorsed John McCain for president at the Republican National Convention.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater alienated many moderate Republicans with his aggressive stance on the Soviet Union and nuclear weapons, prompting the original “Confessions of a Republican” ad. Goldwater’s candidacy also led to the infamous “Daisy” ad that showed a little girl in a meadow, pulling petals from a flower before an atomic bomb went off.

But no candidate has ever launched as expansive an advertising campaign with help from the other side as Clinton has this year. Trump is one of the most divisive presidential candidates the U.S. has seen, and Clinton — who is not viewed very favorably in her own right — is keeping the spotlight on Trump with this strategy.

By using Republicans to her advantage, Clinton is taking the focus away from wedge issues that divide the population, like gun control and race relations, and instead highlighting bipartisan foreign policy questions. Even if rural voters in swing states do not support Clinton’s liberal policies, many probably would be uncomfortable with the U.S. dropping nuclear bombs to solve the world’s problems. Clinton is trying to convince these voters that this would be a real possibility in a Trump presidency.

And if they don’t believe Clinton, they are likely to believe the Republicans they have lived with, respected and voted for in the past.

Back to top

Duke Ad Watch: Statewide campaigns use slogans to embrace the basics

Senate and congressional campaigns aim to influence voters with punchy taglines

By Julia Donheiser – October 13, 2016 | Print this article

Throughout the presidential campaign, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have spent millions of dollars on everything from Snapchat filters to personalized fact-checking sites. But state-level campaigns have relied on the basics, using trusty slogans that in many cases seem like a throwback to the simpler days of campaigning.

Some slogans pack the punch of an attack line while others use a more positive approach.

The Reporters’ Lab’s Duke Ad Watch team has spent the past two months working with the Political TV Ad Archive to identify factual claims in political ads. An analysis of the 263 ads with fact-checkable claims found that 36 commercials used slogans to either attack or promote a specific politician.

Only six ads used positive slogans, all of which were punchy sayings about a candidate being “right” for their state.

“Ted Strickland is Ohio’s heart and soul.”
“Pat Toomey is the clear choice for Pennsylvania.”
“Russ Feingold. Standing strong for Wisconsin.”

But a vast majority of slogans — 30 in total — were used to peg candidates as too risky, too liberal or too radical. Campaigns also attacked their competitors for putting Wall Street, profits or the Koch brothers over their constituents.

Below, find a breakdown of the types of slogans used in 2016 campaign commercials.

Taglines are punchy enough to catch viewers’ attention, but also vague enough that they can’t be fact-checked. After all, what does “too risky” mean? There’s no definitive test, which makes quippy slogans ideal for campaign ads hoping to leave viewers with a definitively negative or positive opinion of a candidate.

So, what are these slogans actually saying?

Many of the taglines we recorded appealed to trust, or lack thereof. Though many slogans didn’t directly use the word “trust,” they alluded to questionable motives and relationships with big money. Some examples include:

“Joe Heck puts Wall Street ahead of us.”
“Patrick Murphy. Fighting for special interests, not us.”
“Rob Portman. Can’t trust him to be for Ohio.”
“Hillary Clinton. Just can’t trust her.”

But the trust appeal is not new. A 1988 ad attacking Michael Dukakis finished with, “America can’t afford that risk.”

Similarly, an ad targeting John Kerry back in 2004 ended with “John Kerry cannot be trusted.” And then there’s the 2006 anti-Harold Ford ad claiming he was “just not right.”

Simply put, taglines are a tried and true method for attack ads and have been used since the early days of political advertising. Even as we find ourselves in one of the strangest election cycles, it is clear that the basics of political ads have not been thrown out the window just yet.

Candidates may change, but stale puns in political slogans are forever.

Back to top

Second Presidential Debate

In live presidential debate coverage, fact-checkers draw similar conclusions

When multiple fact-checking organizations investigate the same claims, they typically reach comparable results

By Hank Tucker – October 12, 2016 | Print this article

As fact-checking grows, journalists don’t always agree about which claims to check, but when they do, they nearly always concur on whether it’s true or false.

A Duke Reporters’ Lab examination of seven fact-checking organizations during the second presidential debate — PolitiFact, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bloomberg, NPR, Politico and CNN — found they examined 81 different claims, with 24 of the claims checked by more than one outlet. (Note: These are claims that were checked during and immediately after the debate. Our findings don’t include any fact-checks done long after the debate had ended.)

The Reporters’ Lab also found that fact-checkers nearly always reached the same conclusions. Of the 24 claims checked by multiple outlets, the fact-checkers disagreed for only three.

Whenever an outlet published a fact-check, student researchers from the Reporters’ Lab logged it in a spreadsheet with the statement, the rating and the link and grouped all the fact-checks of the same claim together.

The most common form of live fact-checking is within a liveblog or a single webpage that can be updated with each fact-check, a format that The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Politico, CNN and PolitiFact used. These organizations provided brief analyses of the claims to justify how they rated them, if there were ratings at all. Several organizations also tweeted links to previous fact-checks.

The New York Times, Politico, CNN and PolitiFact all had articles or blog posts dedicated to fact-checking, while The Washington Post and Bloomberg interspersed fact-checks throughout their liveblogs with general analysis of the debate.

PolitiFact also wound up publishing 10 new fact-checks of statements made during the debate between the conclusion of the 90-minute spectacle Sunday night and the early morning hours Monday.

NPR maintained an annotated transcript of the debate, with a fact-check inserted wherever there was a questionable claim.

Six outlets debunked Trump’s claim that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. But not all fact-checks were as straightforward as the conclusion for that claim, which Trump has continued to flaunt in the face of audio evidence and universal agreement among fact-checkers for his entire campaign.

Trump’s statement early in the debate that former president Bill Clinton “was impeached and lost his license to practice law and paid an $850,000 fine to one of the women, Paula Jones,” created some disagreement among fact-checkers.

Politico and The New York Times used the same evidence to come to different ratings. Politico’s primary conclusion in the first sentence of its analysis was that “Donald Trump is wrong to say Bill Clinton paid a fine,” arguing that the $850,000 payment was a “settlement” instead. The fact-check went on to acknowledge that Clinton was impeached and did have his license to practice law suspended.

The New York Times rated the same statement “mostly accurate,” choosing to focus on the impeachment and the suspension of Clinton’s license to practice law. Although the Times acknowledged the difference between a settlement and a fine, they did it toward the end of the fact-check and did not magnify that part of the statement as much as Politico did.

Politico and the Times also disagreed on Trump’s claim that Hillary Clinton deleted 33,000 emails after getting a subpoena, which Politico called “misleading” and the Times called “mostly true.” Although Politico acknowledged that Clinton did technically delete the emails after getting a subpoena, reporter Josh Gerstein pointed out that “she gave the instruction to erase those messages in late 2014, before she was subpoenaed.” The Times did not mention this detail.

PolitiFact split the difference on this statement and rated it Half True.

Back to top

Duke Ad Watch: Clinton campaign commercials rely on feeling, not fact

The Democratic candidate's recent ads make emotional appeals to voters instead of focusing on policy

By Amanda Lewellyn – October 5, 2016 | Print this article

Many pro-Hillary Clinton ads aren’t saying anything new about Donald Trump, or even making fact-based claims about his policies. They’re literally using Trump’s own words against him.

If you believe everything Trump said during the Sept. 26 presidential debate — and PolitiFact says you shouldn’t — Clinton has spent “hundreds of millions of dollars” on “hundreds of millions” of attack ads in an effort to push key demographics to the polls.

Her ads typically contain snippets from Trump’s speeches and interviews, in order to draw attention to the instances where he has incited violence or insulted women (or veterans, or immigrants, or people with disabilities…). And in the ads, the targets of his comments are usually watching, shaking their heads and expressing hurt and indignation in reaction to the soundbites.

In each spot, we watch individuals react as their demographic comes up to bat. In an ad called “Watching”, a woman gets ready for work when a 1994 ABC interview with Trump comes on the TV. “Putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing,” he says. “I don’t want to sound too much like a chauvinist…”

Seconds later, a Korean War veteran looks up from his seat at the bar to watch as Trump says at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit earlier this year, “[John McCain is] a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

In “Role Models”, unsupervised children watch while Trump makes claims on their TVs. Among other sound bites, the ad highlights the line, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” which was said during an Iowa campaign stop. What’s more, the children don’t seem fazed by the comments he’s making.

Some ads prove that his comments anger more than just their targets. In “Wall”, a diverse group of college-aged men and women glare into the camera as Trump is broadcast on a screen behind them. “When Mexico sends its people…they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…,” he says in the speech announcing his intent to run for president.

With less than 35 days left in the campaign, Clinton’s camp is working to capture female, minority and millennial voters. The ads discussed target people that fit the bill — working women, parents of young children, immigrants and college students — and personalize Clinton’s message: Trump won’t really help you.

The groups responsible for these ads — Hillary for America, Priorities USA Action and NextGen California — are trying to illustrate how a Trump presidency would only disrespect their experiences and their voices.

But the Clinton campaign is stepping up to this challenge in an unusual presidential election cycle, one in which rhetoric is everything and concrete policy is seemingly irrelevant. Instead of using fact-based research and policy plans to convince voters of their abilities, Trump and Clinton are relying heavily on how voters are feeling as opposed to the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

You can see this phenomenon in the Duke Ad Watch database of campaign commercials. Just one-third of pro-Trump ads have factual claims in them — and the same statistic is true of pro-Clinton ads. One-third! For the reader who doesn’t transcribe political ads for 10 hours a week, I’ll put that into perspective for you:

In Iowa, Patty Judge is challenging incumbent Chuck Grassley for his seat in the U.S. Senate. Two-thirds of the pro-Grassley and pro-Judge ads that have aired contain factual claims about the candidate or their opponent.

The stark difference in fact usage signals that the Iowans’ conversation is not focused on whether Grassley is brash or Judge is likable. It means they’re zeroing in on what each candidate has — or hasn’t — done for Iowans: whether they’ve created jobs, or fostered a wind energy economy, or enabled Congress’ inaction throughout Barack Obama’s presidency.

So what are Trump and Clinton talking about in their ads, if not the facts?

They’re exploring whether each candidate feels like a trustworthy choice for president. Whether they’re racist, sexist or just really earnest (“Does Trump really speak for you?” asks an ad called “Speak”). Whether each candidate has the compassion, worldview and energy necessary to understand communities’ — voters’ — daily challenges.

They’re working to convince you that they’ll be your relatable, down-to-earth champion through thick and thin.

Back to top

Veep Jonah Ryan

Duke Ad Watch: Minnesota campaign ad takes cues from HBO’s Veep

Our Duke Ad Watch team finds a Minnesota commercial remarkably similar to a fictional spot from the HBO series

By Rebecca Iannucci – September 22, 2016 | Print this article

When Julia Louis-Dreyfus, star of HBO’s political comedy Veep, took the stage at the Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 18, she had something to get off her chest as she accepted the win for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

“I’d also like to take this opportunity to personally apologize for the current political climate,” Louis-Dreyfus joked. “I think that Veep has torn down the wall between comedy and politics. Our show started out as a political satire, but it now feels more like a sobering documentary.”

Last week, the Reporters’ Lab’s Duke Ad Watch team found that to be true — perhaps truer than Louis-Dreyfus intended.

Stewart Mills, a Republican vying for the 8th Congressional District seat in Minnesota, released a campaign ad on Sept. 14 that depicts Mills as an outdoorsman. In a voiceover, Mills vows to “clear out the dead wood” in Congress and “chop career politicians down to size” — ha, ha — as he demonstrates his wood-chopping skills by splitting stump after stump with an axe.

Just a few months before Mills’ commercial hit the airwaves, a very similar campaign ad launched — on Veep.

In the HBO series’ fifth season, Jonah Ryan — an irksome White House liaison who so badly wants in on Washington, D.C.’s inner circle — runs for Congress in New Hampshire. One of his campaign spots is eerily comparable to Mills’ ad, showing him chopping wood and vowing to change the state of politics. (Watch it below.)

Given that Veep’s ad debuted long before Mills’ real-life commercial, it seems likely that the Republican took some inspiration from Jonah, right down to his criticism of “D.C. insiders.”

But maybe not. According to Veep showrunner David Mandel, this may not be a cut-and-dry case of life imitating art. In fact, when Mandel and the series’ writers began brainstorming the ideal TV spot for Jonah, they intentionally sought out overused ad tropes that would fit in well with Jonah’s brand.

“Our ad was a wonderful amalgam of terrible campaign ads and clichés,” Mandel said. “We thought the idea of Jonah, a true creature of the Beltway, selling himself as an outdoorsman would be spot-on perfect. I honestly think [Mills] is simply running plays from the same terrible playbook we were trying to mock.”

And Mandel isn’t just being humble. The producer — who had first seen Mills’ ad via a tweet from Jonah’s portrayer, Timothy Simons — admits that Jonah isn’t a character worth emulating, regardless of whether Veep had an effect on Mills’ campaign.

“I was just amazed,” Mandel said. “I can’t imagine that anyone who watches Veep saw Jonah’s ad and thought, ‘That’s what I should do when I run for office.’ Nobody ever thinks, ‘I want to be more like Jonah.’”

Our Duke Ad Watch has found this is part of a larger trend — “manly” campaign ads, many of which feature political hopefuls wielding guns, shooting guns and otherwise earning their NRA membership cards.

There’s Eric Greitens, Republican nominee for Missouri governor, who contributed to this year’s masculinity trend back in June with his “Taking Aim” ad, which features Greitens firing shots from a rifle into a field.

Then came Kansas State Senator Tom Holland, a Democrat up for re-election this year. And, as fate would have it, he’s also “Taking Aim” at his political rivals, and the commercial shows Holland wielding a shotgun while discussing his policy ideas.

But perhaps no “manly” campaign ad has made more waves this election season than “Background Checks,” from Democratic Missouri Senate hopeful Jason Kander. In an attempt to take, uh, shots at Senator Roy Blunt, Kander assembles an AR-15 rifle while blindfolded. As he puts the gun together, he discusses his support for the Second Amendment and background checks on firearm purchases. (Blunt has since responded with an attack ad of his own.)

Of course, it remains to be seen if these candidates’ macho promises will have any effect on the votes come Election Day. But one thing is certain: Jonah Ryan, fictional though he may be, would fit right in with this year’s candidates.

Back to top

Donald Trump Ad

Duke Ad Watch: We view the campaign ads so fact-checkers don’t have to

Reporters' Lab students will watch the campaign ads this fall in an effort to assist fact-checkers nationwide

By Rebecca Iannucci – September 8, 2016 | Print this article

With the fall political campaign underway, students in the Duke Reporters’ Lab are involved in an unusual project to help the nation’s fact-checkers. The students spend hours every day watching campaign commercials.

The goal of the Duke Ad Watch is simple: We watch the ads so fact-checkers don’t have to.

The project is a partnership with the Political TV Ad Archive, which is compiling a database of campaign ads airing nationwide. Students in the Reporters’ Lab are watching each ad to find the most interesting, provocative and important claims that are worth fact-checking. The Lab then alerts fact-checkers every day with a list of claims that could be checked.

Reporters’ Lab students will also be writing occasional articles about the trends and themes they see in the campaign ads. Are candidates using the same grainy news footage in cookie-cutter ads? Are many campaigns using the same ominous narrator? Duke students will spot those trends because they’ll be seeing so many ads.

The Duke Ad Watch officially began in January, but the project became dormant during the summer months. Now that classes have resumed, students will be working with the campaign ads through Election Day, Nov. 8.

You can see a running list of the claims we find in our open database. And watch for articles about trends and themes here in the Reporters’ Lab blog. For more information, contact Rebecca Iannucci at rebecca.iannucci@duke.edu.

Back to top