Vast gaps in fact-checking across the U.S. allow politicians to elude scrutiny

A Reporters' Lab review of local fact-checking finds only a small percentage of politicians and other public officials are held accountable for the accuracy of the claims they make.

By Joel Luther – March 29, 2023 | Print this article

Click here to read the full report.

The candidates running last year for an open seat in Ohio’s 13th Congressional District exchanged a relentless barrage of scathing claims, counterclaims and counter-counterclaims.

Emilia Sykes was a former Democratic leader in the state legislature who came from a prominent political family. Her opponent called Sykes a lying, liberal career politician who raised her own pay, increased taxes on gas and retirement accounts, and took money from Medicare funds to “pay for free healthcare for illegals.” Other attack ads warned voters that the Democrat backed legislation that would release dangerous criminals from jail.1

Sykes’ opponent, Republican Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, was an attorney, a former Miss Ohio, and a prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump. Sykes’ and her backers called Gilbert a liar who would “push for tax cuts for millionaires” and slash Social Security and Medicare. Gilbert backed a total abortion ban with no exceptions, they warned (“not even if the rape victim is a 10 year old girl”) and she had the support of political groups that aim to “outlaw birth control.”2

Voters in one of the country’s most contested U.S. House races heard those allegations over and over — in TV ads, social media posts and from the candidates themselves.

But were any of those statements and allegations true? Who knows?

Ohio was one of 25 states where no statewide or local media outlet consistently fact-checked political statements. So voters in the 13th District were on their own to sort out the truth and the lies. 

But their experience was not unique. Throughout the country, few politicians had to worry about being held accountable for exaggerations or lies in ads or other claims during the campaign. 

An extensive review by the Duke Reporters’ Lab of candidates and races that were fact-checked found only a small percentage of politicians and public officials were held accountable for the accuracy of what they said.

The results were striking.

Governors were the most likely elected officials to face review by fact-checkers at the state and local level. But still fewer than half of the governors had even a single statement checked (19 out of 50).

For those serving in Congress, the chances of being checked were even lower. Only 33 of 435 U.S. representatives (8%) were checked. In the U.S. Senate, a mere 16 of 100 lawmakers were checked by their home state news media.

The smaller the office, the smaller the chance of being checked. Out of 7,386 state legislative seats, just 47 of those lawmakers were checked (0.6%). And among the more than 1,400 U.S. mayors of cities of 30,000 people or more, just seven were checked (0.5%).

These results build on an earlier Reporters’ Lab report3 immediately after the election, which showed vast geographical gaps in fact-checking at the state and local level. Voters in these “fact deserts” have few, if any, ways to keep up with misleading political claims on TV and social media. Nor can they easily hold public officials and institutions accountable for any inaccuracies and disinformation they spread.

A color coded map showing which states have active local fact-checking projects.

Longstanding national fact-checking projects fill in some of the gaps. FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press sometimes focus on high-profile races at the state and local level. They and other national media outlets also monitor the statements of prominent state-level politicians who have their eyes fixed on higher offices — such as the White House.

But our review of the 2022 election finds that the legacy fact-checking groups have not scaled to the vast size and scope of the American political system. Voters need more fact-checks, on more politicians, more quickly. And fact-checkers need to develop more robust and creative ways to distribute and showcase those findings.

We found big gaps in coverage, but also opportunities for some relatively easy collaborations. Politicians and campaigns repeatedly use the same lines and talking points. Fact-checkers sometimes cite each other’s work when the same claims pop up in other places and other mouths. But there’s relatively little organized collaboration among fact-checkers to quickly respond to recycled claims. Collaborative projects in the international fact-checking community offer potential templates. Technology investments would help, too.

Who’s Getting Fact-Checked?

To examine the state of regional fact-checking, the Duke Reporters’ Lab identified 50 active and locally focused fact-checking projects from 25 states and the District of Columbia.4 That count was little changed from the national election years since 2016, when an average of 46 fact-checking projects were active at the state and local level.

The fact-checking came from a mix of TV news stations, newspaper companies, digital media sites and services, and two public radio stations. PolitiFact’s state news affiliates also include two university partnerships, including a student newspaper. (See the full report for a complete list and descriptions.) 

Active Local Fact-Checking Outlets by Year

A bar chart showing growth in local fact-checking.

Journalists from those news organizations cranked out 976 fact-checks, verifying the accuracy of more than 1,300 claims from Jan. 1, 2022, to Election Day. 

But thousands more claims went unchecked. That became clear when we began to determine who was getting fact-checked.

As part of our research, we reviewed the fact-checkers’ output in text, video and audio format. We identified a “claim” as a statement or image that served as the basis of a news report that analyzed its accuracy based on reliable evidence. That included a mix of political statements as well as other kinds of fact-checks — such as local issues, social trends and health concerns.

We excluded explanatory stories that did not analyze a specific claim or reach a conclusion. Of the more than 970 fact-checks we reviewed, about 13% examined multiple claims.

The Reporters’ Lab found that a vast majority of politicians at the state and local level elude the fact-checking process, from city council to statewide office. But elected officials and candidates in some places got more scrutiny than others. 

Some interesting findings:

The most-checked politician was Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican. Reynolds topped the list with 28 claims checked, largely because of two in-depth articles from the Gazette Fact Checker in Cedar Rapids, which covered 10 claims from her Condition of the State address in January 2022, and another 10 from her delivery of the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union in March.

Other more frequently checked politicians included Michigan gubernatorial challenger Tudor Dixon, a Republican (18); Cindy Axne, a Democrat who lost her bid for reelection to a U.S. House seat in Iowa (16); and incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a Republican (16).

Also near the top of the list were former President Trump, a Republican (15), who was sometimes checked on claims during local appearances; Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat (15); Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat (15); Evers’ Republican challenger Tim Michels (14); Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a Republican (13); and Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis (12).

Most-Checked Politicians

A bar chart showing which politicians are most fact-checked.

Overall, individual claims by sitting governors were checked 130 times (10% of claims); by U.S. representatives 96 times (7%); by state legislators 77 times (6%); by U.S. senators 61 times (5%); and by mayors 11 times (1%).

Most-Checked Politicians By Office Held

A bar chart showing the distribution of fact-checks by office held.

For comparison, President Joe Biden’s claims were checked more than 100 times by national fact-checkers from PolitiFact, The Washington Post and others.

While these numbers focus on direct checking of the politicians themselves, fact-checkers also analyzed claims by other partisan sources, including deep-pocket political organizations running attack ads in many races.

There was more checking of Republicans/conservative politicians and political groups (553 claims, or 42%) than Democratic/progressive groups (382 claims, or 29%). If we look strictly at the 942 claims from claimants we identified as political, 59% were Republican/conservative and 41% were Democratic/progressive. 

Read the full report here.

Our Recommendations

Fact-checking is a challenging type of journalism. It requires speed, meticulous research and a thick skin. It also requires a willingness to call things as they are, instead of hiding behind the misleading niceties of both-siderism. And yet, over the past decade, dozens of state and local news organizations have adopted this new type of journalism. 

The 50 fact-checking programs we examined during last year’s midterm election invested time, energy and money to combat political falsehoods and push back against other types of misinformation. Even at a time of upheaval in the local news business, we have seen TV news stations, newspaper companies, and nonprofit newsrooms embrace this mission.

But all this work is not enough. 

Misinformation and disinformation spread far, fast and at a scale that is almost impossible for news media fact-checkers to keep pace. If journalists aim to reestablish a common set of facts, we need to do more fact-checking. 

Our recommendations for dramatically increasing local media’s capacity for fact-checking include: 

Invest in more fact-checking 

The challenge: Despite the diligent work of local fact-checking outlets in 25 states and the District of Columbia, only a relative handful of politicians and public officials were ever fact-checked. And in half the country, there was no active fact-checking at all.

The recommendation: It is clear that an investment in this vital journalism is sorely needed. Voters in “fact desert” states like Ohio and New Hampshire will be key to the 2024 elections. And those voters should be able to trust in local journalism to provide a check on the lies that politicians are sure to peddle in political ads, debates and other campaign events.

Even in states where local fact-checking efforts exist, they are severely outmatched by a tsunami of claims, as political organizations pump billions of dollars into campaign ads, and social media messages accelerate the spread of misinformation far and wide. The low numbers of claims checked locally in the 2022 Senate races in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania demonstrate that additional help is needed in manpower and financial resources for the journalists trying to keep up with the campaign cycle.

One way to increase the volume of local fact-checking would be to incentivize projects like Gigafact and PolitiFact. These existing models can be replicated by other organizations and added in additional states. The Gigafact partners in Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin produced dozens of 140-word “fact briefs” in the run-up to the 2022 election. These structured fact-checks, which answer yes/no questions, have proved popular with audiences. Dee J. Hall, managing editor at Wisconsin Watch, which participated in the Gigafact pilot in 2022, reported that eight of the organization’s ten most popular stories in November were fact briefs.

The journalism education community can also help. During the 2022 election, PolitiFact worked with the journalism department at West Virginia University and the student newspaper at the University of Iowa to produce fact-checks for voters in their states. Expanding that model, potentially in collaboration with other national fact-checkers, could transform most of the barren “fact deserts” we’ve described in time for the 2024 general election campaign. 

Elevate fact-checking

The challenge: Fact-checking is still a niche form of reporting. It shares DNA with explanatory and investigative journalism. But it is rarely discussed at major news media conferences. There are few forums for fact-checkers at the state and local level to compare their efforts, learn from one another and focus on their distinctive reporting problems. 

The recommendation: As we continue increasing the volume of local fact-checking, audiences and potential funders need to view fact-checking with the same importance as investigative work. Investigative reporting has been a cornerstone of local news outlets’ identity and public service mission for decades. Fact-checking should be equally revered. Both are vital forms of journalism that are closely related to each other.

Some local news outlets already take this approach, with their investigative teams also producing fact-checking of claims. For example, 4 Investigates Fact Check at KOB-TV in New Mexico is an offshoot of its 4 Investigates team, and FactFinder 12 Fact Check at KWCH-TV in Kansas uses a similar model.

Fact-checkers also can elevate their work by explaining it more forcefully — on-air, online and even in person. This is an essential way to promote trust in their work. We found that 17 state and local fact-checking efforts do not provide any explanation of their process or methodology to their audiences. Offering this kind of basic guidance does not require creating and maintaining separate dedicated “about” or methodology pages. Instead, some fact-checkers, such as ConnectiFact and the Gazette Fact Checker in Iowa, embed explanations directly within their fact-checks. In this mobile era, that in-line approach might well be more important. Likewise, as TV continues to play an increasing role in fact-checking, broadcasters also need to help their viewers understand what they’re seeing.

Embrace technology and collaborate

The challenge: Several national fact-checkers in the United States work closely together with the Reporters’ Lab, as well as other academic researchers and independent developers, to test new approaches to their work. We’ve seen that same spirit of community in the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute, which has fostered cross-border collaborations and technology initiatives. In contrast, few state and local press in the United States have the capacity or technological know-how to experiment on their own. Fact-checking also has a low-profile in journalism’s investigative and tech circles.

The recommendation: There is a critical need for more investment in technology to assist fact-checkers at the state and local level. As bad actors push misinformation on social media and politicians take advantage of new technologies to mislead voters, an equal effort must be made to boost the truth.

AI can be leveraged to better track the spread of misinformation, such as catching repetitions of false talking points that catch on and circulate all around the country. A talking point tracker could help fact-checkers prioritize and respond to false claims that have already been fact-checked.

AI can also be leveraged to help with the debunking of false claims. Once a repeated talking point has been identified, a system using AI could then create the building blocks of a fact-check that a journalist could review and publish.

But none of these ideas will get very far unless journalists are willing to collaborate. Collaboration can cut down on duplication and allow more effort to be spent on fact-checking new claims. The use of technology would also have a greater impact if more organizations are willing to swap data and make use of each others’ research.

Make fact-checking easier to find

The challenge: Fact-checking in the United States has grown significantly since 2017. But fact-checks are still easy to miss on cluttered digital news feeds. Existing technology can help fact-checkers raise their profiles. But some state and local fact-checks don’t even have basic features that call attention to their reporting.

The recommendation: Nearly 180 fact-checking projects across the United States and  around the world have embraced open-source systems designed to provide data that elevate their work in search results and on large social media and messaging services. State and local fact-checkers should adopt this system as well.

The Reporters’ Lab joined with Google and Schema.org to develop a tagging system called ClaimReview. ClaimReview provides data that major digital platforms can use to recognize and suppress misinformation on their feeds. A second, related schema called MediaReview is generating similar data for visual misinformation. 

ClaimReview has helped feed a prominent collection of recent fact-checks on the front of the Google News page in half a dozen countries, including the U.S. But so far, most state and local fact-checking projects are not using ClaimReview. 

Meanwhile, the regional fact-checkers have even more foundational work to do. That more than a quarter of the active fact-checkers (13 of 50) have no dedicated page or tag for the public to find these stories is disappointing. Overcoming the limitations of inflexible publishing systems often make simple things hard. But all fact-checkers need to do more to showcase their work. Fact-checks have a long shelf life and enormous value to their audiences. 

This project was a team effort. The report was written and led by Mark Stencel, co-director of the Duke Reporters’ Lab, and project manager Erica Ryan. Student researchers Sofia Bliss-Carrascosa and Belén Bricchi were significant contributors, as was Joel Luther, research and outreach coordinator for ClaimReview and MediaReview at the Reporters’ Lab.

Here’s how we decide which fact-checkers to include in the Reporters’ Lab database. The Lab continually collects new information about the fact-checkers it identifies, such as when they launched and how long they last. If you know of a fact-checking project that has been missed, please contact  and  at the Reporters’ Lab.

Our thanks to Knight Foundation’s journalism program for supporting this research.

Disclosure: Stencel is an unpaid contributing editor to PolitiFact North Carolina.

1 https://nrcc.org/2022/08/31/fact-check-sykes-lies-to-oh-voters-in-first-tv-ad/



2 https://host2.adimpact.com/admo/viewer/a9400662-bc20-4e34-9a44-42d478efa451/


3 https://reporterslab.org/fact-deserts-leave-states-vulnerable-to-election-lies/

4 After an earlier report in November 2022, our Lab identified a few more election-year fact-checking efforts. That meant our total count for the year increased from 46 to 50. And the number of states that had fact-checking efforts in that period increased from 21 to 25.


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Fact Deserts

Fact deserts leave states vulnerable to election lies

Politicians in 29 states get little scrutiny for what they say, while local fact-checkers in other places struggle to keep pace with campaign misinformation.

By Belen Bricchi – November 16, 2022 | Print this article

Amid the political lies and misinformation that spread across the country throughout the 2022 midterm elections, statements by candidates in 29 states rarely faced the scrutiny of independent fact-checkers.

Fact Deserts cover
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Why? Because there weren’t any local fact-checkers.

Even in the places where diligent local media outlets regularly made active efforts to verify the accuracy of political claims, the volume of questionable statements in debates, speeches, campaign ads and social posts far outpaced the fact-checkers’ ability to set the record straight.

An initial survey by Reporters’ Lab at Duke University identified 46 locally focused fact-checking projects during this year’s campaign in 21 states and the District of Columbia. That count is little changed in the national election years since 2016, when an average of 47 fact-checking projects were active at the state and local level.

Active State/Local Fact-Checkers in the U.S., 2003-22

Active State/Local Fact-Checkers in the U.S., 2003-22

There’s also been lots of turnover among local fact-checking projects over time. At least 40 projects have come and gone since 2010. And fact-checking is not always front and center, even among the news outlets that devote considerable effort and time to this reporting.

While some fact-checkers consistently produce reports from election to election, many others are campaign-season one-offs. And the overwhelming emphasis on campaign claims can produce a fact-vacuum after the votes are counted — when elected officials, party operatives and others in the political process continue to make erroneous and misleading statements.

Fact-checks also can be hard for readers and viewers to find — sometimes appearing only in a broader scroll of state political news, with little effort to make this vital reporting stand out or to showcase it on a separate page. 

The Duke Reporters’ Lab conducted this initial survey to assess the state of local fact-checking during the 2022 midterm elections. The Lab first began tracking fact-checking projects across the United States and around the world in 2014 and maintains a global database and map of fact-checking projects.

While 29 states currently appear to have no fact-checking projects that regularly report on claims from politicians or social media at the local level, residents may encounter occasional one-off fact-checks from their state’s media outlets. 

Among the states lacking dedicated fact-checking projects are four that had hotly contested Senate or governor races this fall — New Hampshire, Kansas, Ohio and Oregon.

States with active local fact-checking projects, 2022

The states with the most robust fact-checking in terms of projects based there include Texas with five outlets; Iowa and North Carolina with four; and Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin with three each. 

Competition seems to generate additional fact-checking. States with active fact-checking projects tend to have at least two (14 states of the 21), while seven states and D.C. have a single locally focused project.

Local television stations are the most active fact-check producers. Of the outlets that generated fact-checks at the state and local level this year, more than half are local television stations. That’s a change over the past two decades, when newspapers and their websites were the primary outlets for local fact-checks.

Who Produces Local Fact-Checks?

Local fact-checking projects by medium: TV (24), newspaper (11), digital (9), radio (2)

Almost all local fact-checking projects are run by media outlets, while several are based at universities or nonprofit organizations. The university-related fact-checkers are Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication; The Daily Iowan, the University of Iowa’s independent student newspaper; and West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media. All three are state affiliates of PolitiFact, the prolific national fact-checking organization based at the nonprofit Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.

National news partnerships and media owners drive a significant amount of local fact-checking. Of the 46 projects, almost a quarter are affiliated with PolitiFact, while another half-dozen are among the most active local stations participating in the Verify fact-checking project by TV company Tegna. In addition, five Graham Media Group television stations use a unified Trust Index brand at the local level.

One of the newest efforts to encourage local fact-checking is Repustar’s Gigafact, a non-profit project that partnered with three newsrooms to counter misinformation during the midterms. The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, The Nevada Independent and Wisconsin Watch produced “fact briefs,” which are short, timely reports that answer yes or no questions, such as “Is Nevada’s violent crime rate higher than the national average?

Nearly 40 percent of the fact-checkers in the Lab’s count got their start since 2020, including 11 projects in that year alone. In contrast, the oldest fact-checker, WISC-TV in Madison, Wisconsin, began producing its Reality Check segments almost two decades ago, in 2004. It’s among 12 fact-checkers that have been active for 10 years or more.

Another new initiative launched in April to increase Spanish language fact-checking at the local level in the U.S. — but with the help of two prominent international fact-checking organizations. 

Factchequeado, a partnership between Maldita.es of Spain and Chequeado in Argentina, has built a network of 27 allies, including 19 local news outlets in the U.S. through which they share fact-checks and media literacy content. Currently, the majority of Factchequeado fact-checks are produced at the national level by its own staff. Through its U.S. partnerships, Factchequeado aims to train Hispanic journalists to produce original fact-checks in Spanish at the local level.

The Reporters’ Lab conducted this survey with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which also has helped fund the Lab’s work on automated fact-checking. The Lab intends to follow up its initial assessment of the local fact-checking landscape with a post-election report that will dive into some of the challenges facing journalists trying to do this vital work. Our follow-up report will explore the content of local fact-checkers’ work in 2022, including data on whom they fact-checked and their approaches to rating claims. We will interview local reporters, producers and editors about public and political feedback and their editorial processes and methodologies. We also intend to examine why some local fact-checking initiatives are short-lived election-year efforts while others have carried on consistently for many years.

Here’s how we decide which fact-checkers to include in the Reporters’ Lab database. The Lab continually collects new information about the fact-checkers it identifies, such as when they launched and how long they last. If you know of a fact-checking project that has been missed, please contact Mark Stencel and Erica Ryan at the Reporters’ Lab.

Joel Luther of the Reporters’ Lab contributed to this report.

Appendix: Local Fact-Checking Projects


Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting (Gigafact) | Phoenix
Fact-checking for Repustar’s Gigafact Project by an independent, nonprofit newsroom in Phoenix funded by individual donors, foundations, fee-for-service revenue and other sources. Repustar is a privately-funded benefit corporation based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

PolitiFact Arizona | Phoenix
The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is PolitiFact’s local affiliate in Arizona. PolitiFact previously worked in Arizona with KNXV-TV (ABC15), ABC’s local affiliate in Phoenix, as part of partnership with the station’s owner, Scripps TV Station Group. (KNXV-TV had previously produced its own “Truth Test” segments.) PolitiFact’s national staff maintained the site starting with the 2018 midterm election cycle until the fact-checking organization partnered with ASU in 2022.


PolitiFact California | Sacramento
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters at Capital Public Radio.

Sacramento Bee Fact Check | Sacramento
Fact-checks by Sacramento Bee reporters appear in its Capitol Alert section, especially in election years. Began as an “Ad Watch” feature focused on political advertising.


9News Truth Test | Denver
NBC’s local TV affiliate in Denver has long done political fact-checking, particularly during elections. In addition, the Tegna-owned station also actively contributes to the Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations (https://www.9news.com/verify). 9News relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.

CBS4 Reality Check | Denver
Election-year fact-checks from Denver’s local, CBS-owned commercial TV affiliate.

District of Columbia

WUSA9 Verify | Washington
WUSA9 is among the most active contributors in Tegna’s Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations. The Washington-area’s CBS affiliate relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.


News4Jax Trust Index | Jacksonville
Fact-checking by the news team at WJXT-TV (News4Jax), an independent commercial TV station in Jacksonville, Florida. News4Jax is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

News 6 Trust Index | Orlando
Fact-checking by the news team at WKMG-TV (News 6), the CBS affiliate in Orlando, Florida. News 6 is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose regional TV stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg
PolitiFact’s reporting on the state is produced in affiliation with the Tampa Bay Times. The newspaper’s bureau in Washington, D.C., was the fact-checking service’s original home before it was folded into the Poynter Institute — a non-profit media training center in St. Petersburg, Florida, that also owns the Times and its commercial publishing company. From 2010 to 2017, the Miami Herald was also a PolitiFact Florida reporting and distribution partner.


11 Alive Verify | Atlanta
WXIA is among the most active contributors in Tegna’s Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations. The Atlanta-area’s NBC affiliate relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.


PolitiFact Illinois | Chicago
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters and researchers from the Better Government Association, a nonprofit watchdog organization founded in 1923 that focuses on investigative journalism. PolitiFact’s previous news partner in the state was Reboot Illinois, a for-profit digital news service.


Gazette Fact Checker | Cedar Rapids
Fact-checks by reporters at The Cedar Rapids Gazette. The newspaper previously worked on its fact-checks in collaboration with KCRG-TV, a local TV station the Gazette owned until 2015.

KCCI’s Get the Facts | Des Moines
Fact-checks of campaign ads during election cycles by reporters at the Des Moines, Iowa, CBS affiliate, a commercial station owned by Hearst Television.

KCRG-TV’s “I9 Fact Checker” | Cedar Rapids
Occasional fact-checks presented by commercial station KCRG-TV’s “I9 Investigation” team. The local ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids was previously owned by the area’s local newspaper, The Cedar Rapids Gazette. The two news organizations worked together on fact-checks from 2014 to 2018.

PolitiFact Iowa | Iowa City
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters at The Daily Iowan, the independent student newspaper at the University of Iowa. PolitiFact’s previous state partner in Iowa was the Des Moines Register.


Bangor Daily News Ad Watch | Bangor
Fact-checks of campaign ads during election season by staffers at the Bangor daily newspaper.

Portland Press Herald | Portland
Fact-checks of campaign ads during election cycles by staffers at the daily newspaper in Portland, Maine.


Bridge Michigan | Detroit
An ongoing reporting project published mainly in election years by Bridge Magazine, an online journal published by the non-profit Center for Michigan. Originally called The Truth Squad, the project began as a standalone site before it merged with the center and its magazine in 2012. The Bridge’s fact-checkers also have collaborated with public media’s Michigan Radio.

Local 4 Trust Index | Detroit
Fact-checking by the news team at WDIV-TV (Local 4), the NBC affiliate for Detroit, Michigan. Local 4 is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose regional TV stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

PolitiFact Michigan | Detroit
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters from the Detroit Free Press. The newspaper previously did fact-checking on its own during the 2014 midterm elections.


5 Eyewitness News Truth Test | St. Paul
Election season fact-checking by the local ABC affiliate’s political reporter.

CBS Minnesota Reality Check | Minneapolis
Fact-checking by the news staff at the local CBS affiliate in Minneapolis.


KY3 Fact Finders | Springfield
Fact-checks by an anchor/reporter for the NBC affiliate in Springfield, Missouri. Focuses on rumors and questions from viewers.

News 4 Fact Check | St. Louis
Election season fact-checks by reporters at CBS’s local affiliate in St. Louis.


Reno Gazette-Journal Fact Checker | Reno
Fact-checks by RGJ’s local government reporter and engagement director. The position is supported by donations and grants.

The Nevada Independent (Gigafact) | Las Vegas
Fact-checking for Repustar’s Gigafact Project by a nonprofit news website in Las Vegas funded by corporate donations, memberships, foundation grants and other sources. Repustar is a privately-funded benefit corporation based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

New Mexico

4 Investigates Fact Check | Albuquerque
Occasional fact-checks by the investigative news team at KOB-TV (KOB4), a commercial TV station owned by Hubbard Broadcasting Company that is NBC’s local affiliate in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A reporter conducts the fact-checks with the help of a political scientist from the University of New Mexico.

New York

News10NBC Fact Check | Rochester
Fact-checks by an anchor/reporter at the Rochester, New York, NBC affiliate, that focus on rumors and questions from viewers.

PolitiFact New York | Buffalo
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters from the Buffalo News.

North Carolina

CBS 17 Truth Tracker and Digging Deeper | Raleigh-Goldsboro
Fact-checks by a data reporter from the Raleigh-area’s local CBS affiliate — a commercial TV station owned by Nexstar Media Group. Televised versions of the “Digging Deeper” segments are supplemented with source material on the station’s website, with political “Truth Tracker” reports appearing on its election news page.

PolitiFact North Carolina | Raleigh
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters at WRAL-TV, a privately owned commercial station that is NBC’s local affiliate in the Raleigh-Durham area. The News & Observer, a McClatchy-owned newspaper in Raleigh, was PolitiFact’s original local news partner in the state from 2016 to 2019.

The News & Observer’s Fact-Checking Project | Raleigh
Fact-checks by the reporting staff of The News & Observer, the McClatchy owned newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina. It freely distributes its fact-checking to other media in the state. The N&O previously did fact-checking as PolitiFact’s state partner from 2016 to 2019.

WCNC Verify | Charlotte
WCNC is among the most active contributors in Tegna’s Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations. The Charlotte-area’s NBC affiliate relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.


The Frontier fact checks | Tulsa
Fact-checking by reporters from this non-profit news site based in Tulsa. The fact-checks appear in the form of thematic roundups posted with the site’s other news stories. The Frontiers’ work is also used by other Oklahoma media. The Frontier Media Group Inc. operates the site with support from foundations, corporate supporters and individual donors.


News 8 “Ad Watch” | Lancaster
Ad Watch segments appear during election campaigns in televised newscasts and on the politics page of this local, commercially supported TV station. Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, WGAL-TV is owned by Hearst Television and is the local NBC affiliate for the Susquehanna Valley region, including the state capital in Harrisburg.


KHOU11 Verify | Houston
KHOU is among the most active contributors in Tegna’s Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations. The Houston-area’s CBS affiliate relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.

KPRC Trust Index | Houston
Fact-checking by the news team at KPRC-TV, the NBC affiliate for Houston, Texas. KPRC is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose local TV stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

KSAT Trust Index | San Antonio
Fact-checking by the news team at KSAT-TV, the ABC affiliate in San Antonio, Texas. KSAT is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose regional TV stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

PolitiFact Texas | Austin, Houston, San Antonio
Affiliate of PolitiFact, with contributions from its three newspaper partners in the state, Austin American Statesman, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.

WFAA’s Verify Road Trip | Dallas
WFAA-TV’s contribution to Tegna’s companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project is its “Verify Road Trip” segments. For these stories, the Dallas-area ABC affiliate enlists viewers to be “guest reporters” who join the news team to find answers to their questions. The station relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers. Verify Road Trip also has a YouTube page.


PolitiFact Virginia | Richmond
Staffed by reporters from the news team at WCVE-FM in the Richmond/Petersburg area, where the station is part of a cluster of regional public broadcasters. WCVE revived PolitiFact’s presence in the commonwealth after a nearly two-year hiatus. (PolitiFact’s original local news partner, the Richmond Times Dispatch, operated the Virginia site from 2010 to 2016.)

West Virginia

PolitiFact West Virginia | Morgantown
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by student reporters at West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media.


News 3 Reality Check | Madison
Video fact-checking segments by News 3 team on Wisconsin politics and TV ads, especially during election season.

PolitiFact Wisconsin | Milwaukee
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Wisconsin Watch (Gigafact) | Madison
Fact-checking for Repustar’s Gigafact Project by a nonprofit news outlet in Wisconsin funded by grants from foundations, individual and corporate donations and other sources. Repustar is a privately-funded benefit corporation based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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PolitiFact at 15: Lessons about innovation, the Truth-O-Meter and pirates

Yes, the Truth-O-Meter is a gimmick. But 15 years later, it's still effective. Just don't look for "Barely True."

By Bill Adair – August 22, 2022 | Print this article

Fifteen years ago, I worked with a small group of reporters and editors at the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) to start something bold: a fact-checking website that called out politicians for being liars. 

That concept was too gutsy for the Times political editor. Sure, he liked the idea, he said at a meeting of editors, “but I want nothing to do with it.”

That was my first lesson that PolitiFact was going to disrupt the status quo, especially for political journalists. Back then, most of them were timid about calling out lies by politicians. They were afraid fact-checking would displease the elected officials they covered. I understood his reluctance because I had been a political reporter for many years. But after watching the lying grow in the early days of the internet, I felt it was time for us to change our approach.

Today, some political reporters have developed more courage, but many still won’t call out the falsehoods they hear. PolitiFact does. So I’m proud it’s going strong.

It’s now owned by the Poynter Institute, and it has evolved with the times. As a proud parent, allow me to brag: PolitiFact has published more than 22,000 fact-checks, won a Pulitzer Prize and sparked a global movement for political fact-checking. Pretty good for a journalism org that’s not even old enough to drive. 

On PolitiFact’s 15th birthday, I thought it would be useful to share the lesson about disruption and a few others from my unusual journey through American political journalism. Among them:

Gimmicks are good

The Truth-O-Meter — loved by many and loathed by some — is at times derided as a mere gimmick. I used to bristle at that word. Now I’m fine with it. 

My friend Brooks Jackson, the co-founder of FactCheck.org, often teased me about the meter. That teasing culminated in a farewell essay that criticized “inflexible rating systems” like our meter because they were too subjective. 

I agree with Brooks to an extent. Summarizing a complex fact-check to a rating such as Half True is subjective. But it’s a tremendous service to readers who may not want to read a 1,000-word fact-check article. What’s more, while it relies on the judgment of the journalists, it’s not as subjective as some people think. Each fact-check is thoroughly researched and documented, and PolitiFact has a detailed methodology for its ratings. 

Yes, the Truth-O-Meter is a gimmick! (I once got recognized in an airport by a lady who had seen me on TV and said, “You’re the Truth-O-Meter guy!”) But its ratings are the product of PolitiFact’s thorough and transparent journalism. It’s a gimmick with substance. 

Empower the pirates

I was the founding editor, the guy with the initial ideas and some terrible sketches (my first design had an ugly rendering of the meter with “Kinda True” scribbled above). But the editors at the Tampa Bay Times believed in the idea enough to assign other staffers who had actual talent, including a spirited data journalist named Matt Waite and a marvelous designer named Martin Frobisher.

Times Executive Editor Neil Brown, now president of Poynter, gave us freedom. He cut me loose from my duties as Washington bureau chief so I could write sample fact-checks. Waite and Frobisher were allowed to build a website outside the infrastructure of the Times website so we had a fresh look and more flexibility to grow.

We were like a band of pirates, empowered to be creative. We were free of the gravitational pull of the Times, and not bound by its rules and conventions. That gave us a powerful spirit that infused everything we did. 

Design is as important as content

We created PolitiFact at a time when political journalism, even on the web, was just words or pictures. But we spent as much energy on the design as on the journalism.

The PolitiFact home page from August 2007 had a simple design. Source: Wayback Machine – Internet Archive

It was 2007 and we were an American newspaper, so our team didn’t have a lot of experience or resources. But we realized that we could use the design to help explain our unique journalism. The main section of our homepage had a simple look — the face of the politician being checked (in the style of a campaign button), the statement the politician made and the Truth-O-Meter showing the rating they earned. We also created report cards so readers could see tallies that revealed how many True, Half True, False ratings, or whatever a politician had earned.

The design not only guided readers to our fact-check articles, it told the story as much as the words.

Twitter is not real life

My occasional bad days as editor always seemed more miserable because of Twitter. If we made an error or just got attacked by a partisan group, it showed up first and worst on Twitter.

I stewed over that. Twitter made it seem like the whole world hated us. The platform doesn’t foster a lot of nuance. You’re loved or hated. I got so caught up in it that when I left the office to go to lunch, I’d look around and have irrational thoughts about whether everyone had been reading the tweets and thought I was an idiot. 

But then when I went out with friends or talked with my family, I realized that real people don’t use Twitter. It’s largely a platform for journalists and the most passionate (read: angry) political operatives. My friends and family never saw the attacks on us, nor would they care if they did.

So when the talk on Twitter turned nasty (which was often), I would remind our staff: Twitter is not real life.

People hate referees

My initial sketch of the website was called “The Campaign Referee” because I thought it was a good metaphor for our work: We were calling the fouls in a rough and tumble sport. But Times editors vetoed that name… and I soon saw why.

People hate referees! On many days, it seemed PolitiFact made everyone mad! 

Bill Adair’s original sketch of “The Campaign Referee”

That phenomenon became clearer in 2013 when I stepped down as editor and came to Duke as a journalism professor. I became a Duke basketball fan and quickly noticed the shoddy work of the referees in the Atlantic Coast Conference. THEY ARE SO UNFAIR! Their calls always favor the University of North Carolina! What’s the deal? Did all the refs attend UNC.

Seek inspiration in unlikely places

When we expanded PolitiFact to the states (PolitiFact Wisconsin, PolitiFact Florida, etc.), our model was similar to fast-food franchises. We licensed our brand to local newspapers and TV and radio stations and let them do their own fact-checks using our Truth-O-Meter. 

That was risky. We were allowing other news organizations to use our name and methods. If they did shoddy work, it would damage our brand. But how could we protect ourselves?

I got inspiration from McDonald’s and Subway. I assigned one of our interns to write a report about how those companies ensured quality as they franchised. The answers: training sessions, manuals that clearly described how to consistently make the Big Macs and sandwiches, and quality control inspectors.

We followed each recommendation. I conducted detailed training sessions for the new fact-checkers in each town and then checked the quality by taking part in the editing and ratings for several weeks. 

I gave every fact-checker “The Truth-O-Meter Owner’s Manual,” a detailed guide to our journalism that reflected our lighthearted spirit (It began: “Congratulations on your purchase of a Truth-O-Meter! If operated and maintained properly, your Truth-O-Meter will give you years of enjoyment! But be careful because incorrect operation can cause an unsafe situation.”)

Adjust to complaints and dump the duds

We made adjustments. We had envisioned Pants on Fire as a joke rating (the first one was on a Joe Biden claim that President Bush was brain-dead), but readers liked the rating so much that we decided to use it on all claims that were ridiculously false. (There were a lot!)

In the meantime, though, we lost enthusiasm for the animated GIF for Pants on Fire. The burning Truth-O-Meter was amusing the first few times you saw it, but then … it was too much. Pants on Fire is now a static image.

As good as our design was, one section on the home page called the Attack File was too confusing. It showed the person making the attack as well as the individual being attacked. But readers didn’t grasp what we were doing. We 86’d the Attack File.

Initially, the rating between Half True and False was called Barely True, but many people didn’t understand it – and the National Republican Congressional Committee once distorted it. When the NRCC earned a Barely True, the group boasted in a news release, “POLITIFACT OHIO SAYS TRUE.” 

Um, no. We changed the rating to Mostly False. We also rated the NRCC’s news release. This time: Pants on Fire!

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Ecuador Verifica

Fact-checking census shows slower growth

The number of new projects dipped, even as fact-checking reached more countries than ever

By Mark Stencel & Joel Luther – June 2, 2021 | Print this article

Fact-checkers are now found in at least 102 countries – more than half the nations in the world. 

The latest census by the Duke Reporters’ Lab identified 341 active fact-checking projects, up 51 from last June’s report.

But after years of steady and sometimes rapid growth, there are signs that trend is slowing, even though misleading content and political lies have played a growing role in contentious elections and the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Our tally revealed a slowdown in the number of new fact-checkers, especially when we looked at the upward trajectory of projects since the Lab began its yearly survey and global fact-checking map seven years ago. 

The number of fact-checking projects that launched since the most recent Reporters’ Lab census was more than three times fewer than the number that started in the 12 months before that, based on our adjusted tally. 

From July 2019 to June 2020, there were 61 new fact-checkers. In the year since then, there were 19.

Meanwhile, 21 fact-checkers shut down in that same two-year period beginning in June 2019. And 54 additions to the Duke database in that same period were fact-checkers that were already up and running prior to the 2019 census.

Looking at the count by calendar year also underscored the slowdown in the time of COVID. 

The Reporters’ Lab counted 36 fact-checking projects that launched in 2020. That was below the annual average of 53 for the preceding six calendar years – and less than half the number of startups that began fact-checking in 2019. The 2020 launches were also the lowest number of new fact-checkers we’ve counted since 2014. 

New Fact Checkers by Year

New Fact Checkers by Year
Duke Reporters’ Lab

(Note: The adjusted number of 2020 launches may increase slightly over time as the Reporters’ Lab identifies other fact-checkers we have not yet discovered.)

The slowdown comes after a period of rapid expansion that began in 2016. That was the year when the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the presidential race in the United States raised public alarm about the impact of misinformation.

In response, major tech companies such as Facebook and Google elevated fact-checks on their platforms and provided grants, direct funding and other incentives for new and existing fact-checking organizations. (Disclosure: Google and Facebook fund some of the Duke lab’s research on technologies for fact-checkers. )

The 2018-2020 numbers presented below are adjusted from earlier census reports to include fact-checkers that were subsequently added to our database. 

Active Fact-Checkers by Year

2021 Fact-Checking Census
Duke Reporters’ Lab

Note: 2021 YTD includes one fact-checker that closed in 2021. 

Growth has been steady on almost every continent except in North America. In the United States, where fact-checking first took off in the early 2010s, there are 61 active fact-checkers now. That’s down slightly from the 2020 election year, when there were 66. But the U.S. is still home to more fact-checking projects than any other country. Of the current U.S. fact-checkers, more than half (35 of 61) focus on state and local politics. 

Fact-Checkers by Continent

Fact-Checkers by Continent
Duke Reporters’ Lab

Among other details we found in this year’s census:

  • More countries, more staying power: Based on our adjusted count, fact-checkers were active in at least 47 countries in 2014. That more than doubled to 102 now. And most of the fact-checkers that started in 2014 or earlier (71 out of 122) are still active today.


  • Fact-checking is more multilingual: The active fact-checkers produce reports in nearly 70 languages, from Albanian to Urdu. English is the most common, used on 146 different sites, followed by Spanish (53), French (33), Arabic (14), Portuguese (12), Korean (11) and German (10). Fact-checkers in multilingual countries often present their work in more than one language – either in translation on the same site, or on different sites tailored for specific language communities, including original reporting for those audiences.


  • More than media: Half of the current fact-checkers (195 of 341) are affiliated with media organizations, including national news publishers and broadcasters, local news sources and digital-only outlets. But there are other models, too. At least 37 are affiliated with non-profit groups, think tanks and nongovernmental organizations and 26 are affiliated academic institutions. Some of the fact-checkers involve cross-organization partnerships and have multiple affiliations. But to be listed in our database, the fact-checking must be organized and produced in a journalistic fashion.


  • Turnover: In addition to the 341 current fact-checkers, the Reporters’ Lab database and map also include 112 inactive projects. From 2014 to 2020, an average of 15 fact-checking projects a year close down. Limited funding and expiring grants are among  the most common reasons fact-checkers shuttered their sites. But there also are short-run, election year projects and partnerships that intentionally close down once the voting is over. Of all the inactive projects, 38 produced fact-checks for a year or less. The average lifespan of an inactive fact-checker is two years and three months. The active fact-checkers have been in business twice as long – an average of more than four and a half years.

The Reporters’ Lab process for selecting fact-checkers for its database is similar to the standards used by the International Fact Checking Network – a project based at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. IFCN currently involves 109 organizations that each agree to a code of principles. The Lab’s database includes all the IFCN signatories, but it also counts any related outlets – such as the state-level news partners of PolitiFact in the United States, the wide network of multilingual fact-checking sites that France’s AFP has built across its global bureau system, and the fact-checking teams Africa Check and PesaCheck have mobilized in countries across Africa. 

Reporters’ Lab project manager Erica Ryan and student researchers Amelia Goldstein and Leah Boyd contributed to this year’s report.

About the census: Here’s how we decide which fact-checkers to include in the Reporters’ Lab database. The Lab continually collects new information about the fact-checkers it identifies, such as when they launched and how long they last. That’s why the updated numbers for earlier years in this report are higher than the counts the Lab included in earlier reports. If you have questions, updates or additions, please contact Mark Stencel or Joel Luther.

Ecuador Verifica
Image at top: The fact-checking collaborative Ecuador Verifica (ecuadorverifica.org) launched in January with a traffic-light metaphor to rate claims. The site was one of the 19 new fact-checking projects the Reporters’ Lab added to its database in the past year.

Related Links: Previous fact-checking census reports

April 2014

January 2015

February 2016

February 2017

February 2018

June 2019

June 2020

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Fact-checking Database

U.S. fact-checkers gear up for 2020 campaign

Of the 226 fact-checking projects in the latest Reporters’ Lab global count, 50 are in the U.S. -- and most are locally focused.

By Mark Stencel & Joel Luther – November 25, 2019 | Print this article

With the U.S. election now less than a year away, at least four-dozen American fact-checking projects plan to keep tabs on claims by candidates and their supporters – and a majority of those fact-checkers won’t be focused on the presidential campaign.

The 50 active U.S. fact-checking projects are included in the latest Reporters’ Lab tally of global fact-checking, which now shows 226 sites in 73 countries. More details about the global growth below.

Of the 50 U.S. projects, about a third (16) are nationally focused. That includes independent fact-checkers such as FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and Snopes, as well as major news media efforts, including the Associated Press, The Washington Post, CNN and The New York Times. There also are a handful of fact-checkers that are less politically focused. They concentrate on global misinformation or specific topic areas, from science to gossip.

At least 31 others are state and locally minded fact-checkers spread across 20 states. Of that 31, 11 are PolitiFact’s state-level media partners. A new addition to that group is WRAL-TV in North Carolina — a commercial TV station that took over the PolitiFact franchise in its state from The News & Observer, a McClatchy-owned newspaper based in Raleigh. Beyond North Carolina, PolitiFact has active local affiliates in California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The News & Observer has not abandoned fact-checking. It launched a new statewide initiative of its own — this time without PolitiFact’s trademarked Truth-O-Meter or a similar rating system for the statements it checks. “We’ll provide a highly informed assessment about the relative truth of the claims, rather than a static rating or ranking,” The N&O’s editors said in an article announcing its new project.

Among the 20 U.S. state and local fact-checkers that are not PolitiFact partners, at least 13 use some kind of rating system.

Of all the state and local fact-checkers, 11 are affiliated with TV stations — like WRAL, which had its own fact-checking service before it joined forces with PolitiFact this month. Another 11 are affiliated with newspapers or magazines. Five are local digital media startups and two are public radio stations. There are also a handful of projects based in academic journalism programs. 

One example of a local digital startup is Mississippi Today, a non-profit state news service that launched a fact-checking page for last year’s election. It is among the projects we have added to our database over the past month.

We should note that some of these fact-checkers hibernate between election cycles. These seasonal fact-checkers that have long track records over multiple election cycles remain active in our database. Some have done this kind of reporting for years. For instance, WISC-TV in Madison, Wisconsin, has been fact-checking since 2004 — three years before PolitiFact, The Washington Post and AP got into the business.

One of the hardest fact-checking efforts for us to quantify is run by corporate media giant TEGNA Inc. which operates nearly 50 stations across the country. Its “Verify” segments began as a pilot project at WFAA-TV in the Dallas area in 2016. Now each station produces its own versions for its local TV and online audience. The topics are usually suggested by viewers, with local reporters often fact-checking political statements or debunking local hoaxes and rumors. 

A reporter at WCNC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina, also produces national segments that are distributed for use by any of the company’s other stations. We’ve added TEGNA’s “Verify” to our database as a single entry, but we may also add individual stations as we determine which ones do the kind of fact-checking we are trying to count. (Here’s how we decide which fact-checkers to include.)

A Global Movement

As for the global picture, the Reporters’ Lab is now up to 226 active fact-checking projects around the world — up from 210 in October, when our count went over 200 for the first time. That is more than five times the number we first counted in 2014. It’s also more than double a retroactive count for that same year –- a number that was based on the actual start dates of all the fact-checking projects we’ve added to the database over the past five years (see footnote to our most recent annual census for details).

The growth of Agence France-Presse’s work as part of Facebook’s third-party-fact checking partnership is a big factor. After adding a slew of AFP bureaus with dedicated fact-checkers to our database last month, we added many more — including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Poland, Lebanon, Singapore, Spain, Thailand and Uruguay. We now count 22 individual AFP bureaus, all started since 2018.

Other recent additions to the database involved several established fact-checkers, including PesaCheck, which launched in Kenya in 2016. Since then it’s added bureaus in Tanzania in 2017 and Uganda in 2018 — both of which are now in our database. We added Da Begad, a volunteer effort based in Egypt that has focused on social media hoaxes and misinformation since 2013. And there’s a relative newcomer too: Re:Check, a Latvian project that’s affiliated with a non-profit investigative center called Re:Baltica. It launched over the summer. 

Peru’s OjoBiónico is back on our active list. It resumed fact-checking last year after a two-year hiatus. OjoBiónico is a section of OjoPúblico, a digital news service that focuses on an investigative reporting service.

We already have other fact-checkers we plan to add to our database over the coming weeks. If there’s a fact-checker you know about that we need to update or add to our map, please contact Joel Luther at the Reporters’ Lab.

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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.

Even me.

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Reporters’ Lab students are fact-checking North Carolina politicians

Student journalists and computer scientists find claims and report articles for the N.C. Fact-Checking Project

By Catherine Clabby – November 20, 2018 | Print this article

Duke Reporters’ Lab students expanded vital political journalism during a historic midterm campaign season this fall with the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project.

Five student journalists reviewed thousands of statements that hundreds of North Carolina candidates vying for state and federal offices made online and during public appearances. They collected newsy and checkable claims from what amounted to a firehose of political claims presented as fact.

Duke computer science undergraduates with the Duke Tech & Check Cooperative applied custom-made bots and the ClaimBuster algorithm to scrape and sort checkable political claims from hundreds of political Twitter feeds.

Editors and reporters then selected claims the students had logged for most of the project’s 30 plus  fact-checks and six summary articles that the News and Observer and PolitiFact North Carolina published between August and November.

Duke senior Bill McCarthy

Duke senior Bill McCarthy was part of the four-reporter team on the project, which the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund supported to expand local fact-checking during the 2018 midterms and beyond in a large, politically divided and politically active state.

“Publishing content in any which way is exciting when you know it has some value to voters, to democracy,” said McCarthy, who interned at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C. last summer. “It was especially exciting to get so many fact-checks published in so little time.”

Reporters found politicians and political groups often did not stick with the facts during a campaign election season that that fielded an unusually large number of candidates statewide and a surge in voter turnout.

The N.C. Fact-Checking Project produces nonpartisan journalism

NC GOP falsely ties dozens of Democrats to single-payer health care plan,” read one project fact-check headline. “Democrat falsely links newly-appointed Republican to health care bill,” noted another.  The fact-check “Ad misleads about NC governors opposing constitutional amendments” set the record straight about some Democratic-leaning claims about six proposed amendments to the state constitution.

And on and on.

Digging for the Truth

Work in the lab was painstaking. Five sophomores filled weekday shifts to scour hundreds of campaign websites, social media feeds, Facebook and Google political ads, televised debates, campaign mailers and whatever else they could put their eyes on. Often they recorded one politician’s attacks on an opponent that might, or might not, be true.

Students scanned political chatter from all over the state, tracking competitive state and congressional races most closely. The resulting journalism was news that people could use as they were assessing candidates for the General Assembly and U.S. Congress as well as six proposed amendments to the state constitution.

The Reporters’ Lab launched a mini news service to share each fact-checking article with hundreds of newsrooms across the state for free.

One of more than 30 N.C. Fact-Checking Project articles

The Charlotte Observer, a McClatchy newspaper like the N&O, published several checks. So did smaller publications such as Asheville’s Citizen-Times  and the Greensboro News and Record. Newsweek cited  a fact-check report by the N&O’s Rashaan Ayesh and Andy Specht about a fake photo of Justice Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, shared by the chairman of the Cabarrus County GOP, which WRAL referenced in a roundup.

Project fact-checks influenced political discourse directly too. Candidates referred to project fact-checks in campaign messaging on social media and even in campaign ads. Democrat Dan McCready, who lost a close race against Republican Mark Marris in District 9, used project fact-checks in two campaign ads promoted on Facebook and in multiple posts on his Facebook campaign page, for instance.

While N&O reporter Andy Specht was reporting a deceptive ad from the Stop Deceptive Amendments political committee, the group announced plans to change it.

The fact-checking project will restart in January, when North Carolina’s reconfigured General Assembly opens its first 2019 session.


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“We need to disrupt the lies”

At the Simón Bolívar National Journalism Awards, a call for a more aggressive approach to fact-checking

By Bill Adair – November 16, 2018 | Print this article

My remarks for the Simón Bolívar National Journalism Awards, Bogota, Colombia, Nov. 15, 2018.

This is a critical moment for journalism around the world, when the path ahead seems uncertain. We lived through the dawn of the Information Age and saw the great promise of the internet; but it now seems like we are in a darker time.

When I started PolitiFact in 2007, I was filled with hope about what the digital revolution would bring. There was a belief the internet could make information more widely available, bring people together and help us hold power accountable. Like many of you, I am wondering if those hopes were misplaced. But we can’t get despondent about how things have turned out. We need to reimagine our roles as journalists and harness the power of technology to combat misinformation.

A little history: I started PolitiFact out of my own guilt. I had been covering the White House and Congress for the St. Petersburg Times, a Florida newspaper that is now called the Tampa Bay Times. I had grown tired of hearing politicians’ false claims and felt I had been complicit by publishing them in my news articles without scrutiny. The internet offered a new way for us to hold politicians accountable for what they said. I went to my editors with a crazy idea: instead of having me cover the 2008 campaign like all the other political journalists, how about if I started a fact-checking website?

Sure, they said.

In fact, they liked the crazy idea so much, they let me start a team with some of the most talented reporters and editors at the paper. They also let us break the rules. We built our own content management system and took some bold steps that most newspaper editors would never allow. We invented the Truth-O-Meter, which rated politicians’ claims from True to “Pants on Fire.” It made substantive articles about policy accessible to a wider audience.

We created a unique form of journalism. Instead of publishing traditional articles, we published fact-checks of politicians’ statements in a new structured form that could be collected on report card pages and tallied to tell people how many true, half true or Pants on Fire statements a politician had earned. PolitiFact was truly new journalism in the internet age.

A key to PolitiFact’s success was the culture of my newspaper. My editors were not only willing to let me try my unusual idea, they encouraged that kind of creative approach in everything we did. They also had a deep commitment to accountability reporting. They believed – they still believe – that holding power accountable is one of the fundamental missions of journalism.

PolitiFact became part of a growing community that included FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact-Checker in the United States, Full Fact in Britain and Chequeado in Argentina.

The digital revolution made it all possible. I remember those early years as an exciting time filled with promise. It was the honeymoon for journalism on the internet, as reporters and editors around the world discovered we could use the web to do powerful, important things.

News stories became interactive, enabling readers to engage with content. Data could be presented as vivid graphics that made numbers come alive. And design was transformed: I remember when we first saw Snowfall, the New York Times story about an avalanche, and we saw how the web could be used for powerful storytelling.

Then came smartphones, which enabled our readers and viewers to get the news all the time, wherever they were, and use thousands of apps to read articles and watch videos.  It seemed like the future was infinitely bright and there were lots more great things ahead.

But the honeymoon ended.

The internet got loud and crowded. Partisan voices began to dominate the discussions and people began shouting at each other in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Twitter became a thing, but we realized that some of the “people” on Twitter weren’t really human — they were bots. And they were programmed to pump up the partisan propaganda to drive apart the real people.

Partisans took advantage of the internet to build digital fortresses where they could isolate themselves from opinions they disliked. They hid behind the walls and lobbed attacks against their enemies. These fortresses are home to more propaganda than discourse and they provide refuge for extremists. If you’re inside one, your side is always right.

The iPhone had changed the landscape when it was introduced in 2007. It created a whole a new platform for apps, which offered promising new ways that people could connect. I remember when a friend in Chile showed me WhatsApp and how he used it to communicate with his friends and family.

But it didn’t take long for people who want to spread misinformation to discover they could use WhatsApp without getting much scrutiny from journalists. I know that here in Colombia, you saw lots of misinformation spread through WhatsApp about the peace deal in the 2016 election.

Pablo Medina Uribe, the editor of the fact-checking site Colombia Check, reminded me recently how WhatsApp is a fertile ground for falsehoods. People are more likely to believe WhatsApp messages because they’re sent by people they trust. But the nature of many mobile data plans here give people unlimited data on WhatsApp and Facebook but not for their internet browser or other apps.

So, on a broad scale, what can we do? More specifically, what can journalists and the tech community do?

We need to find new ways to harness technology to get accurate information to people when they need it. We need to be as aggressive and cunning as the people and groups who are spreading the misinformation. And we need to change our thinking.

First, the technology part. At Duke University, we’ve launched a project called the Tech & Check Cooperative that has an ambitious goal: to use automation to monitor politicians’ speeches and debates and provide live fact-checking sourced from existing fact-checks.

Five or six years ago, I thought this kind of automated fact-checking was a long time away. But advances in technology and the dividends from a partnership we started with Google have created remarkable momentum. So we have already created the first fact-checking app for the Amazon Echo called Share the Facts. It lets you query Alexa and get an instant fact-check.

It’s impressive: you can ask Alexa a question and, if the fact-checkers have published something on it, she will reply telling you that the Washington Post or FactCheck.org or PolitiFact checked it and what they concluded.

We are now building a similar product for TV and the web. It’s a much harder product to develop than the Amazon Echo, but the idea is that when our app hears someone say a statement that fact-checkers have examined, the app will pop up a related fact-check right on the screen of your smartphone or TV.

We’ve made significant progress in the last six months. Over the summer, our students created a rough framework for our app that converts a live speech to text, then filters out sentences that aren’t checkable using our ClaimBuster tool, and then uses an algorithm to look for matches from our database of previously published articles. We are still some months away from a finished product, but we are getting closer every day.

We also just completed the first user testing of instant fact-checking on TV. We had people watch specially modified videos of State of the Union speeches that had pop-up fact-checks. The viewers had helpful feedback for us about what they wanted on the screen, and they were unanimous about the concept: They all want real-time fact-checking on their TV.

And you don’t need an army of computer science students to create something valuable.  We need more projects like the “lie detector” developed by La Silla Vacia here in Colombia, which pioneered fact-checking on WhatsApp. People send a screenshot of a message they would like checked and then the journalists check it and encourage people to share it back through WhatsApp.

But regardless of whether we’re building big projects for a television screen, or smaller ones for WhatsApp, it requires that we think differently about the role of a journalist.

Most political reporters – and nearly all fact-checkers – have traditionally thought of themselves as neutral players in the political discourse. We published the information in the daily paper and left it on your doorstep. Or we just put it on our website or on the nightly news.

We were passive. We left it up to you to seek out the information that you needed and draw any connections or conclusions about the information on your own. I’ve been asked many times if it bothered me that politicians kept lying after we fact-checked them, and I would say, “Our job is just to provide the information.”

That strategy worked fine 10 years ago. But now, politicians and propagandists have learned how to spread misinformation at light speed. We can no longer sit back and wait for readers to come to us. We must become more aggressive and take the facts to the people. We need to disrupt the lies.

We can no longer be passive when our readers and viewers are being swamped with misinformation. We need to be more energetic and inventive in getting the information to people at the moment they first hear the claim.

Some of these solutions will be high-tech, like the automated fact-checking apps we’re building at Duke. Others can take more of a grass-roots approach, like the WhatsApp “lie detector” developed by La Silla Vacia.

But we need all kinds of these efforts, big and small, simple and complex, to adapt how we provide information in these fast-changing times. We need to build new apps for your phone and create new ways to provide the facts while you’re watching a speech on TV. And while print is still around, we should put the truth in ink and paper.

Yes, the honeymoon for the internet is over and sometimes it seems like we’re in a dark time. But I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making. I see promising efforts all around the world. And through it all I see great spirit and creativity.

The mission of the journalist remains the same: to give people the vital information they need to make sense of their world and hold their government accountable. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll just do it in new and creative ways.


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Reporters’ Lab joins N&O, UNC Reese News Lab on major fact-checking project

With grant from the N.C. Local News Lab Fund, partnership will expand non-partisan fact-checking throughout the state

By Catherine Clabby – August 1, 2018 | Print this article

The Duke Reporters’ Lab is joining McClatchy Carolinas and the UNC Reese News Lab in an ambitious project to expand non-partisan fact-checking throughout North Carolina.

With a $50,000 grant from the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund, the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project will build on the existing work at The News & Observer, add the work of student journalists and take advantage of new automated tools from the Duke Tech & Check Cooperative.

The project will evaluate statements by state and federal candidates in the 2018 election as well as lawmakers in the General Assembly session that begins in January 2019. The fact-checks will be produced by N&O journalists as part of PolitiFact North Carolina and will be made available for free to any news organization in the state for use online and in print.

The project will get support from the new TruthBuzz program of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), which is hiring an engagement fellow based on Raleigh to promote the North Carolina fact-checking.

The North Carolina Fact-Checking Project will put special emphasis on claims by politicians in rural parts of the state. Students in the Reporters’ Lab will scour news coverage and campaign ads for factual claims made by state, local and congressional candidates. The Lab will build new versions of its Tech & Check Alerts that use automated bots to find statements by politicians in social media that could be of interest to the North Carolina fact-checkers.

The Duke students and bots will provide daily suggestions of possible claims to The News & Observer, which will select which statements to research.

The UNC Reese News Lab will co-host a student seminar on fact-checking and help select a student journalist to work on the project. Representatives from Duke, TruthBuzz and the News & Observer will hold outreach sessions around the state to promote fact-checking and encourage news organizations to publish the project’s work.

About the partners:

The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund is a collaborative fund at the North Carolina Community Foundation established by a group of local and national funders who believe in the power of local journalism, local stories, and local people to strengthen our democracy.

The Duke Reporters’ Lab at the Sanford School of Public Policy is a center of research on fact-checking and automated journalism. The Lab tracks the growth of fact-checking around the world, conducts studies on important topics and develops tools to help journalists.

McClatchy Carolinas is the McClatchy division that publishes three newspapers in North Carolina, The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. The N&O has a strong team of political reporters and has been the state’s PolitiFact partner for the last two years.

The Reese News Lab is an experimental media and research project based at the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.


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At Global Fact V: A celebration of community

More than 200 people attended the fifth meeting of the world's fact-checkers in Rome, which was organized by the International Fact-Checking Network.

By Bill Adair – June 25, 2018 | Print this article

My opening remarks at Global Fact V, the fifth annual meeting of the world’s fact-checkers, organized by the International Fact-Checking Network, held June 20-22 in Rome.

A couple of weeks ago, a photo from our first Global Fact showed up in my Facebook feed. Many of you will remember it: we had been all crammed into a classroom at the London School of Economics. When we went outside for a group photo, there were about 50 of us.

To show how our conference has grown, I posted that photo on Twitter along with one from our 2016 conference that had almost twice as many people. I also posted a third photo that showed thousands of people gathered in front of the Vatican. I said that was our projected crowd for this conference.

I rate that photo Mostly True.

What all of our conferences have in common is that they are really about community. It all began in that tiny classroom at the London School of Economics when we realized that whether we were from Italy or the U.K. or Egypt, we were all in this together. We discovered that even though we hadn’t talked much before or in many cases even met, we were facing the same challenges — fundraising and finding an audience and overcoming partisanship.

It was also a really powerful experience because we got a sense of how some fact-checkers around the world were struggling under difficult circumstances — under governments that provide little transparency, or, much worse, governments that oppress journalists and are hostile toward fact-checkers.

Throughout that first London conference there was an incredible sense of community. We’d never met before, but in just a couple of days we formed strong bonds. We vowed to keep in touch and keep talking and help each other.

It was an incredibly powerful experience for me. I was at a point in my career where I was trying to sort out what I would do in my new position in academia. I came back inspired and decided to start an association of fact-checkers – and hold these meetings every year.

The next year we started the IFCN and Poynter generously agreed to be its home. And then we hired Alexios as the leader.

Since then, there are have been two common themes. One you hear so often that it’s become my mantra: Fact-checking keeps growing. Our latest census of fact-checking in the Reporters’ Lab shows 149 active fact-checking projects and I’m glad to see that number keep going up and up.

The other theme, as I noted earlier, is community. I thought I’d focus this morning on a few examples.

Let’s start with Mexico, where more than 60 publishers, universities and civil society organizations have started Verificado 2018, a remarkable collaboration. It was originally focused largely on false news, but they’ve put more emphasis on fact-checking because of public demand. Daniel Funke wrote a great piece last week about how they checked a presidential debate.

In Norway, an extraordinary team of rivals has come together to create Faktisk, which is Norwegian for “actually” and “factually.” It launched nearly a year ago with four of the country’s biggest news organizations — VG, Dagbladet, NRK and TV 2 – and it’s grown since then. My colleague Mark Stencel likened it to the New York Times, The Washington Post and PBS launching a fact-checking project together.


At Duke, both of our big projects are possible because of the fact-checkers’ commitment to help each other. The first, Share the Facts and the creation of the ClaimReview schema, grew out of an idea from Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post Fact Checker, who suggested that Google put “fact-check” tags on search results.

That idea became our Duke-Google-Schema.org collaboration that created what many of you now use so search engines can find your work. And one unintended consequence: it makes automated fact-checking more possible. It all started because of one fact-checker’s sense of community.

Also, FactStream, the new app of our Tech & Check Cooperative, has been a remarkable collaboration between the big US fact-checkers — the Post, FactCheck.org and PolitiFact. All three took part in the beta test of the first version, our live coverage of the State of the Union address back in January. Getting them together on the same app was pretty remarkable. But our new version of the app –which we’re releasing this week – is even cooler. It’s like collaboration squared, or collaboration to the second power!

It took Glenn’s idea, which created the Share the Facts widget, and combined it with an idea from Eugene Kiely, the head of FactCheck.org, who said we should create a new feature on FactStream that shows the latest U.S. widgets every day.

So that’s what we did. And you know what: it’s a great new feature that reveals new things about our political discourse. Every day, it shows the latest fact-checks in a constant stream and users can click through, driving new traffic to the fact-checking sites. I’ll talk more about it during the automated demo session on Friday. But it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the commitment to collaboration and community by Glenn and Eugene.

We’ve got a busy few days ahead, so let’s get on with it. There sure are a lot of you!

As we know from the photographs: fact-checking keeps growing.


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