“The Washington Post Fact Checker”

At Global Fact 4: churros, courage and the need to expose propagandists

The next challenge for the Global Fact community: calling out governments and political actors that pretend to be fact-checkers.

By Bill Adair – July 6, 2017 | Print this article

My opening remarks at Global Fact 4, the fourth annual meeting of the world’s fact-checkers, organized by the International Fact-Checking Network and the Reporters’ Lab, held July 5-7, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.

It’s wonderful to be here in Madrid. I’ve been enjoying the city the last two days, which has made me think of a giant warehouse store we have in the United States called Costco.

Costco where you go when you want to buy 10 pounds of American Cheese or a 6-pound tub of potato salad. Costco also makes a delicious fried pastry called a “churro.” And because everything in Costco is big, the churros are about three feet long.

When I got to Madrid I was really glad to see that you have churros here, too! It’s wonderful to see that Costco is spreading its great cuisine around the world!

I’m pleased to be here with my colleagues from the Duke Reporters’ Lab — Mark Stencel, Rebecca Iannucci and Riley Griffin. We also have our Share the Facts team here – Chris Guess and Erica Ryan. We’ll be sampling the churros throughout the week!

It’s been an amazing year for fact-checking. In the U.K., Full Fact and Channel 4 mobilized for Brexit and last month’s parliamentary elections. In France, the First Draft coalition showed the power of collaborations during the elections there. In the United States, the new president and his administration drove record traffic to sites such as FactCheck.org and PolitiFact and the Washington Post Fact Checker — and that has continued since the election, a time when sites typically have lower traffic. The impeachments and political scandals in Brazil and South Korea also meant big audiences for fact-checkers in those countries. And we expect the upcoming elections in Germany, Norway and elsewhere will generate many opportunities for fact-checkers in those countries as well, just as we’ve seen in Turkey and Iran. The popular demand for fact-checking has never been stronger.

Fact-checking is now so well known that it is part of pop culture. Comedians cite our work to give their jokes credibility. On Saturday Night Live last fall, Australian actress Margot Robbie “fact-checked” her opening monologue when she was the guest host.

Some news organizations not only have their own dedicated fact-checking teams, they’re also incorporating fact-checks in their news stories, calling out falsehoods at the moment they are uttered. This is a marvelous development because it helps to debunk falsehoods before they can take root.

We’ve also seen tremendous progress in automation to spread fact-checking to new audiences. There are promising projects underway at Full Fact in Britain and at the University of Texas in Arlington and in our own lab at Duke, among many others. We’ll be talking a lot about these projects this week.

Perhaps the most important development in the past year is one that we started at last year’s Global Fact conference in Buenos Aires – the Code of Principles. We came up with some excellent principles that set standards for transparency and non-partisan work. As Alexios noted, Facebook is using the code to determine which organizations qualify to debunk fake news. I hope your site will abide by the code and become a signatory.

At Duke, Mark just finished our annual summer count of fact-checking. Mark and Alexios like to tease me that I can’t stop repeating this mantra: “Fact-checking keeps growing.”

But it’s become my mantra because it’s true: When we held our first Global Fact meeting in 2014 in London, our Reporters’ Lab database listed 48 fact-checking sites around the world. Our latest count shows 126 active projects in 49 countries.

I’m thrilled to see fact-checking sprouting in countries such as South Korea and Germany and Brazil. And I continue to be amazed at the courage of our colleagues who check claims in Turkey and Iran, which are not very welcoming to our unique kind of journalism.

As our movement grows, we face new challenges. Now that our work is so well-known and an established form of journalism, governments and political actors are calling themselves fact-checkers, using our approach to produce propaganda. We need to speak out against this and make sure people know that government propagandists are not fact-checkers.

We also need to work harder to reach audiences that have been reluctant to accept our work. At Duke we published a study that showed a stark partisan divide in the United States. We found liberal publications loved fact-checking and often cited it; conservative sites criticized it and often belittled it. We need to focus on this problem and find new ways to reach reluctant audiences.

I’m confident we can accomplish these things. Individually and together we’ve overcome great hurdles in the past few years. I look forward to a productive meeting and a great year. And I’m confident:

Fact-checking will keep growing.

 

 

 

 

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Heroes or hacks: The partisan divide over fact-checking

We analyzed nearly 800 references to fact-checking and found a stark divide. Liberal writers like fact-checking; conservatives don't.

By Bill Adair & Rebecca Iannucci – June 7, 2017 | Print this article

Conservative writers aren’t fond of fact-checking. They belittle it and complain that it’s biased. They say it’s “left-leaning” and use sarcastic quotes (“fact-checking”) to suggest it’s not legitimate. One writer likens PolitiFact to a Bangkok prostitute.

Liberal writers admire fact-checking. They cite it favorably and use positive adjectives such as “independent”  and “nonpartisan.” They refer to fact-checkers as “watchdogs” and “heroes.”

To examine partisan differences over fact-checking, we analyzed some of the most widely read conservative and liberal sites. Our students in the Duke Reporters’ Lab identified 792 statements that referred to fact-checkers or their work. We found a stark partisan divide in the tone, the type of references and even the adjectives the writers used.

Our report, Heroes or hacks: The partisan divide over fact-checking, reveals a serious problem for the growing number of fact-checkers, journalists who research and rate the accuracy of political statements. They emphasize their neutrality and nonpartisan approach, but they face relentless criticism from the political right that says they are biased and incompetent.

Our analysis found:

  • Liberal websites were far more likely to cite fact-checks to make their points than conservative sites were.
  • Conservative sites were much more likely to criticize fact-checks and to allege partisan bias.
  • When our student researchers categorized the tone of mentions, we found liberal sites made most of the positive references, while the negative references came primarily from the right.
  • Conservative sites made the most critical comments about fact-checking, occasionally using quotation marks (“fact-checking”) to imply it wasn’t legitimate.

(Read the full report.)

We found the most revealing differences in the words the writers used to describe fact-checkers and their work.

Liberals emphasize they are nonpartisan and call them “respected,” “reputable” and “independent.” Fact-checkers are “watchdogs” or “heroes.” PolitiFact is described as “Pulitzer Prize-winning.”

Conservatives use words such as “left-leaning,” “biased,” “hackiest” and “serial-lying.” They question the legitimacy of fact-checkers by calling them “self-proclaimed.”

The most wicked criticism came from Jonah Goldberg of the National Review, who called PolitiFact “the hackiest and most biased of the fact-checking outfits, which bends over like a Bangkok hooker to defend Democrats.”

Our findings indicate that fact-checkers have some work to do. They need to strengthen their outreach to conservative journalists and, particularly, to conservative audiences. The fact-checkers need to understand the reasons for the partisan divide and find ways to broaden the acceptance of their work.

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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.

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Fact-checking Twitter feeds offer new way to follow 2016 campaigns

New Reporters’ Lab feeds track false claims, all checks of Clinton and Trump

By Erica Ryan – August 25, 2016 | Print this article

The Duke Reporters’ Lab has created three new Twitter feeds to help voters keep up with fact-checking during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Twitter feeds feature fact-checks from three partner sites: PolitiFact, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker and FactCheck.org. All three are part of the Share the Facts project, an effort to expand the reach of fact-checkers using a shareable widget that summarizes their conclusions.

The feeds allow you to follow fact-checks of both major party presidential candidates, as well as falsehoods from across the political spectrum:

Share the Falsehoods (@sharefalse): This feed automatically tweets a Share the Facts widget any time a claim is determined to be:

Share Trump Facts (@share_trump): This feed includes all fact-checks of Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Share Clinton Facts (@share_clinton): Like the Trump feed, this account will update with all fact-checks of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

These three new Twitter feeds join the main Share the Facts Twitter account (@sharethefact) and the project’s Facebook page in offering easy ways to find and share fact-checking.

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5 share-worthy fact-checks of Clinton’s acceptance speech

Use our widget to share the facts behind the nominee’s talking points

By Erica Ryan – July 29, 2016 | Print this article

As Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential candidate to accept the nomination of a major political party on Thursday night, fact-checkers dug into the talking points and attack lines that peppered her speech.

PolitiFact, The Washington Post and FactCheck.org were among those sorting the truth from the fiction. Here’s a roundup of five of their fact-checks that you can share on Facebook and Twitter using the Share the Facts widget, created by the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Jigsaw, a technology incubator within Alphabet, the parent company of Google. You can also embed them in articles and blog posts.

1. “Don’t believe anyone who says: ‘I alone can fix it.’ Those were actually Donald Trump’s words in Cleveland.”

Clinton used this line to contrast her style with that of her opponent, Republican Donald Trump. But FactCheck.org found it’s not so cut-and-dried: “In fact, Trump said that as a political outsider only he can fix a ‘rigged’ system. He has spoken about working with others many times, including in that same speech.”

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2. Trump ties are made “in China, not Colorado. Trump suits in Mexico, not Michigan. Trump furniture in Turkey, not Ohio. Trump picture frames in India, not Wisconsin.”

PolitiFact was able to verify all of the examples Clinton cited – except for the picture frames made in India. It also found some Trump-branded products made in the U.S., such as his signature “Make America Great Again” hats.

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3. “More than 90 percent of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, that’s where the money is.”

These numbers are based on older data, according to The Washington Post.

“There is increasing evidence that income imbalance has improved in recent years as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession,” it reports. The most recent calculations show the top 1 percent got 52 percent of the income gains between 2009 and 2015.

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4. “Nearly 15 million new private-sector jobs” have been created since President Obama took office.

FactCheck.org found this number to be inflated: “In fact, since January 2009, when Obama took office, the private sector has added 10.5 million jobs.”

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5. Trump “claimed our armed forces are ‘a disaster.’”

PolitiFact tracked down this quote from the Republican candidate during a January debate: “I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger,” Trump said. “Our military is a disaster.”

He doesn’t seem to have repeated this wording, PolitiFact found, and in more recent comments has focused more on what he sees as a lack of resources, calling the military “depleted.”

Share the Facts Widget Embed

Want to embed fact-checks like this in your articles and blog posts? Contact us for the easy instructions.

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6 Clinton claims you’re likely to hear in Philly

Use our Share the Facts widget to highlight fact-checking during the Democratic convention

By Erica Ryan – July 25, 2016 | Print this article

The Republicans kept fact-checkers on their toes during their convention in Cleveland. Next, it’s the Democrats’ turn as they gather in Philadelphia to nominate Hillary Clinton.

Below is a preview of some talking points you may hear during the Democratic convention and how the fact-checkers at PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and The Washington Post have rated their accuracy.

You can share these fact-checks – and many more – using the Share the Facts widget created by the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Jigsaw, a technology incubator within Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

We encourage you to post the widgets on Facebook and Twitter, or even embed them in articles and blog posts.

On Trump’s finances

On the first night of the convention, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is slated to speak. She has previously painted GOP nominee Donald Trump as a “small, insecure money-grubber,” and she’s likely to repeat previous attacks on his finances.

One claim we might hear is that Trump was “hoping for” a crash in the housing market back in 2006 so he could profit – which PolitiFact rated Mostly True.

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Another claim Democrats have repeated – that past federal tax returns show Trump “hasn’t paid a penny in taxes” – didn’t hold up as well to PolitiFact’s checking. While Trump has declined to release recent tax returns, records show that he did pay income taxes in some years during the 1970s.

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On children and families

The second night of the convention is scheduled to focus on how “Hillary has spent her entire career working to make a difference for children, families and our country,” according to the convention website. One campaign-trail claim Clinton has made on that theme is that she worked with Democrats and Republicans to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

While The Washington Post verified that Clinton played a role in the effort during her time as first lady, it was mostly behind the scenes at the White House and not as “a public advocate who directly worked with lawmakers in both parties.”

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On the economy

President Obama is set to speak on the convention’s third night, which will have a theme of “Working Together” – something the president and his one-time rival have had to do many times since 2008.

One argument Clinton has made for extending her party’s control of the White House is that the economy has fared better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones. While an analysis by two Princeton economists bears that out, FactCheck.org ruled that Clinton is putting a spin on the facts because “the authors of that report do not credit Democratic fiscal policies for the economic growth.”

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Another economic claim Clinton has made is about her Republican opponent’s opposition to the federal minimum wage. While Trump has suggested he’d like to see workers earn more than $7.25 an hour, PolitiFact reports, he has said he would prefer to leave that up to the states, without any federally mandated minimum.

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On foreign policy

Clinton will take the convention stage on Thursday night. As the former secretary of state, Clinton has compared her own foreign policy chops to Trump’s, which she considers lacking.

However, FactCheck.org found she goes too far when she claims that Trump said he boosted his foreign policy experience by running a Miss Universe pagent in Moscow. What he really said was he knew Russia well because of it.

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Bonus: What you won’t hear in Philly

We imagine no Democrat in Philadelphia will even say the word “email” if they can avoid it. But if you want to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the scandal that engulfed Clinton after leaving her post as secretary of state, multiple fact-checkers have broken it down.

Want to embed fact-checks like this in your articles and blog posts? Contact us for the easy instructions.

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From ‘Baloney’ to ‘Screaming Lies’: the extreme ratings of the world’s fact-checkers

Our 2015 census of fact-checkers reveals the odd names they use for the most ridiculous falsehoods.

By Claire Ballentine – February 5, 2015 | Print this article

FactCheckEU calls them “Insane Whoppers.” The Voice of San Diego uses “Huckster Propaganda.” Honolulu Civil Beat refers to them as “Screaming Lies.”

From Rome to Hawaii and everywhere in between, the growth of political fact-checking has spawned new rating systems that use catchy names for the most ridiculous falsehoods.

While conducting our census of fact-checking sites around the world, we encountered some amusing ratings. Here is a sampling:

  • Canada’s Baloney Meter measures the accuracy of politicians’ statements based of how much “baloney” they contain. This ranges from “No Baloney” (the statement is completely accurate) to “Full of Baloney” (completely inaccurate).
  • FactCheckEU, which rates statements by politicians in Europe, uses a rating system that includes “Rather Daft” and “Insane Whopper.”
  • The Washington Post Fact Checker, written by reporter Glenn Kessler, utilizes the classic tale of Pinocchio to rate the claims made by politicians, political candidates and diplomats. A rating of one Pinocchio indicates some shading of the facts, while two Pinocchios means there were significant omissions or exaggerations. A rating of four Pinocchios simply means  “whoppers.” The French site Les Pinocchios uses a similar scale.
  • In Australia, ABC Fact Check uses a wide range of labels that are often tailored to the specific fact-check. They include “Exaggerated,” “Far-fetched,” “Cherrypicking” and “More to the Story.”
  • PolitiFact, the fact-checking venture of the Tampa Bay Times, uses the Truth-O-Meter, which rates statements from “True” to “Pants on Fire” (a rating reserved for the most ridiculous falsehoods).
  • The Honolulu Civil Beat rates the most outrageous statements as “Screaming Lies.”

    From The Hound in Mexico
    A false rating from The Hound in Mexico
  • Mexico’s new site The Hound rates statements from “Verdadero” (true) to “Ridiculo” (ridiculous), accompanied by images of dogs wearing detective hats. Uruguay’s UYCheck uses a similar scale. Argentina’s Chequeado also uses a “Verdadero” to “Falso” scale, plus ratings for “Exagerado” (exaggerated) and “Enganoso” (deceitful/misleading).
  • In California, the local website Voice of San Diego uses a system modeled after PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. But instead of “Pants on Fire,” it uses “Huckster Propaganda.”
  • Denver’s NBC 9 Truth Test gives verdicts such as “Needs Context” and “Deceptive.”
  • In California, the Sacramento Bee’s Ad Watch uses a scale from “True” to “Outright Lie.”
  • Instead of words, WRAL in Raleigh uses traffic lights. Green is “go ahead, run with it”; red means “stop right there.”
  • Italy’s Pagella Politica labels its most far-fetched statements as “Panzana Pazzesca,” which loosely translates as “crazy fib” or “insane whopper.”
  • Australia’s Crikey Get Fact site named its fact-checking meter the Fib-O-Matic. Ratings range from true to “Rubbish.”
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