First Responders to BS: Fact-Checkers are Heroes for Our Times

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, You Decide

Like at Snopes, the team at Politifact has its work cut out for it. Here’s a rousing rant from editor Aaron Sharockman.


“PolitiFact: The Power of Fact Checking in a Post-Truth World”
by Aaron Sharockman
Tampa Bay Times
June 7, 2017
Here’s a quick test: Think about how Donald Trump announced he was running for president. Now, do the same for Hillary Clinton.

I think most of you probably got one but not the other. We remember Trump and his wife Melania gliding down the Trump Tower escalator in June 2015. And we remember some of the things Trump said that day.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you,” Trump said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

As for Clinton?

Some of you, I’d guess, might remember her first major campaign rally, also in June 2015, also in New York. But that wasn’t the announcement that she was running for president. That came a few months earlier, in a two-minute, 15-second video.

I bring this up (thanks for playing, by the way) because it’s a perfect anecdote of how life for fact-checkers has changed in the era of Trump. Unlike Trump, Clinton carefully scripted and timed her announcement. Just like a typical politician we’ve seen hundreds of times. And it was free of statements that could be fact-checked. Trump, on the other hand, spoke for 40 minutes, and at least some of what he said wasn’t from any script. Fact-checkers at PolitiFact analyzed five claims Trump made during that first speech. Those ratings? False, Pants on Fire, False, Mostly False and False.

So yes, fact-checking Trump is different on some levels. We must be quicker and more decisive, we have to be smarter about what facts we choose to pursue, and we have to be prepared for intense criticism. Trump, in a speech before the election, referred to fact-checkers as “scum.”

But in other ways, not much has changed. Fact-checking — and PolitiFact in particular — was built upon an idea that people want to hold their politicians accountable for the claims they make. And in a world with lots of misinformation, readers, viewers, and voters are looking for places that can quickly sort facts from falsehoods.

Maybe those cries are just a bit louder today.