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Screengrab from Politifact.com

Most if not all of you are familiar with or at least have heard of Politifact, an online news resource dedicated solely to surmising the veracity of various claims made by political candidates, pundits and elected officials. It’s an incredibly useful resource for people whether you are a political junkie like myself, a journalist or even an average citizen who just wanted to  check and see if that outrageous claim made by Rudy Giulani on CNN regarding Hillary Clinton has any truth to it (here I am making a hypothetical example though I’m sure if I dig into Giuliani’s record on Politifact I could probably find something similar if not exact to that nature). They have track records available on every politician and candidate they fact check (so you can clearly see between the two candidates who is more “false” and who is more “true”).

The idea behind Politifact is simple and boils down to one particular tool: the famed “Truth-o-Meter” which ranks politicians’ statements on a scale from true to false. The classifications include True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and most notorious of all, “Pants on Fire” which they qualify as “not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.” Below are the rationale they use to make each distinction:

Screengrab from Politifact.com
Screengrab from Politifact.com

The website backs each ruling up with a full length journalistic article providing a thorough explanation of how the claim is false or true, complete with hyperlinks and full attribution to the interviews, sources and public records they use to give proof. This news source most notably won a Pulitizer Prize for National Reporting in 2009 based on their coverage of the 2008 presidential race.

So who runs Politifact? That’s a slightly complicated question but luckily Politifact prides itself on complete transparency and accountability, so their background is available right on their own website. Politifact was started in June of 2007 by Bill Adair, who is now currently a professor of journalism and public policy at Duke University. He still serves as contributing editor for Politifact.

Photo (cc) by Christopher Connell
Photo (cc) by Christopher Connell of Bill Adair

Politifact is owned and run by the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest circulation newspaper. The Times is under the umbrella of Times Publishing Company which also owns such outlets as TampaBay.comtbt*, and Senior Living Guide. The CEO of Times Publishing Company is currently Paul Tash. One interesting note about ownership: in the 1970s the Times, then St. Petersburg Times, was owned by Nelson Poynter – and if that name sounds at all familiar to you, then you’re probably a journalist because Poynter was responsible for creation of the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalism, which still to this day is in charge of the Tampa Bay Times.

Where does the reporting come from? Politifact lists online a staff of 10, from the current editor in chief Angie Drobnic Holan, to the staff reporters sourced from the Times. Politifact also relies on various partnerships with local newspapers and stations, especially in the case of their state by state coverage (for example the North Carolina section is written in partnership with the News & Observer, widely regarded by Carolinians like myself to be the premiere respected print news outlet in the capital). In the interest of full disclosure they also explain how they receive funding and grants from organizations like Democracy Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation among others. Their revenue to perform this research comes from that as well as the paper, although it probably also comes largely from the now more lucrative Poynter Institute.

What can you find on Politifact.com? Besides the Truth-o-Meter, which rates everything from presidential candidates all the way down to city councilmen, there is also PunditFact which fact-checks statements made by “pundits, columnists, bloggers, political analysts, the hosts and guests of talk shows, and other members of the media.” There is also the Promise meter which measures how the current president and opposing party have lived up to the promises they made on the campaign trail (you can see Obama’s record on the Obameter here). They also have a “Flip-o-Meter” judging how candidates and elected officials have remained consistent or inconsistent on various issues (ranked either no flip, half flip or full flop). Probably the most entertaining part of the website is the section dedicated to just “Pants On Fire” claims, which come with their own animated flames on the Truth-O-Meter.  There are sections dedicated to national, state and global leaders in terms of coverage.

Finally the subject of website statistics: you can view the full report here at SimilarWeb, but here are some key stats:

  • 7.75 million visitors for the month of August
  • Average duration of each visit is no more than roughly one and a half minutes
  • Most traffic comes from web search (so people looking on Google specifically for Politifact) as opposed to referrals or social media – 40.4 percent of traffic from search compared with just 8 percent from referrals from other sites (and the most referrals come from the New York Times website)
  • Top keywords include “donald trump,” “trump,” “hillary clinton” and “gary johnson” – so it’s safe to assume most people right now are using Politifact solely in the context of the presidential election
  • Most social traffic comes from Facebook, followed by Reddit and Twitter

All in all, Politifact is a great tool. It’s easy to use, I appreciate the full transparency/disclosure/independence which they strive so hard to achieve (distancing them from traditional news outlet fact-checkers that have cropped up recently) and they really provide a depth of sourcing and attribution with every fact check. For this blog and for so many other news sources, Politifact is an invaluable resource.

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