Who is PolitiFact and Can They be Trusted?

Published: October 14, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Whenever I’ve had a question about health care, or check up on President Obama’s progress; whenever I want to get the straight dope about people, pundits and policy issues, I pay a visit to PolitiFact.com.

Who is PolitiFact?

PolitiFact is a site owned and operated by The St. Petersburg Times  whose purpose is to help anyone, who wants to know the truth about Washington politics, to separate fact from fiction.  “Reporters and editors from The Times fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups and rate them on our Truth-O-Meter.”

Example, in a recent statement Counselor to the President and Director of White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle said that a report by the health insurance industry “ignores some of the key policies that are part of the Senate Finance Committee bill.”

PolitiFact rates her statement as “True,” then offers a link to read the details.

In a statement from the documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore said that during the Reagan administration “millions of people were thrown out of work.”

PolitiFact says this statement is… “Barely True.”  “Unemployment rate actually declined.”  (And I’m putting the link here so you can read the complete story that sets the record straight.)

Statement by Obama:  Insurers delayed an Illinois man’s treatment, “and he died because of it.”

PolitiFact: “False.” “Insurer’s decision was reversed and the man lived for another three years,” the site points out.

Statement from a chain e-mail:  In the health care bill “The ‘Health Choices Commissioner’ will decide health benefits for you.  You will have no choice.  None.”

PolitiFact:  “Pants-on-Fire False.”  “Bill says you pick your plan.”

Statement by the Florida GOP:  Schoolchildren across the nation “will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other president.”

PolitiFact:  “Pants-on-Fire False.” “We didn’t realize studying hard was socialist ideology,” the site says.

Okay, great, so they fact-check stuff, but can their facts be trusted?  In other words, who pays for PolitiFact?

Advertisers and subscribers to The St. Petersburg Times “help foot the bills for PolitiFact… We are an independent, nonpartisan, news organization,” the Web site says.  “We are not beholden to any government, political party or corporate interest.”

Uh, huh, but can they be trusted?

In April of this year, PolitiFact won The Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in covering the 2008 election.  In making the announcement, The Pulitzer Board cited PolitiFact’s use of “probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters.”

Among the interesting links on the site:  Truth-O-Meter, Flip-O-Meter, People and Pundits. Want to know what kind of progress Obama’s making on his campaign promises?  Hold him accountable on PolitiFact’s Obameter.

Want to argue the merits or demerits of health care, Palin, McCain or Beck?  Get the facts…straight from PolitiFact.com.


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