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THE LAST WORD

Fact-checking services offer voters a chance to find truth

Saturday, October 6, 2012 - 12:01 am

Political campaigns can make your head spin.

The ads on TV claim this, accuse that and promise something else. When you listen to the candidates' speeches, the “facts” all seem diametrically opposed between political parties. Wait a minute, you say. They can't both be right.

Watching Wednesday's first of three presidential debates, you ask, what really are the facts? Who's telling the truth? Are they lying? What's going on here?

Most news organizations try to present facts as clearly as they can through serious reporting and research. The facts are there, but it sometimes takes a lot of hard work to dig them out of the morass.

One of the services offered to the public in recent years by news organizations and universities has been fact-checking.

This newspaper on Thursday published an Associated Press fact-check story about the presidential debate that clarified statements made by both President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney along with “the facts”: a researched analysis of what was said and what is actually true.

The AP story said both Obama and Romney “spun one-sided stories in their first presidential debate, not necessarily bogus, but not the whole truth. They made some flat-out flubs, too. The rise in health insurance premiums has not been the slowest in 50 years, as Obama said. Far from it. And there are not 23 million unemployed, as Romney asserted.”

FactCheck.org claims to “monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.” Its goal, it says, “is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding … to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.”

FactCheck.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate for voters out of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

One of the most contentious issues in the debate was the back-and-forth over what Obama claimed was Romney's plan to make $5 trillion in tax cuts.

“The president is off base here,” according to FactCheck.org.

The website goes on in great detail to explain Romney's plan.

There are many other sources for fact-checking as well, including PolitiFact.com and its “truth-o-meter.”

“PolitiFact and other fact-checking ventures are filling a void in political reporting,” says longtime Washington Post political reporter and columnist David Broder. Broder says reporters are the people best equipped to serve as the arbiters of truth.

On the other hand, some readers have said news organizations should just report the news and let the readers decide what's fact and what's fiction.

The trouble is, that's a lot of work, and most people don't have the time or the knowledge to know where to go for the facts.

Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.