Joann Tsai | Staff Writer
This year’s election has got quite a few politicians’ “pants on fire.”
Politifact, a fact-checking website, uses this signature rating to describe a statement that isn’t true no matter how you slice it. But how do Politifact’s fact-checkers go about analyzing statements from a wide range of politicians and topics to determine their validity?
Joshua Gillin, a fact-checker for Politifact, talked to aspiring journalists at Indiana University’s High School Journalism Institute about the process. In his presentation at Ernie Pyle Hall, he delved into what it’s like to pick apart politicians’ remarks.
Gillin said he typically begins with a statement made by a politician, then consults experts on the topic, public government records, and more to see if the statement is true. He then compiles that research into a written story and gives the statement a rating: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and last but not least, Pants on Fire. The rating is then checked by three editors before publication.
Gillin said that while it is not necessarily “traditional journalism” this coverage is becoming more important given America’s current political climate. With social media becoming an outlet for news almost as much as physical and digital newspapers, it is a new playing field for politicians to stretch the truth.
“[This year’s election is] elevated to a whole new level,” Gillin said. “The speed [of social media] is pretty astonishing.”
In fact, he said social media is a popular resource for the statements they check nowadays. For example, Donald Trump’s “Star of David” tweet, which recently took the country by storm, was recapped on Politifact.
However, Politifact reporters realize that Trump is not the only one telling falsehoods. Gillin maintains that Politifact attempts to balance its coverage between parties, particularly during elections.
“We just try to present the facts and let the voter do the rest,” Gillin said.
Later, he was asked about people’s accusations of bias in Politifact despite his earlier stance. He told the students about encountering criticism from all over the political spectrum.
“Proves we’re doing our jobs when both sides hate us,” Gillin said.
Most of all, he said, it’s important to realize that no matter how outlandish these statements can get, the truth is never far.
“The right information is out there,” Gillin said.