Ria Parikh | Staff Writer
Making America great again might not be the only thing Donald Trump is making up.
On July 12, Politifact reporter Joshua Gillin spoke at the Indiana University High School Journalism Institute. The main purpose of the website is to take statements made by political figures, such as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, and rate them for truthfulness.
The website was started by Bill Adair, a former journalist of the St. Petersburg Times, in 2007. Adair was tired of the typical format of journalism, where reporters wrote and believed everything that was said without questioning the validity.
“People were saying crazy things, and they can’t possibly be true, so Bill Adair said, ‘let’s get a bunch of people together and we’ll create a little database website here,’” Gillin said. “‘We will track things that they say, and then, instead of just writing what they say, we will research them.’”
Gillin said that the website’s goal was to provide an unbiased rating of the truth in the politicians’ words, regardless of their reputation or political party. He said that social media has a huge influence on voters because they can be swayed by the remarks made by the candidates online.
“The speed with which these ideas (spread), whether they have a validity to them or not, is pretty astonishing,” Gillin said. “‘Don’t believe everything you read,’ right? I think it’s definitely a bigger thing now. That’s where we come in. ”
In order to provide ratings that make sense to readers and voters, Gillin and his team invented a system called the “Truth-o-Meter”. This system is a scale of six ratings that range from True to Pants on Fire (extremely false), and it gives readers an accurate understanding of how true the statement is. Gillin said that picking the most accurate rating for each statement requires a lot of work and research from the staff.
“What I do is, I do research, but I also interview outside sources,” Gillin said. “So one of the things that makes Politifact unique is that if you go to any item on the right, there is this source list here on the side and it is every single thing I have read, or consulted, or person I’ve interviewed, or government document I’ve looked up.”
Gillin said that a big priority for the site is making sure that each political party is equally represented, and that they aren’t deliberately exposing a certain party more than the other.
“We try to balance out who we’re picking on, I guess if you want to say,” Gillin said. “Every candidate feels like we’re picking on them and don’t talk to the other guy, (but) we make a conscious decision to talk to both or all five campaigns or how ever many are in a race...we don’t try to pick on one party the other.”
Despite the rating system, Gillin said that they receive a lot of criticism about adding subconscious bias based on their personal opinions about certain candidates. However, Gillin said that the website staff makes sure that they rate their candidates strictly based off proven facts.
A reporter from the High School Journalism Institute attending the presentation pointed out that Gillin seems to be against Trump, and asked if that led to a subconscious bias. In his response, Gillin made a reference to a statement Trump made about manufacturing in America in order to show the lack of bias the website has against him.
“We saw that, we had rated it before, when he said it before. Well, since then I believe they’re saying that yeah, the company changed their manufacturing line,” Gillin said. “We went back and looked at it, specifically because he was saying it again. And we found out this time, this is our Virginia chapter, and this time we found that yeah, he’s right. He’s right, so he got a ‘True. It wasn’t to get him, it was because the original one was fairly contentious to begin with, and we wanted to revisit it to make sure we got it right.”
When responding to the criticism he receives, Gillin said that the journalists are as respectful as possible, hoping to make the critics realize that they are speaking to humans, not computer screens.
“I think the one thing, as long as I’ve been in Politifact, that it’s taught me is that if you can show someone you’re an actual person and have an actual conversation with them, they’ll tell you just about anything,” Gillin said.