Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Happy New Year! PolitiFact New Jersey looks back on our 2011 fact checks

PolitiFact New Jersey has checked Gov. Chris Christie on the Truth-O-Meter 23 times.
PolitiFact New Jersey has checked Gov. Chris Christie on the Truth-O-Meter 23 times.

Sometimes it may seem as if PolitiFact New Jersey has an identity crisis.

One day some of our readers say it's too liberal. Another day, it’s in the Republican governor’s hip pocket. The Truth-O-Meter often nitpicks and goes after the minutiae of what public officials say, or the reporters have a secret agenda that conspiracy theorists cry they’ve decoded - at last!

Well, after our first six months of operating the Truth-O-Meter, we admit it. We have an agenda. It’s the same one we started with June 10: raking through political muck to find the truth for our readers be they Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green, apolitical or something else.

After fact-checking 120 claims, here’s where PolitiFact New Jersey stands. Consider this our six-month report to the readers:

-- We’ve fact-checked 41 claims by Democrats and five from Democratic organizations;

-- 49 Republican claims and five statements by Republican organizations;

-- seven claims by nonpolitical organizations, a claim by bloggers and one chain email;

-- two politicians who are declared Independents;

-- nine individuals who do not have a declared political bent.

And we have learned a few things about New Jerseyans and their politics: readers can’t get enough fact-checks about Gov. Chris Christie, education or taxes. Some of our most talked-about articles have been about a New Jersey Education Association advertisement that said Christie gave a tax break to millionaires; high school graduation rates in Newark; whether taxes affect people moving to or from New Jersey and who’s responsible for the migration; job growth in the state; Christie calling "Obamacare" a government takeover of health care; and Christie talking about teacher schedules and salaries.

Not surprisingly, Christie has been our most frequent guest on the Truth-O-Meter, with 23 fact checks. Some might say we "go after" him. To which we say, well, he’s New Jersey’s chief executive and a politician with a rising national profile to boot. And since New Jersey is the kind of state where most of the important political decisions come from the statehouse, the governor is fair game. As a result, he’s also the only public official who has received every rating on the Truth-O-Meter: four True, four Mostly True, six Half True, four Mostly False, three False and two Pants on Fire.

Although the governor has been a frequent target, we are equal-opportunity fact-checkers. We are transparent in what we do, how we do it and why. Next to every article is a complete list of sources for that fact-check. Anonymity is forbidden. We reach out to Republicans for comment on Democrat claims and vice versa. That way, both sides get a chance to comment. We seek experts in academia, business, finance, policy and other fields for perspective and we say if those people have a political bent.

Dr. G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., said the growth of fact-checking is valuable for readers because politicians "will be a lot more careful than they often are with facts and with interpretations if they are going to be tested and checked."

"It tends to hold their feet to the fire in ways it didn’t exist before," he said.

We asked the governor’s office and the state Democratic and Republican committees for comment about PolitiFact New Jersey. None responded.

But U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th) recently tweeted a nod to PolitiFact New Jersey for our False ruling on his claim that the nation’s debt in 1944 was twice what it is today. Holt’s spokesman told us that he meant deficit.

"Politifact is right - I misspoke. They do a service when they correct the record and hold elected officials to account," Holt tweeted. He also included a link to our article at PolitiFactNJ.com.

Our colleague, Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, called us out in October as liberal and biased after we gave the conservative activist Steve Lonegan a False ruling on his claim that the nation’s Social Security system is "broke."

It’s clear that some people love the Truth-O-Meter and others hate it. But that won’t deter us from our very obvious agenda: holding your elected officials accountable for the words they speak. Contact us if there's a statement from a politician you want us to investigate.

To comment on this story, go to NJ.com.