Friday, December 19th, 2014

When it comes to the truth, New Jersey's Dems, GOP share unique bond

Cory Booker will not challenge Gov. Chris Christie for his office in 2013.
Cory Booker will not challenge Gov. Chris Christie for his office in 2013.

New Jersey’s Democrats and Republicans have much that separates them.

There is, however, one thing both parties have in common: marginal success against PolitiFact New Jersey’s Truth-O-Meter.

Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the Truth-O-Meter’s arrival in the Garden State and to mark the occasion, we’ve analyzed the results of 220 fact-checks done between June 10, 2011 and June 7, 2012.

It turns out that New Jersey has a relatively equal amount of truth-telling and falsehoods coming from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle, according to our analysis.

And despite repeated accusations from readers, politicians and others that PolitiFact New Jersey is a biased, liberal organization, consider the following:

-- In the past year we have fact-checked statements from Democrats 97 times, from Republicans 92 times, unaffiliated groups or persons 29 times and Independents, twice. Gov. Chris Christie represents 39 of the Republican fact-checks.

-- If Christie is removed from the Republican total, the Truth-O-Meter is fact-checking statements by Democrats nearly twice as often as Republicans.

-- Democrats have hit the truthful end of the scale 40 times (21 True and 19 Mostly True) compared with 31 times for Republicans (19 True, 12 Mostly True).

-- On the False end of the scale, it’s 38 times for Democrats (24 False, 14 Mostly False) and 37 times for Republicans (25 False, 12 Mostly False).

-- Our most extreme ruling, Pants on Fire, has been given to Republicans seven times and to Democrats three times for statements deemed "ridiculous." Christie earned four of those conflagrations.

-- Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, has been fact-checked 10 times. Of those, the Truth-O-Meter deemed four statements False, four Mostly True and two True.

So why should New Jerseyans care?

"Political insiders use the site to judge and assess campaigns, political rhetoric," said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. "They become the chattering class and if they believe that someone is lying or someone is telling the truth, that becomes the theme of what they’re talking about. It lends how people frame that particular issue, depending on what a place like PolitiFact finds out."

A fact-checking organization is important in a state where residents are bombarded by media of all types at all times, according to Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

"In a media environment that’s in hyper drive, fact-checking provides an essential service to people who can’t make heads or tails of what’s being thrown at them," Murray said. "Fact-checking makes leaders accountable for the words they speak."

Murray said PolitiFact New Jersey’s Truth-O-Meter may have had some impact on Tuesday’s Democratic primary battle between Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman to run for the newly drawn 9th Congressional district because Truth-O-Meter rulings for both candidates’ claims independently verified or rejected their statements. For example, Pascrell cited in his campaign literature a Pants on Fire ruling given for a Rothman video ad claiming Pascrell supported Republican ideas about tax cuts. Pascrell won the Democratic nomination and will run for the seat in November.

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