Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Happy birthday to us!

Fact-checking in Rhode Island turns 1!
Fact-checking in Rhode Island turns 1!

One year ago, as the candidates in the 2010 primary were slugging it out, Rhode Island’s political landscape suddenly changed. We think it was for the better, although more than a few politicians would disagree.

For it was on June 25, 2010, that the Truth-O-Meter arrived in Rhode Island, putting public figures on notice that, from that day forward, they would be held accountable for what they said.

In the year since The Journal began its partnership with PolitiFact.com, we have published 121 Truth-O-Meter items, including the one on this page.

We have examined statements from 79 politicians, labor leaders, trade groups, talk-show hosts, advocacy groups and anonymous chain e-mailers.

In each case, our goal was to answer the fundamental question that readers might ask when hearing a statement: Is that really true?

Because that’s what PolitiFact and its Truth-O-Meter are all about -- helping people awash in a torrent of confusing and conflicting information separate fact from fiction, truth from hype, distortion, exaggeration and outright lies.

We are part of a growing PolitiFact team that includes a national operation and partnerships with newspapers in eight other states: The St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald in Florida; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in Georgia; the Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey; the Valley News and The Telegraph in New Hampshire; the Cleveland Plain Dealer in Ohio; the Portland Oregonian in Oregon; the Austin-American Statesman in Texas; the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia; and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in Wisconsin.

Each PolitiFact team follows the same process. We select an interesting statement from a public figure. We ask the speaker for his or her source.

Then a PolitiFact reporter does the research to determine whether the speaker’s got it right –– or wrong –– and writes a report, listing the sources used. I edit the item; a panel of three senior newsroom editors also reads each one and votes on a ruling.

We’ve learned many things in the past year. First -- and this may shock you -- many public figures don’t tell the truth. Second -- and this may also shock you -- many public figures don’t like to be told they’re wrong. And finally, readers truly appreciate our efforts on their behalf, even when they don’t agree with our findings.

Some of our most popular items, judging by Web traffic, dealt with national issues, such as our debunking of an e-mail and YouTube video purporting to show President Obama admitting tht he is not a U.S. citizen (the video was actually created by a humor website.)

A statement by Sheldon Whitehouse that the richest 400 taxpayers in the U.S. are taxed at a lower rate than a $29,000-a-year worker was also near the top of the list.

Among local issues, our most-viewed items include:

*Our analysis of the assertion that the spinning blades of a North Kingstown wind turbine would pose a risk of seizures.

*Our examination of a claim that "Massachusetts public schools steach kids as young as kindergartners about gay marriage."

*And a statement by then-candidate Lincoln Chafee that Kurt Schilling's teammates said Schilling painted his bloody sock.

For the record, here’s the Truth-O-Meter scorecard so far: True: 18. Mostly True: 17. Half True: 21. Barely True: 18. False: 26. Pants on Fire: 21.

Even though it’s our birthday, we’re not giving the Truth-O-Meter a rest. We’re reading news releases, listening to talk shows, and checking websites, blogs and Twitter feeds for statements that call out for a fact-check.

If you have a suggestion, e-mail us at politifact@projo.com. You can also follow us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page and on Twitter: @politifactri.