Monday, November 24th, 2014

The truth, 1,000 times

Because of the health care debate, our meter keeps catching on fire.
Because of the health care debate, our meter keeps catching on fire.

Our Truth-O-Meter has been overheating lately because of all the fact-checking we've been doing on the health care debate.

In the past month, PolitiFact has published 38 items on health care, 20 of which have been rated False or Pants on Fire. Our item about insurance companies considering pregnancy a pre-existing condition (True!) was the 1,000th Truth-O-Meter ruling. This weekend we celebrate our 2nd birthday.

PolitiFact launched on Aug. 22, 2007, when few people were paying attention to the presidential campaign. Our first items were about Bill Richardson's record in New Mexico and Mitt Romney's criticism of defense cuts. The first Pants on Fire went to Joe Biden for claiming that President Bush "is brain-dead." (Our tongue-in-cheek item said that Dr. Biden had not performed the requisite tests to make that diagnosis.)

Since then, we have amassed an extraordinary database of political discourse (and picked up a Pulitzer Prize to boot). We fact-checked more than 750 claims and attacks during the presidential campaign, from Hillary's Clinton's claim that she dodged sniper fire in Bosnia to Barack Obama's Spanish-language ad that linked John McCain with Rush Limbaugh (both were rated Pants on Fire).

To celebrate our milestones, here are some highlights from the past two years:

Truth-O-Meter rulings
(For 1,004 items published since Aug. 22, 2007)

True              25 percent
Mostly True    17
Half True        19
Barely True     13
False              19
Pants on Fire    7


The Truth-O-Meter's Top 10

Truth-O-Meter items with the highest number of page views:

1. Chain e-mail claims Obama sworn in on Koran ( Pants on Fire )
2. McCain says Obama and Bill Ayers ran radical education group ( Pants on Fire )
3. Biden: Bush is "brain dead" ( Pants on Fire )
4. Huckabee says most Founding Fathers were clergymen ( Pants on Fire )
5. McCaughey claims end-of-life counseling will be required for Medicare patients ( Pants on Fire )
6. Sarah Palin on the Bridge to Nowhere ( Flip-O-Meter )
7. Chain e-mail on Michelle Obama's senior thesis says America founded on "crime and hatred" ( Pants on Fire )
8. Sarah Palin on selling the state plane on eBay ( True )
9. Chain e-mail suggests Obama fits biblical description of the Antichrist ( Pants on Fire )
10. "Birthers" on whether Obama's real birth certificate is posted on Internet ( False )

The impact of the Truth-O-Meter: During the campaign, we gave Barack Obama a False for a stock line in his stump speech that gasoline prices had never been higher. The next day, Obama changed the line and got it right.

Number of Truth-O-Meter items on taxes: 93

On health care: 116

On sneezing: One (Joe Biden's claim that, "when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft" — another Pants on Fire

Truth-O-Meter items that generate the most e-mails: Anything involving Obama's birth certificate

Best Truth-O-Meter item involving a dog: Spike the Romney Attack Dog on Mike Huckabee's record on taxes

Best one to read at lunch: Hillary Clinton on the regulation of ham and cheese sandwiches. Runner-up: Mike Huckabee on cooking fried squirrel .

Most prominent person who has written us to complain about an item: Joe Biden. (When he was a candidate for president, on a claim about crime in New York).

Significant Truth-O-Meter mistakes: Both involve Rudy Giuliani. In checking a Giuliani attack on Fred Thompson's record on tort reform, we missed some votes and had to change a ruling from Half True to Barely True . On another Giuliani claim about his tax cutting, we understated his role in a local  income tax cut and had to change our ruling from Barely to Mostly True .

Most unusual medium for a Truth-O-Meter item: We checked a Planned Parenthood condom wrapper that attacked John McCain.

Strangest call we had to make: To the Waldorf Astoria to ask if Michelle Obama had ordered lobster from room service. ( She had not .)