Getting out our matches, this time to light a candle
We’re taking a short break from setting pants on fire to use our matches to light up a birthday candle.
It has been a year since the launch of PolitiFact Wisconsin, the Journal Sentinel’s fact-checking operation.
You forgot to buy a card?
That’s OK, on most days our email is full of warm greetings: You’re biased toward Democrats. You’re in the pocket of the Republicans.
You lean right.
You lean left.
You’re just plain dizzy.
Actually, those sorts of emails have tapered dramatically off since our launch, replaced by a slew of reader suggestions of statements to check, often from folks closely following the ins and outs of the political debate. That tells me people understand what we’re about. So do the many compliments about our work, such as this email:
"Sincere thanks for the amazing fact digging you do. Through the last two months (we just discovered you) we have depended on your work to give us the real facts to speak truth to power."
I don’t know the political leanings of the writer. Didn’t ask. Frankly, it doesn’t matter.
Our focus from the start has been to hold political figures accountable for what they say and to provide clear analysis of complicated issues for our readers. We play no favorites and pull no punches.
But we’ve had a lot to take a swing at in the past year.
We joined the national PolitiFact network on Sept. 5, 2010, just days before a heated GOP gubernatorial primary. From there it was headlong into the contentious fall election.
Then the more contentious spring elections. And then the even more contentious recall battles, which came as a result of the most contentious issue of the year: Gov. Scott Walker’s move in February to curtail collective bargaining for most public employees.
All of that has put Wisconsin politics at the center of national attention, and kept us quite busy. In the past year, we launched the Walk-O-Meter, to monitor promises made by Walker during the campaign, and the Abele-O-Meter to do the same fore new Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele.
We used the Flip-O-Meter nine times to test whether elected officials had changed their positions. And we rated 264 statements on the Truth-O-Meter, our main tool which is used to assess the accuracy of what is being said. Here’s how the ratings broke down:
Mostly True: 31.
Half True: 36.
Mostly False: 58.
Pants on Fire: 40.
That’s a definite trend toward the bottom of the scale — a result, perhaps, of the state being in perpetual campaign (and attack) mode.
Walker has had the most False ratings (13) — but also the most True (4).
That’s because as the state’s top official and a national lightning rod, he’s been our most-graded person (31 statements on the Truth-O-Meter). So, it’s all in how you look at the numbers.
One thing we have heard from top elected officials in both parties is that they follow the ratings closely. Some have publicly changed their language in response to flaws we’ve found. Others have told us privately that they word statements more carefully because of PolitiFact Wisconsin.
If that means a more fact-based debate, we’re all for it — though we’re not worried about being put out of business just yet.
You can find all the ratings here. And with them, every source we used to reach our conclusion.
To be sure, not everyone agrees with our conclusions, and we don’t expect them to.
Here’s an excerpt from one early email: "This is not the first time that I’ve had a massive problem with the way the paper rebroadcasts the idiotic musings of local right-wingers."
Here’s another: "Politifact.com always seems to show the negative things about Republicans and NEVER showcases the LIES of the Democrats!!"
We appreciate all feedback. And we’d like some more.
If you have some thoughts on our first year, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll round some of them up in a future piece online.
In the meantime, we wish we could offer you a piece of birthday cake. But we’ll stick with serving up solid journalism that helps you navigate the heated rhetoric of a hotly divided political state.
Which reminds me: The 2012 campaign, featuring an open U.S. Senate seat, has already begun.
We’ll keep that book of matches handy.
Greg Borowski is senior editor for projects and investigations at the Journal Sentinel and editor of PolitiFact Wisconsin.