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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair December 22, 2009

The Truth-O-Meter went red in 2009.

We mention red because that’s the meter’s color for our lowest ratings, False and Pants on Fire. Of the 432 fact-checking items we published this year, 26 percent were rated False and 10 percent earned a Pants on Fire .

That means more than one-third of all the claims we checked were incorrect.

Another way to look at it: The truth took a beating in 2009.

That was particularly true in the debate over health care , where nearly 40 percent of claims were rated False or Pants on Fire.

And if you’re relying on pundits or talk show hosts for your facts, you might want to reconsider. More than 45 percent of their claims were False or Pants on Fire.

The social scientists on our staff (okay, there’s just one) discourage us from comparing this year’s ratings with last year, when we were focused on the presidential campaign. Our ratings are journalism, not social science, after all, and the items are chosen based on our news judgment and staffing, not randomly selected. But with that big caveat, it’s still interesting to note that we had a lower share of False and Pants on Fire ratings during the 2008 campaign – 24 percent – than the 36 percent in 2009, when we rated the congressional debate and comments from the White House.

In case you’re scoring at home, here are the stats for 2009:

True            18%

Mostly True  14.5

Half True      17.5

Barely True   13.8

False            26.2

Pants on Fire 10.0

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In 2009, the truth took a beating