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"PolitiFact is biased," our critics charge. We see this in emails and on social media, especially in the heat of election season.
We expect it. Afterall, as an independent group measuring accuracy, we are disrupting the agendas of partisans and political operatives across the ideological spectrum. We do it to give people the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy, and to uphold the tradition of a free and independent press.
Still, we think it’s worth explaining our mission and methods, both to answer those who make the charge against us, and for our supporters when confronted by naysayers.
1. We fact-check inaccurate statements, not political parties.
We are always on the lookout for bad information that needs correcting. We don’t have any concern about which party it comes from or who says it. If someone makes an inaccurate statement, it gets a negative rating on our Truth-O-Meter: Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.
We’ve given negative ratings to our Republican President Donald Trump. We’ve also given negative ratings to prominent Democrats: Hillary Clinton on her emails. Bernie Sanders on gun sales. Barack Obama on Internet surveillance. Maxine Waters on impeaching president Trump.
2. We follow the facts, not fact-check count formulas.
We let the factual chips fall where they may. This is not bias; this is sticking to our mission of correcting falsehoods as we find them.
We don’t worry about who got the last False rating or how long since some group got a True rating. We look at each statement and each set of evidence separately and give it a rating that stands on its own.
If one person or party makes a series of inaccurate statements, we tend to fact-check more of their statements. If their opponents don’t make as many inaccurate statements, we fact-check them less.
Our database of fact-checks make it easy to see the ratings people or parties have received over the years. Our readers tell us they like seeing these summaries and find them easy to browse. But we are not driven by those numbers; they have no bearing on how we rate the next statement we choose to fact-check.
3. We make mistakes sometimes, but we correct our errors promptly.
The facts comes first with us. That’s why it’s important for us -- or any reputable news organization -- to correct mistakes promptly and clearly. We follow a published corrections policy than anyone can read. Readers also can easily access a list of fact-checks that have been corrected or updated after the original publication.
We believe it is one of the most robust and detailed corrections policies in American fact-checking.
4. Reader support allows us to stay independent.
Our independent journalism, seeking only to sort out the truth in American policy, is what motivates us to keep publishing for the benefit of our readers. We began over a decade ago as a politics project at Florida’s largest daily newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. Today, we are a nonprofit newsroom that is part of the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists based in Florida.
We have a sustainable business model that is independent of political affiliation or corporate interests. We make money from online advertising, services and syndication, a few grants that respect our independence, and, most critically, reader support. (Read a detailed list of our support.)
Readers join our Truth Squad on a daily basis, and when they do, many write messages about why they are donating. (If you feel the same way, donate now.) Here is a sampling of recent comments:
"In this age of amoral Opposition Politics, I want the TRUTH without bias."
"Facts are precious and becoming rare."
"Living on Social Security but need to find out what is true and what is BS."
"You do much needed work..... thank you."
"I feel it is so important to have access to truthful reporting."
"I’m on a quest for the truth."
We see more of these comments than the charge at the top of this column. It reminds us of why we do what we do.
We know the strongly partisan will keep trying to discredit our work with their tweets and angry email.
We will keep answering them with fact-focused, independent reporting and journalism’s highest ethical standards.