As the 2012 presidential campaign nears its climax, political rhetoric is at a fever pitch and fact-checkers are busier than ever. Are politicians bending the truth more this year than in past elections? Where’s the line between political hyperbole and flat-out lying — and how much do voters really care?


Fact Checking Resources

  • FactCheck.org: A project of the Annenburg Public Policy Center 
  • Politifact.com: A project of the Tampa Bay Times and its partners
  • SuperPacAPP: An iPhone app that identifies funding of and accuracy in political ads and that fact checks the content of the ad


Useful Articles


Barbara O'Connor, professor emerita of communications at the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento
Eugene Kiely, deputy director of FactCheck.org
Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke University and author of "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone -- Especially Ourselves"
Bill Adair, editor for PolitiFact and Washington bureau chief for The Tampa Bay Times
Erik Wemple, opinion blogger for The Washington Post

  • Steve Wilkes

    Lying should never be acceptable, and hypocrisy is the worst sin a politician can commit. All should strive for being honest with themselves and the public. The DNC 2012 Clinton Speech should be the gold standard for this election cycle. His message and stats hold up under scrutiny, but the truth, unfortunately is only in the ears of the beholder. Many people are so locked into their world view that they cannot handle, or automatically dismiss the truth if it does not fit with what they believe.

    It would be amazing if the fact checking organizations could be superimposed real-time with the debates. Every statement could have a truthiness meter updated as they speak, or event CGI noses that get longer if they fib. This won’t happen, but the majority of the public won’t check back after the debates to see if what was said was true, so realistically the moderators should point out whoppers as they occur.

  • Steve Wilkes

    This may be a good example of what not to do.  I haven’t fact checked this article http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/09/08/mitt-romney-616-lies-in-33-weeks, but if it is accurate Romney has apparently lied 616 times while campaigning. This would fit in well with his campaign line of: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

  • Dave, Sacramento

    Michael:  even the “fact-checkers” are now being co-opted by the “false equivalency” problem that is the cancer at the core of our modern media.   If Politifact (or any of its brethern) call out Republicans too much, they will be blasted as being biased – even if they’re doing the right thing.

    The “bias” charge that the right wing has refined over the past 3 decades has turned into a cudgel that has bloodied our Fourth Estate.

  • LeslieR_TD

    My church is having a 3-week series on civility in politics, and I find that it dovetails nicely with this discussion on fact-checking.  Among the necessary elements for civility are 1) integrity (representing your own and your opponent’s positions honestly), 2) mutual respect (i.e. not demonizing your opponents as a faceless class) and 3) humility (being able to see a point of view not your own and if necessary, altering your beliefs as a result).

    Fact checkers can assist with the integrity portion.  Without mutual respect and personal humility, it isn’t going to go very far.  So should there be fact checkers at debates, etc.?  Well, it won’t hurt, but without a personal desire to truly engage with issues in order to solve them, not just to score points, it isn’t going to actually solve the issue.

    FYI:  We are using In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us by James Calvin Davis as our source material.

  • Sandy, San Mateo

    The charge of “liberal elite bias” that Fox and the right-wing media have turned into an art form is the toxic poison at the heart of our modern media.

    It gives many on the right an excuse to wave off dishonesty such as what we’re seeing from Romney & Ryan: it’s easy to just say “oh, there goes the liberal media again.”

  • Bob, Oakland

    Michael:  Despite their clever name, Politifact suffers from the same problem that so afflicts all of mainstream media:   they have been cowed by Fox and the rightwing media such that even with FACTS they seem to feel that they have to bend over backwards to be “unbiased.”  If they call out Romney on a lie, they seem to feel that they better find something “untruthy” from Obama.

  • Don, Walnut Creek

    Michael & Panel: is not the solution that members of the media have guts and start calling politicians explicitly on LIES?   And I mean actually saying: “sir, you are lying and you know it.”   It seems as if members of the media are terrified of using the word “LIE”.   And yet, the simplest words are often the most powerful.

  • Dave

    The media enables mendacity by treating more general claims as off-limits for checking.

    For example, calling the health reform law, quote “a government takeover of health care”, is false by any reasonable standard — under the law, people continue buying insurance from private companies and continue to see private doctors.And yet the language is broad: so fact checkers don’t take it on.This is information arbitrage — exploiting the gap between what politicians say and what people end up internalizing as a result.These intentionally-broad, intellectually dishonest claims are much more egregious than the specifics, and fact checkers need to focus on these more impactful falsehoods.

  • Livegreenoak

    Robert Reich writes in this Saturday’s Chronicle:”A half dozen fact-checking organizations and websites have refuted claims by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan that President Obama removed the work requirement from the welfare law and will cut Medicare benefits by $716 billion. The New York Times even reported that Romney has been “falsely charging” Obama with removing the work requirement.USA Today calls the Romney campaign’s claim that Obama has “funneled” money out of Medicare to pay for the federal health care law a “false line of attack” that’s directly contradicted by Medicare’s chief actuary. “Medicare’s money isn’t being taken away,” the paper concludes.Notwithstanding these refutations, the Romney campaign continues to make these charges.Most political campaigns are guilty of exaggeration. Some distort the truth. But rarely if ever has one resorted to such bald-faced lies – even after they’re shown to be lies.”Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/reich/article/How-Republicans-reinforce-campaign-of-lies-3850026.php#ixzz265L4d7ZS

  • Bob

    Lying in politics is quickly becoming a successful way of “Being entitled to one’s facts” in addition to one’s opinions.  Besides calling politicians on it, the Press needs to call the party’s out for their lies…not finding one tit for tat to blame both parties.  This false choice (or to leave it up to the one-sided pundits) just contributes to the success of the bigger liar.When a lie happens, the liar should be called.

  • Dave in San Leandro

    Lying in politics is quickly becoming a successful way of “Being entitled to one’s facts” in addition to one’s opinions.  Besides calling politicians on it, the Press needs to call the party’s out for their lies…not finding one tit for tat to blame both parties.  This false choice (or to leave it up to the one-sided pundits) just contributes to the success of the bigger lier.When a lie happens, the liar should be called.

  • Tokuko

    When politicians lie to the public, they should be considered as “Criminal.”
    Why do the public accept the lie and why do you think that the public don’t care?

  • Jungdude

    When some of us went to journalism school in the 60s, and went into the profession, fact-checking wasn’t considered a specialty, it was a given for all reporters. As laziness and amateurism and immediacy have taken over via the Internet, so-called “journalists” seem to feel no obligation beyond restating, unfiltered, whatever a “newsmaker” says, as if a mere claim is now news.

  • Jungdude

    And “media” was a plural

  • Marc

    Is there a difference between lies and “spin”? We’re not discussing scientific truth here, but rather ideas that are often as much opinion as fact. Lying is deliberate misstatement of fact and is unarguably wrong. But is spinning any different than making your most persuasive case?

  • Daulnay

    Something is news only if it is new, important, and true.  News organizations no longer report news, they report what they are told, uncritically, instead of verifying facts.  At the best, we get ‘he said, she said’ reporting.  What gets reported is technically true, but it is not news because the important information is not necessarily true.  How much of the rise in political lying can be laid at the feet of our major news organizations for failing to do their job?

  • Tokuko, Pacifica

    Additionally, you teach your kids that lying is bad.  And, the kids see the American politians lying and the adult Americans accept the lies, so what kind nation are you creating?  THINK HARD, AMERICA!

    • HelloThere

      Never forget that the military industrial complex, in conjunction with the criminal leadership of the corporate-occupied government, murdered on 9/11/2001 thousands of people and blamed it on Muslim scapegoats many of whom were proven to be alive and well after 9/11. They did this to bring about the 1%’s long-term plan of worldwide anti-democratic government as well as the worldwide police state that we are seeing come about in the form of the Patriot Acts, NDAA, TrapWire, drone attacks, NSA surveillance of every US citizen, and the like.

      Most Americans still do not know, because the media will not tell them, that at 5:20pm on 9/11, World Trade Center building 7, which was not hit by any plane and had only minimal fires, collapsed at free-fall speed in a classic controlled demolition.

      Particles of military-grade explosives called nano-thermite, which is available only to the military, were found throughout WTC dust by non-government investigators.

      More information:

  • Concerned on the Coastside

    I am hearing the ‘fact checkers’  constantly stumble and pretend not to understand your very clear and direct questions about which political party or politician is not being truthful. How does a simple sum of the information they are supposedly being so neutral about harm that neutrality.  I think it just makes sense that you can sum up your data.  Isn’t our great problem today that we have so much data and little or no information?

    The men you interviewed today are a great advertisement for the growing sense that the ‘fact checkers’ are not themselves being truthful.  Dissembling seems to be the mode of the day.

  • Yashwanth R

    I am totally disheartened by the comments that Dan made – specifically about lying and how it is acceptable “within norms”!! These are the kind of opinions that send wrong signals amongst the community; especially youngsters listening to such opinions are going to develop a strong view that lying is ok within norms. Let me ask you this – when your spouse in a clumsy dress asks your opinion would you say “you look fine!” and let your spouse depend on others to find out the correct opinion?
    The public do care about the facts that news organizations say – call a spade a spade.
    The second, about fact checkers and news media, I do believe that they are trained journalists and do take the unbiased stand but again how different are they from politicians – are the also not professionals? In fact politicians are folks to whom we trust with the responsibility of leading a nation or state or city.
    So if you are an organization that claims to provide unbiased view on facts then you better live up to it not once or twice but all the time. If you can’t do it then no one is going to listen to you even when you may be absolutely right. It is like calling wolf – do it once and you lose your reputation.

  • Jeanie Wakeland

    As a Bay Area reporter, newspaper editor and now a college journalism instructor, I’d like to make a few points about what really goes on in the newsroom in dealing with terms like liar.
    1. Lie and liar are emotional words. Good reporters and ethical newspapers try to avoid emotion and bias as best they can. If the reporter thinks the politician is not telling the truth, he or she should quote what he/she said, followed by a paragraph that goes like this:
    But the comment made by Politician A conflicts with information/facts from RELIABLE SOURCE/GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT/RELIABLE EYE WITNESS. What’s reliable? That which can be documented independently and by multiple sources. It’s often difficult to find.
    2. There’s another Li- word in the news room: libel. Calling someone, even a public figure, a liar, makes publishers, publishers’ lawyers and therefore editors very nervous. Even if a libel suit never comes to court, it can cost the medium’s owner thousands, even millions of dollars. Every reporter and editor I know gets lots of education at work about libel. In addition, as media move to electronic forms, it’s unclear if protections extended by the Constitution to the press are applicable to electronic media.
    3. Fact-checking is the heart of reporting. However, as newsrooms have fewer and fewer staff, and more and more assignments, it’s hard to meet deadlines with all the verification needed. If readers/viewers want factual content, don’t expect it 10 minutes after a statement is made.

  • Anyone checked out whether Romney gave that woman cancer whose husband lost his insurance from his job after he was terminated?  A woman who had her own insurance.

  • Pontifikate

    One caller, Peter, made a good point that went unacknowledged. His point was that it is just as important to talk about what a candidate has DONE, not just said. And of course, if they say one thing, but have done something contrary, that makes the candidate a liar and a hypocrite.

  • trite

    Proboscis ?  Come on!!

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