Get ready for the year of Pinocchios and Pants on Fire.
We’ve seen the prologue in 2015: a presidential campaign filled with ridiculous exaggerations and wild falsehoods. No, there isn’t any video of thousands of Muslims celebrating on 9/11. No, there isn’t evidence that people go into prison straight and come out gay. And no, the Benghazi probe is not the longest-running congressional investigation ever.
The election is still 11 months away, but the avalanche of falsehoods is already bringing huge traffic to fact-checking sites. Eugene Kiely, the director of FactCheck.org, says his traffic is “through the roof.” A FactCheck.org story copublished on MSN drew more than 1.1 million pageviews. It’s the same story for Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, who had his biggest monthly readership ever in November.
Fact-checkers have been working long hours and adding staffers to try to keep up with the ridiculous rhetoric. PolitiFact, the site I started eight years ago at the Tampa Bay Times, plans to expand from 11 state sites to 17 in the near future.
My prediction for 2016: The fact-checkers will uncover dozens of important falsehoods and expand their audiences in new and powerful ways. Candidates will ignore a lot of the truth-squadding — except when they can use it to attack their opponents. (Politicians hate fact-checking, except when they love it! My colleague Mark Stencel calls this the “weaponization” of fact-checking.)
Technology will provide new help for the overworked journalists. New tools such as ClaimBuster will help the fact-checkers find statements to check. Other projects will introduce new ways they can broaden the readership for individual articles.
The “seasonal” fact-checkers — news organizations such as The New York Times that primarily do it during campaigns — will ramp up their operations with attractive new designs. Lots of local TV stations will jump into the act, eager to link their brands with this growing form of accountability journalism.
The speeches at the political conventions will include references to Truth-O-Meters and Pinocchios and other rating systems that fact-checkers use. During the debates, one or both candidates will cite how their opponent was called out by a fact-checker.
And then on election night, the president-elect will talk about truth in the campaign and how the American people recognized that truth matters.