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PolitiFact was launched in 2007, a project of longtime political reporter Bill Adair (who left the site in 2013) and web developer Matt Waite. According to Waite, it is an attempt to break down fact-checking to an elemental, data-based level, inspired by suggestions by EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty.
While it offers deeply researched narrative assessments of political claims’ veracity, PolitiFact is most well-known for its six-level ranking system, which classifies claims as “true,” “mostly true,” “half true,” “barely true,” “false,” and — most famously — “pants on fire.” The site also analyzes changes in politicians’ policy stances via its flip-flop assessor: “no flip,” “half flip,” “full flop.”
PolitiFact received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for its work on the 2008 election. It has done live fact-checking on a presidential debate via Twitter, and it is tracking the status of 510 campaign promises made by President Barack Obama.
In early 2010, PolitiFact began partnering with other news organizations to create new versions of its project. It launched PolitiFact Texas with the Austin American-Statesman in January 2010 and PolitiFact Florida with the Miami Herald in March 2010. As of February 2014, PolitiFact had partnerships with 10 states, including Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Its first international partner, PolitiFact Australia, launched in May 2013. Partner news organizations pay $1,000 per month to PolitiFact for the service. It has also announced the launch of a PolitiFact News Service that allows newspapers to subscribe to its national content. As of mid-2012, it had four full-time fact-checkers at its national office, plus 36 journalists working at its state sites.
In April 2010, PolitiFact began working with ABC News’ “This Week” to evaluate statements of its guests each week. The site has also worked with NPR to fact-check the 2010 midterm campaigns and plans to work with Politico to fact-check 2012 campaign speeches.
In October 2013, PolitiFact announced plans to launch PunditFact, a site dedicated to fact-checking the claims of pundits, columnist, bloggers, and talk show guests. The site was initially funded by $625,000 in grants from the Ford Foundation and the Democracy Fund.
In light of its success, some journalism observers have pointed to PolitiFact as a modern successor to the form of traditional accountability journalism. However, it has also been criticized as giving a false veneer of authority to its occasionally questionable rulings, particularly in light of its controversial 2011 “Lie of the Year.”
PolitiFact has launched two mobile apps, one for $1.99 that had sold 24,000 copies as of August 2012 and the other for free.
A guided tour of PolitiFact:
The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism is a nonprofit investigative news organization affiliated with the University of Iowa. The center was launched in spring 2010 by University of Iowa professor Stephen Berry and doctoral student Robert Gutsche Jr. It was initially staffed by students and interns working for free, though its leaders have plans…