As people become more entrenched in their Facebook newsfeed and digital bubbles, fact-checking takes on an increasing importance when it comes to discerning political rhetoric and reality. 

That was the message of editors from the Pulitzer-prize winning website PolitiFact, who shared their story and process with Western Kentucky University students during a lecture Wednesday night. 

After launching in 2007 with support from the Tampa Bay Times, the fact-checkers at PolitiFact set their sites on the looming 2008 presidential election. Editors Amy Hollyfield and Katie Sanders told their story to students and faculty gathered for the lecture, which is part of the annual Fleischaker/Greene Scholars in First Amendment Studies lecture series. 

"We really got into this to bring truth to the voters," said Hollyfield, a deputy managing editor for politics and business with the Tampa Bay Times. "We believe that our important thing is to hold people accountable for what they say." 

PolitiFact assigns six ratings to political claims from politicians and media personalities that range from true to "Pants on Fire," which it defines as a statement that's not only inaccurate but also ridiculous. It's completed about 13,000 fact-checks. 

Between 2016 presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, PolitiFact gave Trump 53 "Pants on Fire" ratings for claims he made. It gave Clinton five. 

Unlike other media outlets, Sanders said PolitiFact uses only on-the-record sources rather than anonymous sources. It doesn't publish "spin" from people making the claims either, Sanders said. Instead, fact-checkers start by asking for citations and then check them out. 

Fact-checkers then try to arrive at a consensus about the statement and categorize it based on rating with specific definitions. Mostly true, for example, means the statement is true but needs more clarification or additional information. 

In graphs comparing the accuracy of Trump's and Clinton's claims, just over 100 fact-checks scored in the "False" category for Trump, while about 60 of Clinton's fact-checks resulted in "Mostly True" ratings. The graphs looked at 313 fact-checks for Trump and 196 for Clinton. The editors said the gap came down to a higher volume of statements from Trump and more news coverage of Trump. 

The difference could also come down to how the candidates ran their campaigns, the editors said. 

Sanders described Clinton as "very traditional" and "Obamaesque" and someone who doesn't take a lot of rhetorical risks. While many of Clinton's claims are technically accurate, Hollyfield said, they distort the issue and miss key concepts. 

Meanwhile, Trump was described as someone who shuns scripted talking points and takes murky positions on issues like raising the minimum wage. 

During the presentation, Sanders and Hollyfield asked the audience to rate a claim from Clinton, charging that Trump "says organized crime runs wild on (Native American) reservations." Most in the audience rated the claim as mostly true or half true. PolitiFact found Clinton's claim about Trump to be "Half True," meaning it's partially accurate, but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. 

Following the talk, Louisville sophomore Tommy Sullivan said it brought to mind the importance of probing journalism rather than neutral reporting where both sides are given equal weight. The problem with social media, he said, is that it acts like an echo chamber for only people who agree with each other. 

Philosophy Professor Audrey Anton said the talk should have been insightful to students.

"I loved that they exposed the reality of deception to our students," she said. "I think it's human nature to believe what people say initially." 

Anton described the election as the most untruthful and fact unfriendly election she's ever seen. In her experience, many students are frustrated with having to sort out the truth. 

For Anton, organizations like PolitiFact "make it a little easier on us." 

— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit


Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

(4) comments

Enough Already

"We really got into this to bring truth to the voters," said Hollyfield, a deputy managing editor for politics and business with the Tampa Bay Times. "We believe that our important thing is to hold people accountable for what they say."

I call BS on this. The Tampa Bay Times is notoriously lbiased. They lean left and have from the beginning. They were in town to spread more liberal propaganda to the gullible college scene and those who patronize them. Believe what you want, but lies wrapped up as fact checking, are still lies.


Ideological differences and a disparate baseline viewpoint don't necessarily equate to "liberal propaganda." Politifact may not be perfect; at least the message is getting out there that critically evaluating sources should be a process that responsible people undertake continually. Ideally, students should be learning to sort legitimate from junk information in multiple ways and through personal experience with research projects throughout middle and high school as well as into college.

I am certainly happy to see bias, false news, and fact-checking popping up more frequently in conversations both locally and has been sorely lacking throughout the past year in the midst of the election.

Handy document to help with evaluation of resources:

And a recent article from BuzzFeed on false information from hyperpartisan sources:

Enough Already

I generally agree with your post except for your use of buzz-feed as a trusted source. This made my point for me, and as I said, the Tampa Bay Times (Politifacts creator) is notoriously biased to the left and always has been. They are in Hillsborough county Florida. That area always goes full on Democrat and this year was no different. They play to their audience and have poisoned that area with their "news" and they continue to do that with Politifacts. We certainly need someone trustworthy to verify what passes for news, but Politifacts certainly is not the organization. Colleges and universities are known to be a hotbed of liberal politics and coming to WKU is the equivalent to playing a game at home vs. away. They really were in town to reinforce more liberal bias to the gullible college scene and these kids help contribute to their false legitimacy. Ultimately it comes down to individuals doing their own due diligence.

Enough Already

There are many more links like this, but this website has decided some are spam so I am only posting one.

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