How do we know what politicians say is true?

Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan delivers the key note address during the third day of the 2012 Republican national Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum August 29, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. Fact-checking politicians like Paul Ryan is a growing industry, but does it pay off?

Kai Ryssdal: Congressman Paul Ryan's speech went about almost 40 minutes or so -- 3,500 words, plus or minus. Pile that on top of the thousands of hours and millions of words of speeches and press conference and plain old remarks that have been uttered this election season and you know what you've got, right? It's a business opportunity.

Sabri Ben-Achour reports on the rise of the political fact-checker.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Last night, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said this:

Paul Ryan: $716 billion, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.

And recently Senate Majority leader Harry Reid made that Mitt Romney...

Harry Reid: Basically paid no taxes in the prior 12 years.

Statements like these have kept people like Bill Adair pretty busy.

Bill Adair: I would rate that true on the Truth-O-Meter. We've seen a real explosion of fact checking in the last few years.

Bill Adair runs fact-checking outfit PolitiFact. He says, by the way, the claims above are either totally false or at best highly problematic. In the last five years, PolitiFact's staff has grown from two to 36. Another group, Factcheck.org, has grown exponentially too. Why? Well it's not because politicians are suddenly fibbing even more. There's just a lot more media outlets reporting more "facts."

Lucas Graves: There is more political messaging now than ever because there are more ways to reach voters and anybody than ever.

Lucas Graves is a research fellow with the New America Foundation. He says the Internet has made fact-checking a lot easier.

Graves: Both in terms of doing research so that journalists, so that journalists can respond very quickly to statements that politicians make, but also in terms of making this info available to the public and keeping records.

But the question is, is it working? Brooks Jackson started FactCheck.org.

Brooks Jackson: Both sides don't seem to care, they keep repeating claims that have been shown by fact checkers to be false or grossly misleading.

But, as one fact checker pointed out, they don't write for politicians, they write for the public.

I'm Sabri Ben-Achour for Marketplace.

Check out a list of some of the popular fact-checking websites out there.

About the author

Sabri Ben-Achour is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the New York City bureau. He covers Wall Street, finance, and anything New York and money related.
Log in to post4 Comments

Bad facts aren't the problem. The real problem with all propaganda is invalid logic and forced silence.

Inaccurate numbers aren't nearly as harmful as an entire topic that nobody ever talks about.

The Fact-Checkers keep us focused on trivial lies to keep us from noticing the untouched topics, just as Pork-Busters focus on trivial expenditures to keep us from noticing the huge stuff that nobody ever discusses.

Example: We still don't know why TARP happened. What was the world-ending threat that required us to pour the entire economy into a few banks? Nobody has EVEN ASKED THE DAMN QUESTION, let alone answered it.

We only know most of what they say is not true.

When any party:
1) constantly denigrates 'the other,' and often personally devalues, insults, and mocks
2) repeats their own diatribes, endlessly, and with unanimity (without any variation to actually have a discussion with the public, the press, or the opposition)
in addition to absolutely NO
3) historical references to how various problems developed and were addressed in the past (both successful and unsuccessful models)
4) with absolute repudiation of the way other humans on the planet solve live problems and work together with their fellow citizens.......
I simply cannot consider such a political party seriously.
I'll wait and continue to search for the truth by various means, but I'll never vote GOP, with their 'perfect' record on the above items--and their obvious intent to misrepresent and mislead.

I for one am very thankful for these fact-checking organizations. They may not be having the hoped-for effect yet, but perhaps someday, as awareness of them grows and more members of the public access them (and more journalists also examine facts behind the claims), there will be a bit more honesty in political discourse.

With Generous Support From...