Fact Check: So who’s checking the fact-finders? | The Florida Times-Union & Jacksonville Times

Journalists have always been fact-checkers. Now, thanks to the Internet and social media, everyone has a soapbox, and everyone can send truths and untruths to hundreds of people with the push of a button. Spoofs and satires become gospel. Unpopular viewpoints and people are targeted.

To get at the truth, many news organizations now include fact-checking columns, like this one.

But the fact-checkers themselves are not free from criticism. More often than not, the criticism comes from the right because, with a Democrat in the White House, that’s where most of the viral criticism comes from. So most of the fact-checking is of those allegations. Fact-finding sources that appear in the Times-Union, however, pride themselves on being accurate – using original reporting, source-checking, corroborating research and well-documented reports from other fact-finding groups to get at the truth.

So how do we know if we’re getting the straight skinny?

When we use other sources, we corroborate results. If we can’t be certain about something, we say so. But we do rely on some fact-finders that repeatedly have come under fire.


Snopes.com is at the top of that list. An email circulating since 2008 warns not to use Snopes.com because of its political leanings: “I have recently discovered that Snopes.com is owned by a flaming liberal and this man is in the tank for Obama. …”

Snopes.com is the oldest fact-finder on the Internet. It was well-respected for years when it fact-checked urban legends, such as whether more domestic abuse occurs on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day. But when Snopes.com starting debunking rumors about candidate-then-President Barack Obama, it was roundly criticized.

Snopes.com is owned and run by David and Barbara Mikkelson of California, who have not hidden their identities as one of the viral email claims. Check out the list that shows this at www.snopes.com/info/articles.asp.

As far as being liberal, other fact-checkers, such as Truthorfiction.com; David Emery, who researches urban legends for the information website About.com; and FactCheck.org have researched Snopes.com and none has found any instance where the Mikkelsons have stated a political preference or affiliation.

Barbara Mikkelson is a Canadian citizen, so she can’t contribute to a political campaign or vote in U.S. elections. David Mikkelson provided his voter registration papers to FactCheck.org that show he registered as a Republican in 2000, and had no party affiliation in 2008.

A check of the donor list at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions (1990-2012), shows no contributions by Mikkelson to any candidate from any party. You can check yourself at www.opensecrets.org.

If there is proof that refutes this, or shows that the Mikkelsons are “flaming liberals,” no one has come up with it.

Truth be told, there are emails that present what they say is verifiable proof that Snopes.com is biased.

One viral email suggested that Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court because as solicitor general she fended off all the lawsuits challenging Obama’s eligibility to be president. Snopes.com was castigated for debunking the rumor, but all it did was look at the docket items cited by the email and found that not a single one was about Obama’s eligibility. A check of those dockets at www.supremecourt.gov confirms that.

Emery, who said he has looked at the texts about Obama forwarded to Snopes.com, states that he “has found no any evidence of advocacy for or against. To the contrary, I see a consistent effort to provide even-handed analyses. …”

FactCheck.org also fact-checked Snopes.com: “We reviewed a sampling of their political offerings, including some on rumors about George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, and we found them [Snopes.com] to be utterly poker-faced.”

There have also been viral emails charging that Snopes.com is financed by business magnate and philanthropist George Soros. There have been no verifiable reports of a Soros connection, but Snopes.com’s books are not open for all to see, so we can’t say for absolutely certain.

Some of the emails disparaging Snopes.com cite that TruthorFiction.com is a much more reliable site. TruthorFiction.com lauds Snopes.com as an “excellent” and “authoritative” resource (www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/s/snopes.htm).

Although Snopes.com could do a better job of linking to sources within its stories, it does list its sources, so it is easy to confirm accuracy.


FactCheck.org is a nonpartisan fact-finding project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. It has been attacked as a leftist group in an email that says that Wallis Annenberg, president and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, contributed $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee.

In March 2007, Wallis Annenberg did personally donate $25,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. This had nothing to do with FactCheck.org. And, according to the Federal Election Commission campaign contribution database (www.fec.gov), she has also given to numerous Republican campaigns.

Brooks Jackson, a journalist who launched FactCheck.org, told the Times-Union that the group’s charter stipulates nonpartisanship.

It is ironic that the viral emails charge FactCheck.org as being a leftist organization when philanthropist Walter Annenberg was a fervid Republican, as was his wife Leonore. But even so, the foundation has never influenced FactCheck.org one way or the other, Jackson said.


TruthorFiction.com was founded in 1999 by the late Rich Buhler, a Christian radio broadcaster, speaker, author and producer who researched and wrote about urban legends for more than 30 years, according to various media reports. Its staff researches the rumors; original sources are usually listed or linked, so it is a good site to corroborate facts.


PolitiFact.com is a fact-finding project of the Tampa Bay Times (formerly The St. Petersburg Times) and has been assailed as a partisan member of the “liberal media.”

PolitiFact.com, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, examines statements by politicians and pundits and rates what they say on its Truth-O-Meter. The website also tracks promises by Obama and Republican leaders.

It is true that some of its reporters work for the Tampa Bay Times, a fact not lost on a website called PolitiFactbias.com, which exposes what it calls liberal bias by PolitiFact.com.

But PolitiFact.com uses strict journalistic standards, according to its mandate. Its reporters and researchers use original reports rather than news stories. When possible, PolitiFact.com uses original sources to verify the claims and interviews impartial experts.

These fact-finders all help to arrive at the truth. But we believe that confirming accuracy through multiple sources and original reporting is the best guarantee. And as Emery says:

“In the thorny search for truth, there’s no substitute for doing one’s own research and applying one’s own considered judgment before thinking oneself informed.”

Source: The Florida Times-Union & Jacksonville Times

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