Power Players

True or false? Fact checkers expect to be busy during Obama, Romney debate

Power Players

Spinners and Winners

Voters have seen the Obama and Romney campaigns be cavalier with facts this year. So much so, that some of the leading fact checkers believe 2012 could be the worst election season when it comes to campaigns' willingness to lie and misrepresent.

"As a journalist who has been covering this stuff for more decades then I'll admit to, I have not seen it any worse. It's pretty bad," says Brooks Jackson, director of Factcheck.org.

The campaigns want to make themes no matter what, adds Bill Adair, editor at PolitiFact, "and they are going to sometimes stretch the truth to make those points because they have to hit those themes."

Neil Newhouse, who works for the Romney campaign, outright dismissed fact checkers at an ABC News/Yahoo! News forum.

"Fact checkers come with their own sets of beliefs," said Newhouse. "We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."

But the cold shoulder treatment has not stopped fact checkers from calling out falsehoods from both sides. The biggest whoppers of the election so far?

"I think the president's campaign repeatedly mis-characterizes Romney's stance on abortion," says Jackson.

Ads from the Obama campaign claim that "Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest." But Jackson says Romney has always favored abortion in cases of rape and incest, and has been consistent on that stance since at least 2005.

From the Romney campaign, continued Jackson, the claim that Obama is gutting welfare reform by stripping out a work requirement that Jackson says never applied to more than 38 percent of recipients anyway is "preposterous, and they keep on saying it."

But behind the scenes and the "Pinocchios" and "Pants on Fires," campaigns will actually call and fight for a better rating.

Glenn Kessler, of The Washington Post, says he has had "plea-bargaining" over the number of Pinocchios given to a particular claim.

"It starts out the conversation by saying, 'That's only a one, what are you talking about?' I say, 'No, no, I think it's a three.' And 'No, no, no it's a two, come on it's a two, don't give us a three.' "

"I always loved that they could be satisfied with us saying something is half-true," says Adair, of PolitiFact. "You know, 'Can you just make that half-true?' "

For more from these three veteran fact checkers, including their response to accusations of political bias, check out this week's Spinners and Winners.

View Comments (3296)