IN TODAY'S HIGHLY polarized political climate, it's not a surprise that even the hallowed practice of checking statements uttered by politicians to see if they ring true has come under attack.
In August, Neil Newhouse, a pollster for Mitt Romney, said: "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers." Newhouse was responding to charges by Barack Obama's campaign that Romney had run false ads claiming that Obama had gutted welfare reforms. Newhouse's comments led to more partisan fights claiming that professional fact-checking organizations are guilty of bias.
It's important to stress that the job of journalists is to report the facts and ferret out the truth.
We are privileged to live in an era when independent organizations have been created to investigate the truth of politician's ads, stump speeches and debate claims. These sites include FactCheck.org, by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania; Politifact.com, a Pulitzer-Prize winning website by the Tampa Bay Times; and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's PolitiFact.com/Wisconsin.
Some conservatives who complain about the "mainstream media" also refuse to trust these fact-checking sites, but we urge everyone to visit them and make independent judgments. Neither Romney nor Obama are spared.
In an ideal world, officeholders and their challengers would speak the truth at all times. We also know that statistics are open to interpretation. But beware of vicious e-mails claiming that a political leader is about to spark an apocalypse. Such claims are usually false or significantly distorted.
Have you tested the claims?