PolitiFact: How claims of 2013 stacked up


Our goal is to help you find the truth in American politics. Reporters from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution fact-check statements by local, state and national political leaders, including lobbyists and interest groups. We then rate them on the AJC Truth-O-Meter.

To fact-check the claim, reporters first contact the speaker to verify the statement. Next, the research begins. Reporters consult a variety of sources, including industry and academic experts. This research can take hours or a few days or even longer, depending on the claim. Reporters then compile the research into story form and include a recommended Truth-O-Meter ruling.

The fact check then moves on to a panel of editors who debate the statement and the reporter’s recommended Truth-O-Meter ruling. The panel votes on a final ruling; majority prevails.

The AJC’s Truth-O-Meter has completed its third full year of digging through hundreds of claims, verbal attacks and recriminations for PolitiFact Georgia.

And, just like in other years, nearly every statement we fact-checked in 2013 was missing some context or was exaggerated. Or was just downright wrong.

PolitiFact Georgia published nearly 250 fact checks in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that were written by the PolitiFact team here, our Washington, D.C., office or by our PolitiFact partners in other states. Only 15 percent of those claims were rated True.

To their credit, newsmakers were making fewer claims that were outright false or outrageously incorrect. Just 17.5 percent of the fact checks we published were rated as False or the dreaded Pants On Fire. That’s the lowest annual percentage we’ve seen. By comparison, 31 percent of the fact checks we published in 2011 were rated either False or Pants On Fire.

Some elected officials are clearly being more careful about what they state as fact. A few cite where they have gotten their information from in press releases, campaign fliers and other documents.

Still, as we mentioned, there’s typically some nuance missing in those claims. Approximately 27 percent of the fact checks PolitiFact Georgia published in 2013 were rated Half True, which was more than any other category. Nearly one-quarter of the statements we checked were rated Mostly True. About 16 percent were rated Mostly False.

We fact-check Republicans, Democrats and politicians and powerbrokers of all stripes in between. In Georgia, Republicans dominate state offices and the state’s congressional delegation and are consequently the focus of more fact checks. We fact-checked 107 Republicans in 2013 and 71 Democrats. We did three fact checks on independents, one on a Libertarian and 64 on individuals or groups not affiliated with any major party or group.

In Georgia, much of the conversation centered on the federal Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The controversial health care law kept us busy with fact-checking many claims, typically by Republicans, about what they said were the negative consequences of the legislation. Democrats were often defending the law or making claims about issues such as gun violence that we wound up fact-checking.

Congress, despite its abysmal popularity ratings, did better in 2013 when it came to getting its facts right. Nearly half of the statements we published were rated True or Mostly True.

We’ll see how they fare in 2014, with each seat in Congress up for re-election. Georgia has what promises to be intriguing campaigns for an open U.S. Senate seat (Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss is retiring) and for governor. PolitiFact Georgia will be watching and checking their facts.

If you see something you think should be fact-checked, please let us know by contacting us on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/politifact.georgia) or on Twitter through our handle @politifactga.