Be forewarned: this is an article about the truth. If you’d rather not face it, feel free to wander off to do something else.
Now, for those of you still reading, another warning: the truth is not always pretty and it cuts both ways. I say this primarily for those friends of mine who tend to repeat something they’ve heard that sounds good to them without bothering to perform any due diligence. (Incidentally, these friends are both conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican, smart and “intellectually challenged.” What binds them is their penchant for passing along things that support their view and ignoring those that don’t, regardless of the validity of any of it.) I have very few rules that I impose upon discussions I have with people, but I always prefer that you have your own opinions and get your facts straight.
If you’ve read this column much at all in the past nine years, you’re probably already viewing most of the items in your In Box with a healthy dose of skepticism, and you already know the primary sources to determine the validity of most of these tales. But what the most recent presidential election and the current vacancy in the Supreme Court have shown us is that people are just as likely to forward false political statements as they are urban legends. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place to go for researching these items? Luckily for us, there is.
The Annenberg Political Fact Check is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, consumer advocate for voters that aims to “reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” It was established in 1994 to create a community of scholars within the University of Pennsylvania that would address public policy issues at the local, state, and federal levels. Today, they monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Their stated goal is to ³apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.² And what better way to disseminate this information than the Internet? You can use their web site to research almost any topic you like, or have periodic updates sent directly to you via email. They are funded primarily by an endowment from the Annenberg Foundation and accept no funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals, so you can be relatively sure their opinions are based on fact, not contributions.
What makes the project so unique is both the breadth of topics it addresses and the truly non-partisan nature of the research. In May alone, the updates covered estate taxes, abortion, asbestos legislation, and judicial nominees. The most recent update noted how “Senators from both sides make false claims about Roe v. Wade” and then detailed both instances and provided the correct factual information. In fact, it seems the majority of their fact-finding uncovers distortions from both sides of the fence.
If you ever find yourself in the middle of a discussion about current events, you need to know about this incredible resource. Because, as Senator Moynihan accurately points out, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”