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On days like today, PolitiFact’s birthday, it’s fun to look back at how we got started.
Our fact-checking website launched in 2007 with a small team of journalists from a local Florida newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times). PolitiFact broke ground by standing in as a referee for voters, penalizing the political spin of presidential candidates with a suite of, we admit, gimmicky, Truth-O-Meter rulings, from True to Pants on Fire. Our experiment was supposed to be a temporary new tool for covering the Florida primary. But it cemented its place in U.S. political coverage with a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2008 campaign.
We are proud of our history. Sixteen years later, we are proud of how we’ve grown, too.
PolitiFact has evolved from a side project into a stand-alone newsroom, with 20 full-time journalists based in St. Petersburg, Florida, Washington, D.C., and five U.S. states. We are owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
The 2024 presidential campaign is our fifth presidential election. Like all the ones before, it promises to be the craziest one ever, dominated by unprecedented courtroom activity, concern about generative artificial intelligence and a potential-but-not-guaranteed rematch of 2020.
Wednesday’s Republican presidential primary debate on Fox News will be a big night. We’ve pulled in the whole team to help us research what the candidates might say, although much of it isn’t new to us. We have been fact-checking the GOP field all year, publishing more than 50 fact-checks already. Former President Donald Trump, our most fact-checked politician ever, may be making other plans, but we will be watching and investigating those checkable moments that make you go, "Really?!"
Along the way, we’ve also kept President Joe Biden’s misstatements in focus, checking for exaggerations on his handling of the economy after inflation reached a four-decade high in summer 2022. Come Wednesday night, we suspect Biden’s ears will be burning as the Republicans dig into the legal problems and foreign business practices of his son Hunter.
Like the size of our staff, our mission’s scope has expanded beyond politicians and pundits.
Roughly half of our team is focused on chasing deceptive political claims online and exposing the people and tactics promoting them, working closely with Meta’s Third Party Fact-Checking Program since it started in 2016. This team is on the front lines of our work around generative AI — and has been on the case of deceptively edited videos and bad Photoshop jobs for years.
A separate team of contributors works with TikTok to provide fact-checking analysis on videos flagged for potential misinformation on that fast-growing platform. We publish regular fact-checks of TikTok videos, noticing that they quickly migrate to Instagram, Facebook and X, formerly Twitter.
I’ve always admired our reporters’ agility, how they can move from one deep dive to the next as news demands. At the same time, I’m grateful for the help of funders, who have stepped in to support subject-matter specialists on our reporting bench. In 2023, we added a reporter to fact-check LGBTQ+ issues to complement our in-house experts on immigration and voting. Also new this year is a series exploring the promise and pitfalls of climate change policy — topics such as green hydrogen, solutions for "urban heat islands" and how electric vehicles contribute to road wear.
One of the most exciting changes we launched in our 16th year is PolitiFact en Español, a version of PolitiFact for people who consume U.S. political news in Spanish. We hired two reporters to scour claims from politicians and social media of interest to Spanish-speaking audiences. We launched a tip line on WhatsApp, the texting app favored by many minority communities in the U.S., including Hispanics, to surface relevant tips. For our English-speaking audience confused by the occasional Spanish story on our homepage, we are creating a new website to house Spanish-language content and better serve those readers.
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?
It’s important, reader, that you know we cannot do this work without you.
Truth Squad donations account for almost 20% of our budget. I would love for that percentage to be higher, helping us become less reliant on tech platform partnerships and time-limited grants.
If you can spare $16 for our sweet 16, it would get us closer to that goal.
Become a sustaining member for just $5 a month, and the stability of your donation helps make the future of PolitiFact even brighter.
It’s an honor for us to work on behalf of readers everywhere to bring truth to wherever political spin may find you — whether it’s a debate night, a presidential press conference or another day on Facebook.
Happy birthday, PolitiFact.
See sources in the story.