Politicians say the darnedest things. And it’s important for journalists to include context and fact-checking in their reports – even in real time.

Where do you find this information? First, go to the full-time fact-checking organizations to see if they’ve tackled the issue:

  • PolitiFact, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, uses a Truth-O-Meter to illustrate their ratings. Worst rating: Pants on Fire.
  • The Washington Post’s Fact Checker uses a Pinocchio scale, four being worst.
  • Factcheck.org, sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has been fact-checking since 2003.

PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan and Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler explained how they do what they do in a National Press Foundation video.

Most importantly, every fact-check story has a list or footnotes that refer journalists to the original sources. “One of the hallmarks of fact-checking is transparency,” Holan said.

Kessler said the Post keeps rolling tabs on recurring issues. “We can go back and revisit issues as they come up,” he said.

The most fact-checked politician? Barack Obama. As the sitting president, he draws the most scrutiny of all.

Other tips:

  • The toughest part of a check is awarding a rating.
  • Fact-checkers always check with the source of the statement or information; they like strong data-driven government websites such as cbo.gov; they also use Google, at least to get started.
  • Local reporters need to be much more skeptical about statements from campaigns and candidates.