Fact-Checkers Turn Lens to State and Local Falsehoods

They lie in state capitols, too.

At The Washington Post and PolitiFact, Glenn Kessler and Angie Drobnic Holan, respectively, have been documenting the misstatements and falsehoods of inside-the-Beltway types for more than a decade.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows focused on state and local reporting, Kessler and Holan turned their lenses to local issues and how reporters can infuse their work with fact-checking strategies.

Kessler is a former chief diplomatic correspondent for the Post and took on and expanded its fact-checking operations in 2011.

“With fact checking, you are paying very close to the words and the phrases that politicians are using,” Kessler said. “It’s the same thing in diplomatic reporting, where a minor change in a word or phrase can make a difference.”

Kessler (bio, Twitter) and Holan (bio, Twitter) gave some general rules for their craft, including which facts they select to check and how they come up with their final rating on a statement’s veracity: the Post’s Pinocchio scale and PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter.

Kessler, whose ongoing tally of Trump misstatements has become a fixture in the political and journalistic landscape, said he sees fact checks as a way to explore serious public policy issues. Taking a swipe at politicians’ misstatements is part of the process, but it’s in service of explaining to readers something important about the world.

PolitiFact has affiliates in 13 states – big ones such as California and small ones such as West Virginia. But Holan, its editor, said fact checking should just be a part of journalistic life.

“You don’t need to be a PolitiFact affiliate to do statehouse fact checking,” she said. She sees it as a format to cover important policy issues that might otherwise be a tough sell for readers.

This program is funded by Arnold Ventures. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

Angie Drobnic Holan
Editor, PolitiFact
Glenn Kessler
Fact checker, The Washington Post
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