In the midst of increasing voter cynicism about politicians' integrity, the Annenberg Public Policy Center is providing a non-partisan look at the presidential candidates' campaign claims.
Currently focusing on the presidential race, the Web site -- www.factcheck.org -- mainly publishes analyses of the facts and statistics cited in the advertisements, speeches and interviews from the campaigns of Democratic nominee John Kerry and President George W. Bush.
The site was launched in December, and the goal "is to create a penalty in the political process for those who deceive by having the press move more aggressively to say, 'That's wrong,'" said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
"I thought initially that we would be primarily a resource for journalists and would reach voters once removed," Annenberg Political Fact Check Director Brooks Jackson said.
However, Web traffic has reached an average of 9,000 hits each day, with almost 15,000 subscribers to the Web site's e-mail update.
The organization is not tracking either the proportion of false facts to legitimate statements, or the number of false facts from the Bush campaign as opposed to the number coming from the Kerry campaign. Still, "we hope to see people get a little irritated" about politicians "using weasel words or twisting the facts," Jackson said.
Additionally, both campaigns are paying attention to the Web site. Jackson said that one day both campaigns' Web sites cited information from factcheck.org refuting the opposition's claims.
"There's been a need for fact checking in politics for a long time," said Jamieson, who is also a Communication professor.
But while there has been an increase in ad watching and fact-checking in journalism, factcheck.org is "a group that can focus on it full time," she said.
Analysts say that changes in American politics have contributed to voters' distrust of government and created the need for an organization such as this one.
"At least since Watergate or since the final stages of Vietnam, there's been a growing cynicism about politicians," said Vincent Hutchings, an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan and a contributor to the National Election Study at Michigan.
Fifty years ago, people would have taken politicians at their word, he added.
These days, "voters are pretty skeptical of all ads," said Chris Patusky, deputy director and chief operating officer at the Fels Institute of Government. "They have to go to a third party" for an objective analysis of candidates' claims.
The Web site -- which accepts no funding from political donors and is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation -- will operate at least through the presidential election in November. Jackson and Jamieson plan to write a book after the election relating to issues surrounding fact-checking.
"Our goal is to help the process," Jamieson said. "If we do a good job, there will be no need for anyone else to do it."
Still, Jackson said the organization is realistic about its hopes for the Web site.
"It's too much to hope for that people who believe in what they're doing and are putting themselves forward for higher office are going to always resist the temptation to tweak the facts or the claims a little," Jackson said.Comments powered by Disqus
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