Six months of The Fact Checker — an accounting
The Fact Checker was off Wednesday, celebrating his birthday. But since the column has now run for six months, it seems an appropriate moment to look at some numbers.
Readers frequently ask: Do you rate more Republicans than Democrats? (Or vice versa). Which party gets the most Pinocchios? Which candidate does? We frankly had no idea until we sat down last week and did some calculations.
Many of the columns are generated by what’s in the news. There are some days when we walk in the office having no clue what we will write about, but calm in the knowledge that somewhere out there, there’s a statement waiting to be fact checked. We do not consciously choose to focus on one party or another, believing it will all even out in the end.
The hardest part about the job is deciding how many Pinocchios need to be awarded. Since we do not use ½ Pinocchios, there are a bunch of 2’s that could have been 3’s — or vice versa. (The 1’s and 4’s are easier to spot, though readers sometimes vehemently disagree.) We admit the process is somewhat subjective. Not all of the columns result in Pinocchios either.
Looking back at the past six months, we think we have been relatively consistent. For instance, last week we gave Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) three Pinocchios for revisionist history on the budget surplus. We were pleased to see that in March we similarly awarded former Bush administration budget director (and now Indiana Gov.) Mitch Daniels three Pinocchios for similar revisionism on why the budget surplus disappeared.
Let’s do the numbers!
How many for each party?
Believe it or not, Democrats and Republicans are tied in terms of the number of statements evaluated: 54 for each
What’s the average score for each party?
Democrats fare slightly better. They have an average of 2.32 Pinocchios per statement, compared to 2.53 Pinocchios for Republicans. One or two of the GOP presidential contenders were responsible for dragging down the Republican score.
However, only three prized Geppetto Checkmarks have been given, and all have gone to Republicans. We weren’t sure how to weight that achievement, but it would bring down the GOP average if the Geppettos negated some Pinocchios.
How did Obama do?
President Obama was evaluated and rated more often than any other person. Looking at cases where he earned Pinocchios, not a member of his administration or one of his aides, he earned Pinocchios 11 times, for an average of 1.8 Pinocchios.
What about the Republican contenders?
We decided to only list candidates or former candidates who were evaluated three or more times. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) topped the list, with eight statements evaluated, followed by former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts with six statements. We included former Alaska governor Sarah Palin because she says she is still thinking of running:
Here are their averages:
Mitt Romney: 2.0 Pinocchios
Tim Pawlenty: 2.25
Newt Gingrich: 2.75
Sarah Palin: 3
Michele Bachmann: 3
Donald Trump: 4
Boy, The Fact Checker misses The Donald from the presidential sweepstakes.
Why did Obama and Romney do the best?
We think it has to do with their personalities — and their staffing. Both men are less likely to shoot from the hip, and over time we have found they both have staffs who have previously vetted their statements so there is at least a modicum of truth behind their assertions. We will see if this pattern holds up over time.
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