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Unmasking the Lies with Factcheck.org

Eugene Kiely has made a living giving politicians a reality check by revealing how much of what they say is accurate or not.

As director of FactCheck.org, he heads a nonprofit organization that “monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players,” a formidable job in a presidential election year.

A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the nonpartisan site helps clear up rumors, expose politicians’ false claims, and rebut anything it considers inaccurate or misleading.

On March 1, the prize-winning journalist spoke at NCC’s Main campus in a crowded David A. Reed Community Room, which included the NCC community and students from visiting high schools.

Kiely warmed to his audience as he described the process of fact checking, which begins with reviewing all TV ads from candidates, any of their appearances on talk shows, videos, debates, and transcripts from news shows.

“We picked the first five or six candidates on each side (Democrat and Republican) that we needed to focus on,” Kiely said. He described how FactCheck.org only spent time debunking the politicians who were gaining the most traction early on in the presidential campaign.

“What we’re looking for are factual statements that we can check, not opinions,” he said.

FactCheck.org researches their statements, asking those who run the political campaigns for evidence to support their claims.

The research involves tapping authoritative sources. “There’s the Library of Congress to look at congressional testimony,” Kiely said. “We look at the House clerk and secretary office for roll call votes, the SEC for corporate records … the IRS for tax data, the BLS for labor statistics.”

Once they have the facts, FactCheck.org goes back to whoever runs the campaign and presents its evidence, he said.

“If we find that anything is indeed falsehood or distorted, we go to the candidate or the campaign and present our research,” Kiely said. “If they have anything more to provide us at that point, we’ll consider that and make any changes necessary to the article.”

Kiely explained that before an article goes on the FactCheck.org site, it must pass through four people who have no relation to the article. Each piece is thoroughly checked before being posted, he said.

FactCheck.org most commonly goes after out-of-context quotes, over-exaggerated statistics, out-of-date information and selective use of information, he said.

Kiely showed videos of politicians, current and past, to showcase some of the whoppers by or about them. The videos represented a cross-section of Democrats and Republicans.

Kiely, who became director of FactCheck.org in 2013, has worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today and The Record in Hackensack, N.J.  He was the editor of “Open for Business,” a series on then-New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman’s environmental policies. The series won the 1996 John Oakes award.

Closing his talk, Kiely encouraged everyone to critically examine what politicians say and read all they can to stay informed.

The Commuter and NCC’s journalism program sponsored Kiely’s presentation.