How and Why You Should Fact Check.

Don't let a politician (or anyone else) sell you a bill of goods – especially if the goods aren't  true.

With the 2016 election campaigns already in full swing – for national, statewide and local offices – candidates will be communicating with voters on many levels. They’ll be making speeches at events and appearances. They will make statements at the staged debates. They’ll issue positions to the news media and the media will, in turn, report what is said and interpret their positions and issues, which can often be near and dear to all of us.

But, there is one large problem. Politicians, from time to time and more and more as that time goes on, are often vague. They over simplify. Many resort to outright lies, or distort the truth, exaggerate, engage in hyperbole, and even make up facts to distort the reality to their favor and to sway your emotions to win your vote. If anyone can sway your beliefs and get your vote based on an inaccuracy or an untruth, in effect, you have been duped and your vote stolen. And if they will resort to levels of dishonesty while campaigning, what will their behavior be like once elected and in office?

Here are a few ways you can check to see if what a politician is saying is true.

1. Always become a bit cynical when you hear a statement that may sound a little too good to be true, or a bit far-fetched.

2. Before believing a claim or allegation, consider the source of the information – especially if seen on social media or through the media. One way to do this is to survey other news sources. If you see that a politician says that corn flakes are no longer good for you to eat on the XYZ News, then watch other TV stations, listen to other radio stations, visit other major and credible news sites (CBS, NBC, ABC, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, NPR (National Public Radio), Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal) to see what they are reporting on “corn flakes.” If you don’t see the same report, or if it differs greatly from what you originally heard, there ‘s a good chance that what you heard is not the stellar, factual truth. For fun, this author used to pick on news item each night and then record the three major TV news programs at 10 p.m. – ABC, CBS, and NBC. Then I’d watch their report on that story and contrast and compare. While most often they were factual with their reporting, you’d be surprised at how they would differ and contain some inaccuracies or biases that another didn’t.

3. Thank goodness for the Internet! While one cannot believe everything seen or read online, the Internet offers a fast and easy way to fact check by searching on topics. What makes the Internet such a great tool for sharing information also makes it a place where mis-information can live and thrive.

A great example is this meme that appears on Facebook from time to time, "The problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy" - Abraham Lincoln, 1864. Put on your cynical hat. Read and listen carefully. Of course, he couldn’t have said this because in 1864, the Internet did not exist.

But, there are many online references you can consult to check facts. One of the first I go to is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. It is remarkably accurate and complete. Here’s a link to their story on Fact Checking:

Then there is, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center: It deals primarily into political stances and controversies. This web site was useful when opponents to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) were claiming there would be “death panels” to decide who lived and who died, if that legislation were passed.

If you really want to know “if it’s true,” consult this site that lists the top fact check web sites:

An especially good place to check the claims and statements of political candidates can be found here: They are very good at parsing and translating political lingo and can gauge how some politicians fudge the facts to make them say something that is not entirely accurate. Visit here, it’s fun to see how they rate the “pols.”

The big lesson here is that one should not, and cannot, take anything a politician – or others for that matter – at face value all the time. While there may be some truth in any statement or claim, a slight variation or extension of the facts can make a big difference in one’s argument. And once that’s done, it is no longer completely factual. If you base your vote for a candidate on the facts, you’ll always be better served with your choice. Anyone can say anything and will to get votes. Your job as an intelligent voter is to discern what is fact and what is fable. And, the truth is not always something that appeals to us, so if you don’t like what you hear, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Keep that in mind also.

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