These three fact-checkers keep candidates in line

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“The reaction, while unfortunate, is not going to change the way we do business,” he said.

Indeed, much of what the fact-checkers do is inherently judgment calls.

For example, PolitiFact Virginia will grade a politician’s words as true on their face, while other times will look for suggestive meanings that they say make factually true statements unfair.

Ray Allen, a longtime Virginia GOP consultant and adviser to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said the entire process is inherently flawed.

“So much of what is getting fact-checked is opinion and political philosophy,” he said. “The fact-checkers are actively intervening in the campaigns. We’ve seen fact-checkers write things they clearly want to get in TV ads.”

Mr. Kessler, though, said it cuts both ways.

“Both sides - they either love us or hate us,” he said. “The Romney people are very happy to cite quotes about Obama, and the Obama people are very happy to cite quotes about Romney.”

PolitiFact’s national politics website has long been attacked by Republicans as biased, but also has drawn some scorn from Democrats - particularly after it took liberals to task for arguing that Republicans voted to end Medicare, naming the claim as its 2011 “lie of the year.”

Editor and creator Bill Adair said the site, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its 2008 election coverage, strives to be fair, but is bound to catch flak from both sides.

“We make each call individually,” he said. “The reality is that people are so passionate about their team in politics that they are often going to complain about ratings that don’t go their way.”

However, a February 2011 analysis by Smart Politics, a nonpartisan blog run by Eric Ostermeier of the University of Minnesota, concluded that the site was much harsher when grading the truthfulness of conservatives than liberals.

The blog examined more than 500 PolitiFact stories over the previous year and found that 74 of the 98 claims that earned “false” or “pants on fire” ratings were made by Republicans.

Mr. Ostermeier said this week that while the site may not intentionally target Republicans, he thinks there is a “selection bias” at PolitiFact and among other fact-checkers that makes them more likely to question statements that contradict their personal views and place less scrutiny on those that don’t.

He said such sites need to better explain why they choose certain statements for examination and ignore other ones, although most chalk it up to a matter of public interest and news judgment.

“Each politician has hundreds and hundreds of statements, and you’re picking a very limited amount,” he said. “It is incumbent upon them to try to articulate what they are going to fact-check.”

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