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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Introducing PolitiFact 2012 New Hampshire

For as long as newspapers have existed, we’ve tried to separate fact from fiction.

We still do, every day.

Today, we have a handy new tool to use in our pursuit of those who spread falsehoods. It’s called the Truth-O-Meter.

We get to use it because of a new partnership among The Telegraph, the Valley News and PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning project of the St. Petersburg Times dedicated to helping you find the truth in American politics.

In today’s paper, you get to read about the Democrats’ claim that Republican presidential candidates failed to utter the words “middle class” and “education” during a two-hour televised debate at Saint Anselm College.

Was the accusation true? Well, not really.

Likewise, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a GOP presidential hopeful, said President Barack Obama promised he would cut the deficit in half, but instead he will at least double it.

No, not quite.

The new PolitiFact 2012 New Hampshire partnership works like this: A presidential candidate or a party official comes to the state and says something that makes us say: “Hmmm. I wonder if that’s true.”

In turn, The Telegraph and Valley News contribute reporters and editors who’ll work to drill down into these statements in search of the truth.

We’ll contact the people who made the statement and source where the statement came from. We’ll seek outside independent sources and cite any evidence we find.

When the investigation is complete, the New Hampshire team, led by PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair, will evaluate the evidence and render a ruling.

The Truth-O-Meter has six readings, including True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True and False. No. 6 – Pants on Fire – is reserved for the biggest whoppers of false statements.

In 2009, PolitiFact was awarded a Pulitzer for its work covering the previous year’s presidential election. The Pulitzer board cited PolitiFact’s use of “probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters.”

“By diligently holding politicians accountable for their claims, PolitiFact has become a vital contributor to the democratic process, as evidenced by its 2009 Pulitzer Prize,” Telegraph Executive Managing Editor Phil Kincade said.

“Never is it more important to separate fiction from fact than during a presidential campaign. We know PolitiFact will help us keep the candidates true to their words.”

At The Telegraph, we’ve strived to offer this type of watchdog reporting for a long time. We test government accountability and transparency during Sunshine Week and investigate the accuracy of political claims regularly.

Just days after the recent GOP debate in New Hampshire, PolitiFact’s national staff checked the accuracy of many of the statements made by the candidates. In last Sunday’s paper, we ran a similar story in the Opinion section. In this new partnership, our two aims become one.

We believe that accuracy counts and equipping voters with the truth helps them to make informed decisions on Election Day.

So, politicians, beware – we’re listening to what you say, and the Truth-O-Meter is waiting for you.

Jonathan Van Fleet is metro editor at The Telegraph and a member of our PolitiFact team. If you have an item that you would like to be considered for a PolitiFact 2012 New Hampshire Truth-O-Meter investigation, e-mail us at politifact@nashuatelegraph.com.