It is easy to get carried away with the rigors of campaigning and being a politician. They are up against incredibly poor odds and they often make promises they can’t keep. They also need to find arguments to paint negative pictures of their opponents. But increasingly, politicians are making ridiculous statements that are completely false or taken out of context. As both sides sharpen their blades, truth is what ends up being stabbed first.
Need more proof that the GOP is the obstacle to progress?
Thankfully, mercifully, wonderfully, there are the folks at Politifact.org. Quite possibly the most rational and objective team on the web right now, they scour sources and experts to verify or deny claims coming from those in the political sphere, including the recent addition of adding common comments reverberating around Facebook. They have become the go-to place to settle an argument over a figure or statement, and their Pulitzer Prize proves it.
Statistics can be dangerous when they are accurate, but meaningless when adjusted. For example, economic figures coming from the Romney and Obama camps on the surface appear polar opposites: Romney claims that the US lost jobs under Obama and Obama cites an increase in 4 million jobs. The difference is the time periods included. Romney is starting from the first day of inauguration, and Obama is starting from 5 months later, after his policy had a chance to take effect. When he took office, America was spiraling recession thanks to the abject recklessness with which the previous President ran the nation.
Normally these types of statements aren’t important, but then again, most of the time it’s not an election year. This election year is different, as each has been in the past. This year, social media is more important than ever, and it means that information, such as claims and statements, will be shared and carried much further. Just like the age-old game of telephone, each time the information passes through another’s screen, it is liable to change. By the time the fact gets around to a few more people, it might be completely inaccurate and almost certainly stripped of all context.
It’s bad enough to hear politicians lie or fail to follow through on promises, but when the masses start slinging around false and contextless statistics, it will become harder than ever to properly evaluate the candidates. It is only the start of the reasons why Politifact is so important to the idea that integrity, even in politics, still matters.