France assigns Lying Oscars. And the winner is…
Fact-checkers around the world are increasingly awarding — or letting their readers elect — the most outrageous political fib from the ones they fact-checked in the previous year.
The awards are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, because no fact-checker has covered every single claim made the previous year. But they do help bring attention to claims that were widely shared despite being false.
Award winners in 2015 ranged from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (who had a good year, taking home both Factcheck.org's and PolitiFact's top award), to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the governor of the Mexican state of Veracruz, Javier Duarte de Ochoa.
Thomas Guénolé, a journalist and political scientist in France, has gone one step further with the "Prix du menteur en politique," now in its second edition. Guénolé is "really fond of fact-checkers," he told me via email, and "thought such a common Prize would bring more public attention to their work."
While there was sadly no red carpet event, the prize is very much conceived as a parody of the Oscars. Think of it as Razzies for the French political class.
The winner, Marine Le Pen, cleaned up thanks to her many misleading claims about migrants. Le Pen exaggerated their numbers, was misleading when it came to a story from the Calais refugee camp and campaigned on reducing refugee numbers at regional elections even though French regions have little or no authority in this field.
François Hollande, France's president, was also recognized by the jury. Hollande won the "Special Prize for Statistical Audacity," having claimed there were more than 3,000 anti-terrorism procedures during the country's state of emergency. Only four of the procedures actually fit the description.
Other awards included the "Robocop" for repetition of a fake claim, "best costume," which went to a left-wing politician exaggerating the number of expelled migrants in order to look tougher on the issue than his right-wing opponents, and "promising prospect" to a young(er) politician whom the jury expects to fact-check plenty more of.
Guénolé hopes to bring wide attention to fact-checking were not disappointed, as the prize did receive broad media coverage (see the Google News search below).
And what about Le Pen herself? She has in the past railed against mainstream media as part of the corrupt system that her far-right Front National is seeking to tear down (sound familiar?). Guénolé says she may not have responded because of fear of public backlash if she took on all fact-checkers together.
The "Prix du menteur en politique" format has three strengths that should lead other countries' fact-checkers to consider it.
The imprimatur of the country's main fact-checkers gives the result greater credibility. The wider media coverage this results in introduces a larger disincentive to politicians peddling erroneous facts. Finally, the irreverent tone makes for good reading and may actually be more effective in getting the point across, as has been argued with debunking.