January 20, 2021

U.S. fact-checkers are planning for a smooth transition from their work fact-checking the outgoing Trump administration to new claims about coronavirus relief, immigration and economic policy coming out of the soon-to-be inaugurated Biden administration.

PolitiFact editor-in-chief Angie Holan said she expects her organization will produce fewer fact-checks of claims made by President-elect Joe Biden compared to President Donald Trump.

“I don’t say that in a partisan way,” Holan said. “These are two very different people with different temperaments and different ways of public speaking.”

PolitiFact published a report Tuesday on its Trump-O-Meter, which tracked a list of 102 promises made by President Trump during his 2016 campaign. It found that Trump broke nearly 53% of his promises, kept roughly 24%, and compromised on the remaining 22%.

By comparison, PolitiFact’s Obama administration equivalent, the Obameter, fact-checked more than 500 promises made over Obama’s two terms in office. It found Obama broke roughly 23% of his promises, kept 47%, and compromised on 27%. PolitiFact released its Biden Promise Tracker Tuesday.

The Washington Post Fact Checker editor and chief writer Glenn Kessler, whose team has been maintaining a database of Trump’s false or misleading claims, reported his team has cataloged 30,529 claims as of Jan. 13.

“We do not have plans to launch a Biden promise tracker,” Kessler wrote in an email to the IFCN. “I will continue to cite other trackers, as I did previously with the Obameter.”

Both Holan and FactCheck.org director Eugene Kiely said they expect to produce more fact checks about policy in the next four years. Kiely noted his organization did a lot of policy fact-checking early on in the Trump administration during debates about immigration, tax policy, and the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

“We expect there will be a similar push to change all three of those policies in Biden’s first two years, as well as a focus, of course, on COVID and the economy,” Kiely wrote in an email to the IFCN.

Holan noted that despite Trump’s absence there will still be plenty of claims by conspiracy theorists for fact-checkers to debunk in the coming years.

“Just because there’s no longer a sympathetic president to that sort of thing doesn’t mean it’s going away,” Holan said.

MediaWise editor and program manager Katy Byron wrote in an email to the IFCN that the new administration won’t impact her organization’s mission of “shedding light on the facts, stopping the spread of misinformation on social media and teaching people fact-checking skills.” Rather, MediaWise would continue to work on projects to fight both dis- and misinformation that predate the Biden administration.

She wrote that MediaWise would begin releasing a series of fact checks on YouTube produced with help from a Fact-Checking Development Grant from Google and the IFCN.

“These fact-checks, created by our MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network, will focus on fact-checking misinformation and disinformation found on YouTube and presented in a YouTube video format,” Byron wrote. She added MediaWise plans to release a total of 30 fact check videos over the next two to three months.

Kiely said his organization’s processes won’t change, but in the immediate future it will increase its focus on the vaccine rollout and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We hired a Spanish-language journalist to help write and translate fact-checking stories about COVID-19,” Kiely wrote. This, along with a more user-friendly redesigned webpage dedicated to misinformation about COVID-19, will be two of FactCheck.org’s biggest priorities.

U.S. fact-checkers faced accusations of censorship for their fact-checking work from supporters of the outgoing president. Holan said she expects some level of pushback from supporters of the incoming Biden administration.

“During the Obama administration, we certainly got a lot of criticism from Democrats that fact checks of Obama or tough coverage of his policies were somehow creating false equivalence,” Holan said. “But that just comes with the territory.”

Regardless of any perceived political pushback, Byron emphasized that verified information is crucial for the health of America’s democratic system of government.

“Because when facts prevail, democracy wins, whether you are a Democrat or Republican,” Byron wrote.

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Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
Harrison Mantas

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