As Michigan voters turn to the November elections, Bridge Magazine is changing its approach to Truth Squad, our fact-checking project aimed at helping readers ferret out the facts on state political races and issues.
In the eight months since Bridge and The Center for Michigan revived Truth Squad for the fall campaigns, we’ve come to realize that our format did not always allow reporters to fully capture the nuance and, in some instances, the deviousness of political messaging in 2018.
Too often, we’ve found ourselves debating the accuracy of statements that, when taken individually, may be factual, but when strung together by savvy campaign consultants conveyed a message (often about an opponent) that was misleading or worse. The rating system we’ve used up until now (with descriptors such as “mostly accurate,” “half-accurate” and “mostly inaccurate”) was neither broad nor flexible enough to address such chicanery.
As Lindsay VanHulle, part of Bridge’s four-person capitol bureau, put it in one of our internal discussions:
“It didn’t seem right to ding a campaign for using accurate facts, since that’s what we were checking, even if they presented a misleading conclusion. It also didn’t seem right to award a “half accurate” rating to something that was so intentionally misleading, simply because it had accurate facts.”
In our imperfect quest to be fair and ideologically agnostic, we sometimes got stuck in the thicket of incremental rating categories and lost sight of the bottomline verdict readers expect Truth Squad to render:
Is the candidate shooting straight with voters? Or misstating the facts?
Is this a statement voters can trust? Or was it crafted to mislead?
So we’ve reduced and simplified Truth Squad to three blunt rating categories going forward:
- FAIR: The ad or statement is generally accurate and fairly and credibly presents the speaker’s position on the issue at hand.
- MISLEADING: While individual parts of the ad or statement may be accurate, it reaches a conclusion or leaves an impression about an issue or candidate that is misleading in important respects
- FOUL: The ad or statement contains one or more material factual errors
In some instances, ads or statements by candidates or others do not lend themselves to a specific rating. Such as when candidates talk about controversies that would have nothing to do with their job duties. Or when candidates do not address the most critical issues facing Michigan in 2018. Expect Truth Squad to call out those tactics as well.
With every statewide office and all Michigan House and Senate seats up for grabs this November, this election promises to have a profound impact on Michigan’s future. You can help Truth Squad keep candidates and special interests honest by alerting us to false or misleading ads and rhetoric. Please send tips to Truth Squad at the staff contacts below.
Thank you for your loyal readership, your engagement in the democratic process, and your thoughtful criticism of our work.
David Zeman and Joel Kurth