Factcheck.org ‘Spin Detectors’ checks campaign material



By Mary Diamond

American voters today are inundated with campaign slogans and statistics from candidates for political office. With so much information being released all over the media, it can be difficult to separate truth from fiction.

On Feb. 13, the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania launched a new project called “Spin Detectors” at www.factcheck.org/spindetectors. The website encourages the readers to submit campaign material offered in presidential, congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial elections and will check these materials for misleading or possibly false information. Videos (in MP4 format) of candidates giving public speeches, having face to face conversations or information included in campaign literature are all examples of acceptable submissions.

“Basically, anytime a candidate makes a statement that is seemingly fact based, citing numbers or using superlatives, we can check that out and verify whether it’s true by looking at nonpartisan government websites to definitively say whether the statement is accurate or not,” said Ben Finley, staff writer for FactCheck.org and Spin Detectors project coordinator.

When members of congress seek information, either for legislative or campaign purposes, they have exclusive access to a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress called the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which provides confidential non-partisan analysis.

“Congressman Manzullo always demands that we only talk about things that we can back up and that’s what we do.” said Rich Carter, press secretary for Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Egan. “We rely on CRS because they are an objective source for a lot of our information.”

The Spin Detectors’ website has a “tool kit” that includes links to nonpartisan websites accessible to the public which provide information including congressional voting histories, campaign finance information and the status of legislation. There is also an area for spotlighting “Featured Spin Detectors,” campaign materials that have been chosen by the Spin Detectors staff.

Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said he personally looks at everything his campaign puts out.

“If we’re talking about an issue, it’s generally something we’ve been debating in Springfield, so we’ve had a research staff or people lobbying with that information,” Pritchard said. “The reputation of that organization is on the line, so I’m not as concerned with them stretching the truth as what happens with candidates in a very heated race.”

Finley said Spin Detectors has already received interest from political science and journalism professors, and they encourage students to send in anything they find to be suspect, misleading or false.

Mikel Wyckoff, associate political science professor, said this website is another indication of how the world is changing.

“It used to be that as a politician you could travel around and say different things to different people in different parts of the country and different states,” Wyckoff said. “With the internet it’s all out there for everyone to see and it provides the ability for everyone to participate.”

Residents of DeKalb can find upcoming election dates, voter registration resources and information on Illinois candidates for political office at the DeKalb County clerk’s website, www.dekalbclerk.com.