Hello reddit! We are the Fact Checker team of The Washington Post. We rate statements by politicians from a range to one to four Pinocchios, one for being a minor shading of facts, and four for being an outright lie. If the statement is true, you get a rare Geppetto. You can read our entire fact checking history here.

The Fact Checker team consists of we three:

Hi I’m Glenn Kessler. I edit and write for The Fact Checker at The Washington Post. I’ve been doing this for seven years, after covering just about every building in Washington during a journalism career spanning more than three decades. My parents emigrated from the Netherlands and we always had 3 or 4 cats in our house. Find me on Twitter at @GlennKesslerWP.

I’m Michelle Ye Hee Lee. I was a reporter on Washington Post Fact Checker for the past three years. This week I started a new job here on the political investigations/enterprise team, focusing on money in politics. On Fact Checker, I wrote a lot about immigration, veterans, crime and abortion. I’m responsible for getting LOLcat gifs into The Fact Checker weekly newsletter. Find me on Twitter/Facebook/Insta/Snap: @myhlee

And I’m Meg Kelly, I produce videos and sometimes report for Washington Post Fact Checker. Before joining in May, I produced videos, photos and stories for NPR politics. We only have opinions on cats at the Fact Checker — and I’m the odd-woman out, I’m allergic. Find me on Twitter: @mmkelly22.

Here’s our proof. We’ll be getting started at noon. AMA!

EDIT: Typo, it's outright "lie," not law.

EDIT 2: We're done for now! Thank you r/iAMA for allowing us to do this, and thanks to you all for your curiosity and great questions! We may return later to answer some late questions. Have a great weekend!

Comments: 184 • Responses: 45  • Date: 

thimkerbell20 karma

Have you ever considered that you might be able to do the most good if you were to factcheck news organizations, rather than politicians? (or maybe you already do this)

washingtonpost5 karma

From Glenn: from time to time we do this. See this example. But we'd have to hire more staff if we routinely fact-checked news organizations, as our friends FullFact in the UK do!

washingtonpost4 karma

We're not media critics, and our work mainly focuses on people in power and organizations that influence policy (PACs/super PACs, lobbying/industry groups, etc). But sometimes when we see certain stories that are not being covered accurately by news organizations or headlines that are misleading/false, we write about them. Here are some examples. --Michelle

Gwandeh18 karma

How do you respond to the criticism that facts should either be rated true or false and that rating truthfulness on a scale just introduces subjectivity into a service that should intrinsically be trying to avoid it?

washingtonpost5 karma

The hardest part of the job is the Pinocchio rating. What is Three Pinocchios to me might seem more like Two Pinocchios to you, or vice versa. We have a rating tool at the end of the fact checks so readers can tell us how they would have rated the claim. We try to be transparent and consistent with each rating. If we are weighing between Two and Three Pinocchios, we'll tell the readers what we struggled with, and which factors tipped us one way or another. --Michelle

T3canolis16 karma

With so many Americans these days eating up lies no matter how many Pinocchios you give them, how do you convince someone that the truth matters and there are objective facts?

washingtonpost21 karma

from Glenn: Social science research shows that people are most receptive to facts that confirm their preconceived notions. But there is also research that good fact-checking can lead to better understanding of reality. In any case, the information we offer is available for Americans and it is up to individuals to decide whether they want to rely on it or not.

JavierLoustaunau-2 karma

(It does not help that some corners of reddit have blocked the Washington post claiming 'bias')

polpotspenis-2 karma

On r/politics There is a story circulating on the reight wing sites about Clinton, the Russians, uranium.

This was all debunked years ago by Snopes, FactChec and Politifact.

My attempts to link to those get shadowbanned.

washingtonpost10 karma

Here's our fact check on Clinton/Russians/uranium --Michelle

Claydough8911 karma

  • What has been you "favorite" Pinocchio to give out so far?
  • Which Pinnochio has made you the angriest?

washingtonpost16 karma

Hi, this is Glenn. Having hundreds of fact checks, it's hard to pick a favorite. The most popular fact check ever was one on Sean Hannity's false claim that Trump had sent his private jet to rescue some Marines stranded at an airbase. Absolutely not true, as I documented. You can find that here. I enjoyed doing a series of fact checks in 2015 documenting how many statistics on sex trafficking on based on flimsy or nonexistent data. In response, advocacy groups and lawmakers stopped using these stats. It's an important issues, but you only harm your cause if you rely on bad data.

We don't get angry at The Fact Checker. We just go to where the facts lead us.

washingtonpost4 karma

Hi, this is Meg. I'm still pretty new on the Fact Checker. I don't know that I have a favorite, but I will say that I've really liked the timelines and pieces for the record that we've done. With so much news, it can be helpful to see all the details in one place.

And like Glenn said, we don't get angry. We just follow the facts.

robotzor10 karma

Are you allowed to fact-check articles written by and about wapo staffers, critical of Bezos and other ownership, or is that off-limits territory? Referring of course to the recent huffpo article posted as a freelance. Is there any conflict of interest involved in doing so?

washingtonpost2 karma

From Glenn: We fact-check politicians. We tend not to fact-check media. I've have never been told anything is off limits.

Sporkicide6 karma

How did you get started as fact-checkers and what drew you to that particular niche?

washingtonpost7 karma

I just started in this role in May. After a year of covering the election, transition and first few months of the Trump administration, I was looking to find a format where video could be used to talk about policy in a clear and accurate way that still could engage audiences that wouldn't normally read the Fact Checker. --Meg

washingtonpost4 karma

From Glenn: The Washington Post asked me to revive The Fact Checker as a permanent feature in January, 2011. Previously it had existed just for the 2008 election. But as a political reporter, economic correspondent and diplomatic correspondent for nearly three decades, I had long specialized in reporting that explained and demystified policy. In fact, when I was the chief political correspondent for Newsday in 1996, I wrote the very first newspaper fact check -- a 3,000 word look at the claims and counterclaims of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. I was frustrated because I did not have enough space in my daily reporting to explain why much of what they claimed was wrong! Here's a link to that fact check

washingtonpost3 karma

I started my professional career at The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, and one of my first responsibilities there was to help launch AZ Fact Check during the 2010 midterm election. So I was familiar with fact-checking early on, and experienced first-hand just how much voters appreciated having this new initiative. When I applied for the Fact Checker job, I wanted to be a part of the public service it provides to voters on a national level, to hold politicians accountable for the things they say and promise. --Michelle

jdoncbus15 karma

Does the WaPo have any intention of keeping editorials on the editorial page? Thanks!

washingtonpost6 karma

This is Glenn. The news side has nothing to do with the editorial pages. The Post has started labeling every article on the web so you can quickly see whether it is Opinion, analysis, news or whatever. "Opinion" is a sign that it comes from the editorial page.

juliahostae5 karma

It seems that the people on the right and those on the left are seeing completely different news stories. Sometimes among comments on the Post website, people make reference to alleged political crimes that I had never once heard about. (For instance, evil things about George Soros.) How can I trust that you factcheckers are not in fact biased yourselves?

washingtonpost10 karma

This is Glenn. We of course have opinions. If you read us on a regular basis, I am convinced you will not discover our political leanings because our fact checks do not lean left or right. I once challenged a reader who was angry about a column to read every fact check for a month -- and he wrote back and said, "You're right I have no idea what your politics might be."

That said, with Republicans in charge of the White House and Congress, we lately have been doing many, many fact checks of Republicans. That concerns me. Divided government is much better for fact checking.

Austernpilz10 karma

You can check for yourself, for example.

Trump's claim:

“It has gotten so bad that nearly 20 million Americans have chosen to pay the penalty or received an exemption rather than buy insurance. That’s something that nobody has ever heard of or thought could happen, and they’re actually doing that rather than being forced to buy insurance.”

Kessler:

So how does Trump get up to 20 million? He’s adding in people who received an exemption; that totaled 12.7 million taxpayers. That only adds up to 19.2 million, but Trump did say “nearly 20 million.”

Trump is right, Kessler admits it. Result?

Three Pinocchios.

You're welcome.

washingtonpost14 karma

from Glenn. Uh, if you read the full fact check carefully you will understand why I reached the conclusion of Three Pinocchios. It was for his entire statement, not just that number. And as I documented, the 20-million figure was misleading. You are simply quoting the section in which I explain his math.

Here's the explanation of Three Pinocchios in this case:

Normally, this kind of slippery language would be worth Two Pinocchios. The 20 million figure does include people paying a penalty and people claiming an exemption. While Trump slipped in “received an exemption,” he strongly suggests the figure is really about people paying a penalty — “they’re actually doing that rather than being forced to buy insurance” — and so the number lacked significant context.

But Trump tips this number into Three Pinocchio territory when he further claims that is “something that nobody has ever heard of or thought could happen.” Actually, the number of people paying the penalty is declining, not increasing, while the number of exemptions grew because states led by Republicans refused to accept funds to expand Medicaid for their citizens. So the number really does not show what Trump claims it does.

Austernpilz-8 karma

Uh, if you read the full fact check carefully you will understand why I reached the conclusion of Three Pinocchios.

I did read it, and I understand completely how you reached your verdict - you're a partisan hack.

And as I documented, the 20-million figure was misleading.

It wasn't. 19.2 million - a number your math came up with - is "nearly 20 million", which is what Trump said.

While Trump slipped in “received an exemption,” he strongly suggests the figure is really about people paying a penalty

I aknowledge your effort here, but what you are doing is very transparent to anyone who reads it critically.

Your outfit is, for all intents and purposes, the same as politfact. Obviously biased, openly endorsing the democratic party. Doesn't Podesta write for you guys now?

It's always the same playbook: Is there a study? We don't like the methodology. There isn't a study? Take the opponents word as gospel and judge based on that.

IF it is a republican.

If it's a democrat, none of the above even matters.

I don't expect you to openly admit to what you are doing, I mean why would you, but everyone who wants to see it clearly can.

You (personally and the Washington Post) are like the last descendant of some old moneyed dynastie from massachusetts. Poor and destitute, but by using your name you can still get a loan from some bank to keep you and your dusty family portraits above water for another year. And maybe another one after that.

In an age where everyone can get to the source directly you're only sought after by people who want the spin added because they're to lazy to do it themselves.

washingtonpost5 karma

This is Gene, the social media editor who runs this account.

To be clear, John Podesta does not work for The Washington Post. He occasionally contributes pieces to our editorial opinion pages, as do people like President Trump and Julian Assange.

gwenzx4 karma

What is your advice for college/early-career journalists who want to pursue a career in fact-checking journalism?

washingtonpost8 karma

Fact-checking is definitely a growth area in journalism -- there are more than 120 fact-checking organizations around the world now, up from just four in 2011 -- but the best tools for fact-checking are basic reporting skills. I would not recommend going straight into fact-checking right out of college. I only started doing it after years in journalism -- and the Post asked me to do because I had covered the White House, Congress, State Dept, Treasury Dept. etc.

We are searching for a replacement for Michelle and the best candidates are people with a solid grounding in a variety of state or local reporting jobs, along with demonstrated investigative skills. So i would recommend doing that first before you turn your hand at fact-checking. --Glenn

gwenzx3 karma

Thank you! And congrats, Michelle, on your new role at WaPo! :)

washingtonpost6 karma

Thank you! I agree with Glenn. Work hard, dig hard, get solid reporting experience owning a local/state beat. File lots of records requests to verify what politicians are telling you, be skeptical, ask tough questions. Over time you'll develop quality, investigative clips to launch you into your own fact-checking job. Good luck! --Michelle

acm4 karma

What is a specific fact check that you're most proud of, or was particularly interesting?

washingtonpost8 karma

This is a hard one since I've written so many fact checks the past 3 years (not as many as Glenn, but still!) ... My favorites are ones that take a lot of sleuthing. We say around here that fact-checking is like being a detective, unraveling a mystery with each clue. Here's one that comes to mind: I wrote a Four-Pinocchio fact check about Sen. Rand Paul's claim that an elderly man was in prison after being accused of racketeering and organized crime, just for putting dirt on his land. It sounded odd so I looked into it. It took a lot of digging through federal court records, local news archives and prison databases, interviewing sources that were tough to locate. --Michelle

washingtonpost3 karma

As a video producer, I always like when we get to tell the whole arc of a broader story because it helps put all of the pieces together in one place. Two examples come to mind: Michelle and I worked on a video about former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the second is a piece about Comey and Trump's dueling narratives that Glenn and I worked on. — Meg

juliahostae4 karma

You mention your Gepettos are "rare." Isn't this true by design?

washingtonpost8 karma

From Glenn: Each of three main U.S. fact-checking websites has a different policy about true statements. FactCheck.org stops reporting when they find out a statement is true. PolitiFact tends to highlight a lot of true statements. At The Fact Checker, we tend to reserve the Geppetto Checkmark for statements that are unexpectedly true. In other word, a politician making a statement with a number or figure that seems unbelievable but it actually checks out.

Arialene3 karma

What is your favorite late night meal/snack?

Pineapple on pizza?

Can we see pictures of all the cats?

washingtonpost2 karma

Meet Penny (calico) and Liddy (grey tuxedo)! --Meowchelle

FarterTed3 karma

Why is your newspaper so anti-Israel? There is little evidence of fact checking but much evidence of bias

washingtonpost1 karma

From Glenn: Having covered diplomatic for 9 years, with a particular focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I can assure you the newspaper is not anti-Israel. The biggest problem is there was never enough space to offer every nuance and historical point that readers appeared to think needed to be in each story. And both sides have their own narratives. If you interested, here's a fact check I once did on whether Obama was anti-Israel. And here's one on a John Kerry speech.

woowoo2933 karma

Do you experience harassment as a result of the work you do?

washingtonpost4 karma

I wrote an essay about that after the 2016 election. --Michelle

JMFR2 karma

Do you have a GoFundMe for booze? Or, does the Post supply it? Really, nobody should do your job sober.

washingtonpost3 karma

From Glenn: Ha! There are some days I am happy to have a very well-stocked liquor cabinet. Never thought of expensing it, though...

thimkerbell2 karma

Lots of times it seems like fact checkers go for the granular rather than the broad picture, since a grain can be more clearly determined to be right or wrong. But obviously it's a lot less important than the broad picture. 1, Do you agree about this, and 2, Is there a way that factcheckers can 'pick their battles' so that they do spend time on the most important things? (Or at least acknowledge to the reader what is most important, so a casual reader doesn't come away from the encounter less informed than before.)

washingtonpost2 karma

I often think about the granular as an access point to the bigger story. With a complicated piece of legislation like Obamacare, claims often range from big and sweeping to really specific. By digging into the details, we help explain both the broader policy issue and untangle claims that can either sound too good to be true or are deeply in wonk speak. — Meg

washingtonpost2 karma

  1. We try not to be nit-picky. We do look at the specific claim, or the specific number, but also consider it in the broader context, and look at the entirety of the claim. We work to provide a public service by digging into the details to help explain the broader policy issue or the subject matter.
  2. We focus claims that are newsworthy and are a matter of domestic or international policy. For example, if Congress is debating health care, we dig into a health care claim because politicians will be talking about it that day/week, and because readers will care about it. You can read more about our methodology and standards here. --Michelle

almondparfitt2 karma

How has your fact checking work changed over the years with social media? Downside/upside? Thanks!

washingtonpost6 karma

Upside is that social media allows us to reach new audiences and interact a lot with our readers. I started “Snap-checks” on Snapchat, bringing fact-checking to a younger audience who otherwise wouldn’t have found us through the website or via Facebook. That was super fun. Downside is that misinformation spreads so quickly on social media, and it amplifies and increases the volume of factcheck-able claims. –Michelle

washingtonpost3 karma

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to best communicate our fact checks on other (primarily video) platforms. The upside is it gives us an opportunity to reach different audiences who might not otherwise find us or have the time to read the full fact check — more people in more places. I would say a downside is that there's always a struggle around how much context we can add in a video and keep the audience's attention. It's a balancing act. And as Michelle said, information spreads so fast and in so many different formats and mediums that it amplifies the factcheck-able claims. - Meg

washingtonpost3 karma

This is Glenn. We use social media to promote our work, but we also use it to engage with readers. About half of our fact checks are the result of reader inquiries. The actual fact checking hasn't changed -- that is just basic reporting -- but social media has really helped us to find statements to fact check, engage with readers and also learn if we have made mistakes.

AlphaWhelp2 karma

Your little user page image says "Democracy dies in Darkness" but your profile instead says "Democracy dies in Dankness"

I can't help but feel this is intentional, but I figured I'd ask if you knew about that and if you did is there any more significant meaning to the juxtaposition?

washingtonpost2 karma

Hi this is Gene! I'm not a fact checker but I'm the social media editor who runs our reddit profile. Yes it's intentional, and it's actually a bit touching to see how many people message me to politely ask if it's a typo.

No there's no significant meaning other than a silly little Easter Egg for users to find. Also, our Cake Day is purely coincidental.

thimkerbell2 karma

Is there a separate channel for reporting typos? Because "an outright law" is probably not what you (washingtonpost) meant.

washingtonpost1 karma

oops that was definitely a typo. That's been changed. Thanks! - Gene

thimkerbell1 karma

No separate channel though?

washingtonpost1 karma

Our inbox here is open! You can also email the reporters directly. Many reddit users here have helpfully pointed out typos and other mistakes, and I would reach out to editors to make those changes. They're always always appreciated, proof that even editors need editors, and just a small example of how the public keeps us journalists accountable. - Gene

thimkerbell1 karma

On reddit.com/user/washingtonpost I do not see a way to send a PM.

Update: Thank you! "More Options" was what I was overlooking.

washingtonpost2 karma

Click under "More Options" and it should say "Send a private message."

RunDNA2 karma

How do you decide exactly what claim to fact check, seeing as how slightly changing the claim can alter the verdict?

washingtonpost7 karma

From Glenn: Words do make a difference, as we often emphasize. A small tweak will make a difference. We don't play gotchas, we look for statements that will allows us to illuminate policy issues.

Once a funny thing happened: PolitiFact, Fact Checker and FactCheck.org all rated something Biden had said about rape and murder rates in Flint. Michigan. We arrived at different ratings because he said it three different ways that day -- and we did not realize that. He said it doubled, tripled and quadrupled! Here's our version--Four Pinocchos.

SmugSceptic2 karma

What's the best way for Americans as whole battle misinformation?

washingtonpost3 karma

From Glenn: Read carefully and with a jaundiced eye. And verify before you repeat!

Coioco1 karma

  1. Have you gotten a raise in the last 10 months

  2. How do you organize trumps various mischaracterizations and outright lies? Doesn’t excel have a row limit

washingtonpost10 karma

  1. Welp I just got promoted, so…
  2. We keep track of every false or misleading claim by President Trump. As of our latest update on Oct. 10, we counted 1,318 false or misleading claims (many of them are repeats). Check out our interactive tracker. We use Google Sheets to keep track of everything. –Michelle

504ever1 karma

Are you running out of Pinocchios? If so, what will you do instead?

washingtonpost5 karma

We have an unlimited Pinocchio supply! We even have a Pinocchio marionette in The Fact Checker pod at our office :) --Michelle

EDIT: proof of the marionette

thimkerbell1 karma

How do you handle the structural problem of false balance? If Pol A is spitting out 1000 lies a day and his competitor says just as much but is only spitting out 5, do you pick 1 lie from each to look into?

washingtonpost2 karma

From Glenn: The fact checks are really designed to provide more information about complex policy issues. So it's less important who says it than what they are saying. Still, President Trump has proven to be a challenge. That's why we created the Trump false and misleading claims database, so it would help cut down on the number of fact checks of the president.

Ramrod3121 karma

How much overtime are you getting now a days?

washingtonpost3 karma

From Glenn: No overtime! and we work almost 24/7 :-)

qwiglydee1 karma

if skills of fact-checking were measured in dans, what dan is required to get a job?

third dan googler.

washingtonpost2 karma

Hmm, all of the dans? Or like, at least half? --Michelle

qwiglydee1 karma

well, how long have you been training in fact checking, to reach the required level?

washingtonpost2 karma

This is Gene (not a fact checker), but I've seen them enter the hyperbolic time chamber for at least two days to reach their current power levels.

washingtonpost2 karma

I did government accountability/watchdog reporting for about 4 years before I came to Fact Checker in November 2014. --Michelle

dread_lobster1 karma

What do you do to fight the pressure for false balance in your work? Do your editors push you to go easier on Republicans or harder on Democrats given the huge disparity in bullshit generated from each side and a desire to maintain the appearance of neutrality? How often do you fail?

washingtonpost4 karma

From Glenn: The editors from time to time might suggest a possible fact check or pass on a reader request. There is no pressure for "false balance." After 35 years in the business, I have found there is no difference between the parties on this simple fact: Both will stretch the truth if they think it will give them a political advantage.

adamdee11 karma

Given how disconnected the current President appears to be from real facts, what do you believe the tipping point will be for the fact checking to have a tangible effect on his remaining time in office?

washingtonpost9 karma

From Glenn: Any White House learns that lost credibility is not easily earned back. Look at George W. Bush and claims about the Iraq war or Barack Obama and promises about keeping your doctor. Trump in particular has pushed the envelope on truth-telling, in particular because he doubles down on false claims and keeps repeating them. That can only hurt him in the long run.

Bilbocrap1231 karma

How do you go on checking for facts ? By this I mean do you go and search for 3-4 other sources that have the same information or just 1 reliable source is enough ?

washingtonpost3 karma

We first reach out to the speaker for the information/data they used, as the burden of proof is on the speaker. We review their data, then do our independent research and reporting. This entails talking to several subject-matter experts, researching various reports, searching through news archives, and more. We rely on many sources of information to come to an objective conclusion for the rating. --Michelle