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2020 has been a year much in need of truth, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we at PolitiFact want to voice our thanks to the people, projects and places that have helped us bring you the facts.
No such list can be complete. Our work relies on literally hundreds of experts to tease out key bits of history, see the patterns in a set of numbers and turn complex legal and legislative language into plain speak. This public thank-you note is just a sampler, a movie trailer of highlights from 11 months that challenged us all.
We can’t begin to fully capture our thankfulness for the epidemiologists and public health experts who have guided us through knotty coronavirus questions, from gauging the deadliness of the virus, to judging mask effectiveness. We’ve turned to the good people at the schools of public health at Boston University, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and other institutions more times than we can count. We value their knowledge, and appreciate their patience.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the people behind the Covid Tracking Project. Early in the pandemic, a partnership emerged at The Atlantic that produced a data trove we wonks have all come to know and love. When President Donald Trump tied rising cases to rising testing, their numbers showed where he went wrong. When Facebook posts said labs were falsely reporting high numbers of positive tests, the project’s data helped debunk them.
This 50-state database on testing, cases, hospitalizations and deaths is truly an act of generosity to the public.
Also at the top of our COVID data hit parade is the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. It’s our go-to for anything global. And we wouldn’t want to overlook Our World in Data from Oxford. These public websites are simply invaluable.
The country faced a wave of unfounded claims of fraud and deep-state conspiracy theories. So we are grateful to Chris Krebs, the former head of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Before his abrupt firing, Krebs instituted a rumor control page and worked with election officials from both parties across the country. He helped debunk attacks on Dominion Voting Systems, and rejected the Hammer and Scorecard conspiracy fable, saying in no uncertain terms, "This is not a real thing. Don’t fall for it."
While vetting false claims about rigged elections and illegal voting, we turned to many elections experts to peel back the layers of security that protect each person’s vote. The Center for Election Innovation and Research worked through the details with us, along with researchers at Rice University, the OSET Institute, MIT, the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, the University of California and many others.
We fielded claims posted on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. There were dumpster fires of misinformation everyday, and with the help of people who really know their stuff, we tamped down as many as we could.
In a political landscape littered with partisan attacks, PolitiFact’s Amy Sherman expressed her thanks for the times when Republican and Democratic caretakers of elections defended the common goal of fair and secure voting. On more than one occasion, we were inspired by their impartiality and commitment to process that pushed politics to the side in the interest of democracy.
We asked Lou Jacobson, PolitiFact’s longest-tenured fact-checker, for the sources he is thankful for. Lou highlighted three, and anyone who follows his work won’t be surprised by his choices.
There’s the Wayback Machine, a warehouse of billions of web pages saved, searchable and available anytime you need to know what someone said, in contrast to what they say they said. Lou used the Wayback Machine to reconstruct the sequence of results reporting on Election Night, and rebut a Trump tweet about evening "ballot dumps."
When Trump said he had overseen the greatest economy ever, Lou went to FRED, the stunningly user-friendly public information project of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. When Lou looked for readings on gross domestic product, wages and business investment, he found that Trump’s claim didn’t hold up. And thanks to FRED, all of that digging was a matter of minutes. For Lou, at least.
The universe of topics we cover is limitless. Claims take us into datasets we haven’t used before, and subjects we’ve never read about. At those moments, finding the right expert is critical, and we know we couldn’t do our work without them.
There was the former head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics who took us into the sub-basement of a wage survey, and showed us why it failed to reflect the earnings of the wealthiest Americans.
There was the historian at Yale who told us about the forced deportation of Mexican Americans at the start of the Great Depression, a rarely discussed chapter of the American story.
For complexity, prescription drug prices give nuclear physics a run for its money. The savants at Vanderbilt University, the Kaiser Family Foundation and USC’s Schaeffer Center know who we have in mind when we say "thank you." We certainly turn to them often enough for the hard-to-find data on how much people actually pay for their essential medicines. With their help, we were able to cut through the fog and bring you at least a moment of clarity.
The list of people we are thankful for runs long, but it will never be complete because most of all, we are grateful to you, our readers. We might not know who you are, but you are the reason we toil in these vineyards, and if you weren’t there, we wouldn’t be here.
After a fact-check about doctors purportedly goosing the COVID-19 death stats to make more money, we got an email from one of the two pediatric pulmonologists in Montana. Some of the kids he works with are on home ventilators. He wasn’t, he assured us, getting an extra dime out of the coronavirus.
"Take me out and northern Montana loses those services," he said. "While these past four years have served as a reminder why we need services such as yours, my contributions to support this work will continue past these times."
What we do doesn’t hold a candle to his efforts, but his note closes the loop between the reporting we do and the value it holds. That keeps us going, and it’s a lot to be thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
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