Fact checking the fuzzy-fact-filled Sunday talk shows

On the popular Sunday political talk shows, the talk isn’t always precise. Facts can be fuzzy, questions confusing, answers circuitous.

It’s great fodder for the country’s top three fact-checking organizations: PolitiFact and PunditFact, FactCheck.org and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker. If you’re a Sunday talk show fan, you might want to make it a habit to check these fact checkers’ assessments — and here are some reasons from recent shows.

PunditFact, a project of PolitiFact, decided to check former president Bill Clinton’s statement on “Meet the Press” that he had “the lowest net worth of any American president in the 20th century” when he took office.

After checking records on the financial worth of other presidents including Harry Truman, William McKinley and Gerald Ford, PunditFact rated Clinton’s statement only  “half true.” One key reason: There’s not enough historical evidence about the financial status of many of the former presidents.

Fact Checker, written by Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post, tackled another statement by Bill Clinton on “Meet the Press.” Speaking in reference to the Benghazi attacks, Clinton maintained that Republicans were not outraged when Americans in diplomatic positions were killed during President Bush’s time in office.clinton

But Clinton received two Pinochios from the Fact Checker for that statement because, Kessler wrote, of an “unbalanced comparison” and the fact that at least one of the Bush-era deaths led to a congressional investigation.

FactCheck.org tackled the murky meaning of “negotiating with terrorists” after Sen. Ted Cruz’s comments on “ABC’s This Week.” Cruz said Obama violated a policy of not  negotiating with terrorists, referring to the administration’s decision to swap Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Guantanamo detainees.

But meanwhile on “Meet the Press,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said no one negotiated with terrorists. FactCheck.org determined that “the reality isn’t as clear as the rhetoric would lead you to believe.”

It takes considerable time to assess nuances and facts in the weekly talk shows. They appear on five networks — NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS and CNN — and the fact checkers review all of them. PunditFact has a staff of two reporters and one editor “working live every Sunday,” says PunditFact editor Aaron Sharockman.

FactCheck.org staffers review transcripts on Monday and then review any shows that will be featured in a fact check, says director Eugene Kiely. For Fact Checker, Kessler reads show transcripts on Sunday or Monday.

The talk-show fact checks generally are popular with readers. PunditFact gets a boost in readership when fact checks are posted late Sunday, Sharockman says, and another uptick when readers arrive at their offices on Monday morning.

The Sunday fact checks “tend to be slightly more popular than an average check, but in many ways it depends on the content,” Sharockman says. Other fact checkers agreed.

“The popularity depends on the person and/or the topic,” says Kiely. For instance, he noted, FactCheck.org “got 5,500 ‘likes’ for our recent piece on Dick Cheney’s comments about terrorism, but an item fact checking Harry Reid on the uninsured got just 907  ‘likes.’”

Read more Sunday show fact checks from:

Fact Checker

FactCheck.org

PunditFact