Is Sarah Palin misinformed? Fact checker discusses.

Jun 03, 2011

The Washington Post's own Glenn Kessler checked the facts in Sarah Palin's bus tour interview in his piece Sarah Palin collects a bushel of Pinocchios on her bus tour - The Fact Checker and gave her a rating of four out of four Pinocchios, classifying her statements as "whoppers."

Kessler chatted about why what Palin is saying is so incorrect and readers told him what they think about the potential GOP candidate's bus tour chatter.

Note: This chat will be starting 10-15 minutes late. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Hello, I'm here. Let's get started on the questions!

Shouldn't Fox News "journalists" like Greta Van Susteren be responsible for having the facts themselves--challenging interviewees when they present exaggerations or outright fibs as facts?

I have some sympathy for Van Susteren because it is difficult to "fact check" someone in the middle of an interview unless you have the information right at your fingertips. At some points, she tried to offer a counterargument or at least present what Obama might have said in response. 

What I really would like to see an interviwer do is take Palin (or any politician for that matter) through some of their previous statements and get them to explain themselves.  Part of the problem in our business is that there is little follow-up, so politicians are not held accountable for what they say. 

I love the fact checker-- you are providing an invaluable service-- thanks. Facts seem to be a thing of the past in politics.. and once something is out there, even if it is disputed, it can have a shelf life. Just look at the birther thing. Many Iowa GOP still don't believe the Pres. was born in the USA. What if anything can news orgs. do to improve journalism so facts rather than opinion again become the gold standard?

Thank you! I am really enjoying writing this column. I hope that it is part of a trend to hold people accountable for their claims. Certainly, local papers could take the idea and start doing it for local and state politicians. 

I don't care about Sarah Palin, but I wanted to ask why you gave Wasserman Schultz three Pinocchios for saying that insurence companies can deny retireees coverage under Ryan's voucher program. If I'm not mistaken, insurence companies will offer you a premium price, and the government will provide funds (a voucher) for a percentage of that price, perhaps as low as 30% in time. If you cannot afford the remainder of the premium, the insurence company will not take you on. So sure, they aren't "denying" you coverage at that point, but only in the way that the a Bentley dealer isn't denying to sell me a new car that I can't come close to affording. As the proportion of premiums that the coucher covers goes down over time, more and more retirees will be priced out of health coverage under his plan. Quibbling over the semantics of this seems wrong to me.

For people wondering, this refers to my article on Wednesday.

If you read the plan, as presented by the Republicans, insurance companies will be required to offer insurance to everyone who applies, and the less well-off would receive additional support. She asserted, without evidence (and contrary to what the Congressional Budget Office said), that it would "allow insurance companies to deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions."

So I do not think this is semantics at all. She could have said she was predicting horrible things would happen, but she should not have asserted a fact that was not in the plan.

Incidently,, and the Associated Press all reached the same conclusion as I did.

Is she misinformed or a misinformer as in just another paid propagandist of Fox News

I'm not sure I would say Palin is deliberately trying to mislead people. She appears to have only a surface knowledge about major national issues, and yet speaks very confidently about them. 

Along with Fact Checking, how can we get Congress to speak plainly about things when they keep obfuscating about the very definitions of the terms we all know?

Good question. I used to cover diplomacy, and obfuscation was often used to smooth difficult situations between nations. In Congress, people also like to speak in code, in part because it might make some of the legislation less of a target if people don't understand what they are doing. 

Your Fact Checker posts usually yield a significant number of politically-charged responses accusing you of being in the tank for the other guys and writing off your assessment as partisan support of a particlar party. This happens regardless of the individual you're discussing in the post. Can you provide some transparency regarding how you select the claim you want to fact check? I know you're not biased based on your responses and the fact that you treat all parties equally. But explaining how you make these decisions might help make these ridiculous claims of partisanship less frequent. Thanks!

Yes, I find the responses fascinating. I guarantee you that over a period of time, you will not be able to discern a political bias one way or the other. In my many years in Washington, I have been lied to by politicians in both parties, and so I have no illusions about either side. Thank you for recognizing that I treat both sides equally!

I usually try to pick a claim that is in the news that day. Often, I get up in the morning and start looking at what's been said on the morning news, or who is giving a speech, and then hope I find something interesting. Sometimes, I pick a claim if I think the issue illuminates a larger point. Usually, I have no idea what I will write about when I arrive in the office. But I try to write five times a week. 

I try to keep my eye on having the right mix over a period of weeks--ie, equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, a reasonable number on Obama, some foreign policy in addition to budget, health care and domestic policy. Lots of Republicans are making announcement speeches, so I have to look at those and still keep up the right mix. 

I also rely on readers to flag interesting comments and things they are wondering about. The best way to get my attention is to send it to  It might get lost in the comment section below the articles. 


How do you choose who to fact-check?

See the previous answer above. It mostly depends on who or what is in the news, but I try to keep up a mix over time, so it's pretty much equal between the parties. But it could be five days of Democrats followed by five days of Republicans.

The hardest part of the job is deciding how many Pinocchios to award. I try to be consistent, but in all but in all but the most extreme cases it is a bit subjective. But it is also a very useful tool for helping me keep all of these claims in perspective. 

Has the fragmentation and hyperpartisanship of the media--very much including the blogosphere, Left and Right--made politicians more careless with the truth than they used to be? Have many of them concluded that they can get away with expedient lies in the current milieu--and so they do?

You could be correct. I worry that with the fragmentation of the media, people are now less likely to get out of their political comfort zone. It is important to regularly read people who you may vehemently disagree with, because, you know, you might find that they have a point. 

No question. Just hope you keep up the great work. I wish more newspapers and broadcasters followed your example. Gordon


I agree that Sarah Palin only has a surface knowledge of major national topics. How can she, or her supporters, possibly think that is good enough to be President of the US?

Leadership, of course, is not just about knowledge, but about setting priorities and knowing how manage people and policies toward a particular objective. A good leader attracts people who are deeply knowledgeable about certain issues, and relies on them to provide advice. Then he/she makes decisions.

Some people obviously consider Sarah Palin to be an inspirational figure, and her lack of knowledge on issues is less important to them.  

Do you think she is a serious political figure or only in it for the spot light and money only to eventually fade away?

This is more a question for The Post political writers. I personally think she will not run for president this time around, but I may be in the minority on that. But I doubt she will fade away!

CNN was flogging Palin yesterday over her bizarre stream on consciousness mis-telling of the Paul Revere story. Is that one too easy to attack or will you be doing it?

You know, I had completely missed that! I just looked it up, and I guess it has been well-documented. I think I will take a pass, but it is an amusing mistake. 

Here's what she said about Paul Revere:

"He who warned, uh, the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms uh by ringing those bells and making sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free and we were going to be armed." As most school children know, Paul Revere actually warned the rebels that "The British are coming!

When can we expect you to write the subject column? Allyou folks at the Wash Post do is cover his butt.

Here are a few of the recent articles I have written on Obama:


Do any of the politicians whom you fact-check in your columns ever ask you to post a rebuttal? I can see Debbie Wasserman Schultz asking for equal time, not because she's right, but because she doesn't like being fact-checked by a liberal newspaper. Thanks.

I usually give a heads up about where my conclusions are heading and am always willing to provide a response by a spokesman. That's what I did in the Wasserman Schultz case. And I have also sometimes added updates with additional responses.

Sometimes, people try to pleabargain on the Pinocchios, trying to argue me down. In other words, they admit they made a mistake but don't think it is as bad as I think it is. (Sometimes the argument has persuaded me.)

Once, a lawmaker called me after the column ran and said I had nailed him. 

With a sizeable minority willing to believe any misinformation and an even larger number willing to dismiss it as just part of Politics is there any real downside to misinforming the Public

Eventually, it catches up to you. At least I hope so. 

How do you factcheck matters such as economic analysis when even economists do not agre?. Often in economics one person's gain is another person's loss. Something that may help the economy today could hurt it tomorrow. Economics is not a science that is easily fact checked.

You are right that this can be difficult. I try to focus on claims that are based on a real number--ie, whether the debt has increased more under Obama than the previous 43 presidents. (Not so.) This is a number that can be looked up in the historical record.

I try not to fact check economic beliefs, ie, whether raising taxes is always bad. That's a political philosophy. Sometimes, however, I might try to explore the economic context of such beliefs, but in that case, I do not award Pinocchios. I think providing context is also an important part of my job and I do not always have to play a game of "gotcha!"

Awarding Pinocchios to Palin is like making jokes about Rep. Weiner's name no? C'mon tackle the hard ones.

Point taken!

I admire your fact checking, which is something every news outlet should do, but I can't shake the persistent feeling that Mrs. Palin really loves it when you zing her, and even invents her fake facts precisely to get herself pilloried in the "lame stream media" so she will be more of a victim to her acolytes. Thoughts?

Hmm, I doubt anyone likes being the butt of jokes but then she is an unusual politician.

Any chance that you would fact-check reporting on a politician, for example, whether a journalist omitted pertienent facts or displayed bias or is too close to a subject? I think that would be as fascinating as fact-checking politicians (although more uncomfortable for you).

I don't think I will fact check my colleagues, though I did write a column in which I said The Post and other news organizations had misled readers about the size of the recent budget deal. Not sure everyone was happy about that!

Thanks for the great questions. I have to get back to fact-checking Mitt Romney's announcement speech. Look for my conclusions on Monday, at 6 am. 

In This Chat
Glenn Kessler
Glenn Kessler is an acclaimed diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post and has been recipient of numerous awards, including two shared Pulitzer Prizes. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he has reported from dozens of countries and also has covered the White House and Congress. Kessler is the author of The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy. He is a graduate of Brown University and Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and lives in McLean, Virginia.
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