By Dante Ramos
Reviewing: PolitiFact Mobile
By: Times Publishing Company
Platforms: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, BlackBerry Playbook
Should you get it?: Sure, if you're skeptical enough about modern campaigning to doubt every statement a politician makes, but not so cynical that you think the truth or falsehood of campaign speeches is irrelevant.
As the election campaign intensifies, so, too, do the complaints that media outlets uncritically repeat claims that candidates make about themselves and one another - no matter how outrageous, disingenuous, or demonstrably incorrect some of those claims might be.
Enter the Tampa Bay Times (known until recently as the St. Petersburg Times), the Florida newspaper that started a project called PolitiFact to fact-check the substance of major claims made by candidates for high office, major lobbying groups, and even chain e-mails.
On its mobile app, PolitiFact declares that it's "mostly true" when Barack Obama says Mitt Romney described Russia as America's number one enemy, and only "half true" when Romney says that under Obama, utility bills have risen. As each candidate's accusations become eye-glazingly familiar through sheer repetition, it's easy to forget that many of these claims are either true, or they're not. The PolitiFact Mobile app helpfully tells you that electricity bills have gone up while natural gas bills have gone down.
As far as I can tell - and as some online reviews complain - most of the content on the app only repeats what already exists on PolitiFact's free website. But the mobile app organizes this material in a convenient, graphically appealing way, and it might be worth pulling out of your pocket the next time you hear a claim that sounds suspicious - or one that you've been taking on faith all along.
Still, the app can only be useful to you if you think there's merit in what PolitiFact is trying to do to begin with. By reputation, the Tampa Bay Times is about as earnest a news organization as there is. But inevitably, PolitiFact's judgments have drawn criticism from conservatives who view its fact-checking as left-wing claptrap and liberals who say the site goes too far in trying to seem fair to Republicans.
Some Washington journalists, meanwhile, think PolitiFact's work is small-minded and misses the point; a policy can be a bad idea without being factually wrong. Then there's the question of how much facts matter; many voters, in a general election, will stick with their preferred party's nominee no matter how many whoppers he or she tells.
Personally, I think fact-checking sites, whatever their warts, are helpful to independent voters who really like to sort through the claims of all sides. The PolitiFact app will help these voters do so while on the go.
And even those who don't accept all of the app's cutesy assessments - "pants on fire!" - can still judge the background info PolitiFact used in reaching its conclusions.