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San Diego Fact Check has been vetting bold claims since 2010 and we recently decided we could use a bit of an overhaul.
Today we’re debuting two new rulings and a slate of colorful new icons to go with them.
The most notable addition is our new designation: Unfounded.
In the past year, we’ve come across several statements that we just couldn’t prove – or disprove.
Take this claim from City Attorney Jan Goldsmith after he was asked about former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ role in the pension reform initiative: “There is nowhere in the entire country, ever, ever, Scott, anywhere where (an) elected official(‘s) involvement in an initiative has either been criticized or found to bind the city or found to be an unfair labor practice.”
I spent days calling attorneys and law professors, hoping one might be able to provide a definitive answer on whether such allegations had been proven in any court case, or if there had even been complaints elsewhere.
I got nowhere and eventually decided to move on.
Then there was this eyebrow-raising comment from Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who suggested at July City Council meeting that institutions and restaurants at Balboa Park had seen as much as a 20 percent drop in revenue immediately following the revamp of the Plaza de Panama.
Voice of San Diego contributor Randy Dotinga reached out to several institutions, hoping to find out if this was true. Some wouldn’t reveal specific numbers.
He later approached Zapf’s office and learned they’d only heard from two institutions.
Dotinga ultimately decided he just didn’t have enough to produce a Fact Check but came away thinking a public official shouldn’t be able to avoid scrutiny simply because her claim couldn’t be validated or disproven.
I’ve often felt the same – and I’m sure there are many more Fact Check posts we haven’t written over the years because there wasn’t a clear way to validate them. Those missed opportunities did our readers a disservice. An out-of-thin-air claim that can’t be validated can be just as reckless – and potentially damaging to civic dialogue – as one that’s outright false.
Our new ruling is our attempt at a solution.
We’ll define an Unfounded claim simply: There is insufficient evidence to back up this statement.
We’ve also renamed a previous ruling.
A few years ago, we publicly weighed whether to stick with our Barely True rating. We use it less often than most of our other designations and we’ve sometimes debated whether the name creates more confusion instead of bringing clarity to certain claims.
Going forward, we’ll dub such claims a Stretch.
But we’re sticking with the ruling we use for Barely True claims: There is an element of truth in the statement but critical context is absent that may significantly alter the impression the statement leaves.
I expect you’ll have plenty of feedback about this. Fact Check rulings always inspire it.
I’ve often spent days investigating a claim and attempted to carefully craft a nuanced, in-depth look at an issue only to have readers – and yes, Fact Check subjects – focus entirely on the ruling itself.
I’ll acknowledge the Fact Check formula isn’t perfect – and it can weigh on the Fact Checker too. I can say I’ve lost sleep trying to pin down a few. I’ve also spent lots of time debating Fact Check rulings with my VOSD colleagues.
But the goal of San Diego Fact Check is to break down bold claims and help you make sense of them. To do that effectively, we must rate those statements.
You can check out a complete list of our rulings and definitions here.