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GOP truth squad targets bias in national PolitiFact units

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

Spurred by the Republican Party's documented claim that PolitiFact Virginia is biased, Republicans are dispatching truth squads nationwide to question "rulings" from other state PolitiFacts units and dig into the political leanings of reporters and editors of the Pulitzer Prize winning operation.

"We're frustrated with the demonstrated level of bias from not just PolitiFact Virginia, but other PolitiFact units across the country," said a top GOP official on background.

As they did in Virginia, the Republican strategists are poring over the rulings from other state units of PolitiFact, which rates statements from candidates on a scale of "pants on fire" lies to "true" based on source materials.

They are also reviewing the backgrounds of Politifact reporters and editors. "We are poring through the backgrounds of these writers and what Republicans are finding would appear to back up our argument about media bias," said the official. PolitiFact units operate out of newspapers in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, New Jersey, Georgia, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

The GOP truth squad, for example, wants to find out the party registration of reporters or editors. For example, they found that a PolitiFact Virginia editor has voted in five Democratic primaries and one Republican primary over the last 10 years. They are also looking over the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the reporters and editors for hint of bias.

Politifact Virginia said it isn't biased, even if it has hit Republicans more than Democrats. "We don't operate that way. PolitiFact is not about mathematical balance between the parties in our ratings. We're about making calls on the accuracy of political claims," it said.

Ohio PolitiFact is the next target. The GOP provided Secrets with the rulings record of Cleveland Plain Dealer and PolitiFact reporter Tom Feran that said he has authored twice as many "pants on fire" rulings against Republicans than Democrats. They also reviewed his Twitter account and found an October 9, 2011 tweet in support of OccupyAustin.

Feran, however, said he doesn't have a bias, and said his tweet in 2011 was to his children who wanted to know what he was doing while in Austin.

GOP critics said they aren't satisfied. "It's one thing for the national media to lean left, but it's another for PolitiFact to hold themselves up as the gold standard of fact-checking when their writers are known Democrats who have demonstrated a clear bias against Republican candidates and officeholders. Republicans aren't going to stand silently by anymore and we will work to expose PolitiFact's bias everywhere we can," said a senior GOP strategist.

One example they see as biased was a PolitiFact Ohio ruling against GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel for a comment about Sen. Sherrod Brown made about how a bridge between Kentucky and Ohio being shovel ready for stimulus money. The bridge wasn't shovel ready, however. But PolitiFact didn't rule on Brown's statement, instead turning on Mandel who said that Brown had promised the bridge would get stimulus money.

Said the GOP strategist, "Since Brown never explicitly used the word 'promise,' PolitiFact Ohio ultimately decided it was a mostly false statement. And then the Brown campaign has repeatedly cited PolitiFact's rulings to drive the narrative that Mandel doesn't tell the truth."