UPDATES: PolitiFact wins 2009 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. Read the PolitiFact announcement here, including a comment about their plans to expand coverage to pundits and talk show hosts.
Bill Adair began working for the St. Petersburg Times in 1989 and has served as Washington Bureau Chief since 2004. He has spent his journalistic career covering an odd assortment of national politics and transportation, especially aviation, stories, including every major aviation accident since 1994. He has also co-written a series on beach renourishment.
It is this varied history in journalism that has led Adair to the helm of Politifact, which debuted with the 2008 Presidential Election cycle.
Politifact was established to judge the veracity of claims made by various candidates for public office, beginning with the 2008 presidential candidates, with hopes to expand to other, more localized campaigns. Any given statement is investigated and judged, and eventually receives a rating on the Truth-O-Meter. Those ratings fall into any one of six categories; true, mostly true, half true, barely true, false, or "Pants on Fire", with "Pants on Fire" reserved for the most ridiculously untrue claims.
The site is a joint venture between the St. Petersburg Times and its sister paper the Congressional Quarterly. Reporters and researchers from each site contribute analysis and information to the site.
The idea from the site came from Adair himself; Adair wanted to create a database with information gathered by political "truth squad" stories, where reporters fact check a commercial or stump speech and write a story.
"The whole site is inspired by Adrian Holovaty's manifesto on the fundamental way newspaper websites need to change," Matthew Waite, who developed the site, posted to his blog.
Holovaty's answer? Databases.
According to Waite's post, Holovaty argued that some newspaper stories have consistent stories that would be more accessible to newspaper website visitors if they were organized as a database rather than as a news story.
Politifact follows that model, enabling its visitors to look up statements about a particular candidate or issue, or statements from a particular candidate. Visitors can also browse based on Truth-O-Meter ratings.
Each statement comes with a rating, a story about how the rating was reached, links to related news items, and if applicable, embedded YouTube videos.
Since Politifact's founding, Bill Adair has served as a full time writer and editor, and has made appearances on national news television, radio and podcast programs. During the 2008 election cycle, Politifact made its mark as a trusted news source for many Americans, doing what newspapers were once known for – researching a candidate's statement and sharing what they'd learned.
Along the way, the site has gained the attention of a number of national organizations. PC World named Politifact one of the Hundred Incredibly Useful and Interesting Websites. The site was also a winner of the 2008 Knight-Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism.
The road has not been entirely easy for Politifact, though. There have been times when rulings have been challenged, as when Media Matters for America questioned the site's ruling about McCain's opposition to the 2001 Bush tax cuts.
Politifact claimed McCain opposed the tax cuts because they were not offset by spending cuts. Media Matters for America argued that McCain had actually opposed the tax cuts because they targeted the wealthy.
However, for the most part, Politifact has weaved its way into the American news scene, becoming a trusted source for the truth.