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Students become political ad fact-checkers

October 26, 2010

It is election time again, and political ads are being thrown at voters every which way, packed with the usual promises and criticisms.

Truth test on 9News

Zach Burcaw, Joel Heyman, Michael Jones, and Meron Menwyelet, all undergraduate Political Science majors, have teamed up with 9News and the Fort Collins Coloradoan to produce Truth Test.

Trying to decide between what is fact and what is fiction can be tough work, but four Colorado State University students take all the guesswork out of it, allowing voters to simply see the truth.

Zach Burcaw, Joel Heyman, Michael Jones, and Meron Menwyelet, all undergraduate political science majors, have teamed up with Adam Chodak of 9News in Denver and Bob Moore of the Fort Collins Coloradoan to produce Truth Test, a series of segments that take campaign ads in the 4th District Congressional race and fact check the statements.

Breaking down the ads

The students provide research assistance on verifying and documenting each claim that is made in the ads. They breakdown quote by quote of the ads, say whether it is true, false, or an opinion, and provide proof. The finished piece also states the number of times the ad will run and how much it is costing the politician to run it.

“Politicians know that it’s hard to look for the truth of these claims and that people aren’t going to look up [their records], so we dig for it and let them know if the claims are true or not,” Jones, explained.

Truth Test partners

Political science professor Robert Duffy approached the students, who are in or have taken his Politics of Organized Interests class, after Chodak got in touch with him. Each election year, Truth Test partners with a different Colorado university to research and produce the segments, and this year, CSU was chosen.

"In my experience, all of the students are excellent,” Duffy said. “Not only are they interested in politics, but they are hard working and have been remarkably successful."

Menwyelet knew that this would be a great experience. “I’ve always been more interested in international politics, but I knew that this would give me a unique hands-on experience,” she said.

24 hours to research

The group waits for a cue from Chodak to start researching a particular ad. Once the transcript of that ad is e-mailed to them, they divide the sentences among themselves and have 24 hours to research the claim.

“There are a lot of very fines lines, but it is so easy to find the information with the internet, and a good starting point is to see the rebuttal ads,” Menwyelet said. “We look at the bills, the candidate’s voting record, the Congressional database, things like that and find the proof.”

The students decide if the statement is fact, false, or an opinion and back it up with proof, complete with sources, essentially calling the candidates out on any deceptive statements they are making in the ads.

“A lot of the time we see that they are manipulating their words to get their opinions across and demonstrate what the public wants to hear, and that’s where it gets confusing to viewers,” Jones said. “The politicians understand that people don’t want to waste their energy on looking these claims up so they twist their language or take things out of context to sway voters.”

Truth Tests on 9News and the Fort Collins Coloradoan

The Truth Tests, which are broadcasted during the 4 o’clock news on Channel 9, featured in the Coloradoan, and posted on the 9News and the Coloradoan websites, get a lot of positive feedback and is a convenient resource for voters, especially students.

“It’s another way of being informed of the candidates without doing the gruesome work of fact-checking,” Menwyelet said. “Because we do that for you!”

The Truth Tests allows voters to look at the candidates claims in an objective way and allows them to formulate their views with an independent eye.

“We don’t formulate opinions, we bring awareness,” Menwyelet said. “We plainly bring out the facts and let the voters run with it.”

The students say that it is a huge commitment with time and energy to be a part of Truth Test, but it is all worth it to them. Not only are they getting a personal benefit of experience, but they are doing a public service by simplifying the always-complicated political elections for all of us.

“We learn about the resources out there and how easily accessible they are,” Jones said. “It has gotten me to realize what is being said and how it is being said. It really is a great resource for voters.”

To see the most recent Truth Test, visit or and tune in to 9News Denver at 4 p.m.

Written by Staci Gasser, senior Journalism and Technical Communication major at CSU and intern in CSU’s Department of Public Relations.

Contact: Kimberly Sorensen
Phone: (970) 491-0757