To us here at PolitiFact Bias, this outreach tour bears all the earmarks one would expect of a naked publicity stunt.
Why would we say that?
First, consider the target audience. PolitiFact isn't just reaching out to any old run-of-the-mill conservatives, and the outreach certainly doesn't target any of PolitiFact's long-time critics. Rather, PolitiFact has targeted conservatives near the locations of its newest three state franchises in Alabama, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
What a coincidence? When I first heard that detail of the outreach plan all I could think of was the cult evangelism tool of "love-bombing."
We're keeping tabs on PolitiFact's effort to wash the unwashed, and the latest update from Poynter's Daniel Funke compelled us to complete this first in what is likely to prove a number of observations on the project. The Poynter Institute, by the way, owns the Tampa Bay Times, the newspaper that runs PolitiFact.
We found this paragraph striking:
(PolitiFact's Executive Director Aaron) Sharockman told Poynter they once did some consulting with business students at the University of Missouri to learn more about how to build trust and create new audiences. The students recommended that PolitiFact double down on growing liberal readership by visiting communities that skew blue — the exact opposite of its current project in middle America.A-ha. So PolitiFact apparently recognizes that its audience tilts left. We figured the PolitiFact folks had to know that, but this serves as the best confirmation of that so far.
It's great (seriously!) that PolitiFact chose the hard route of reaching out to the tougher audience. If PolitiFact ends up only interested in outreach to conservatives who accept PolitiFact as an objective referee of political claims, then we would consider that outcome consistent with the project's resemblance to love-bombing.
But who knows? Maybe PolitiFact is more interested in finding out why conservatives withhold their trust and changing its approach to address those concerns.
We will eagerly look for evidence that would falsify our working hypothesis.
Correction Oct. 16, 2017: Changed "Virginia" to "West Virginia" in the fourth paragraph. Our congratulations to Virginia. Condolences to West Virginia. We apologize to our readers for the mistake.
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