Thursday, August 30, 2012

PolitiFact’s “Settle It!”: An App Review

Since websites like were created to assess the truthfulness of urban legends, chain e-mails, rumors, and other misinformation spread online, people have been looking for a quick and easy way to settle the truth once-and-for-all.

A new app from Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact could do just that, settling debates and silencing know-it-alls. Called “Settle It!,” the free app, available for iPhone and Android devices,  is based on the PolitiFact website—founded and run by the Tampa Bay Times since August 2007—which has become the largest political fact-checking website on the web.

The app draws largely from PolitiFact’s constantly updated content and borrows its main functions, like PolitiFact’s signature Truth-O-Meter system. The Truth-O-Meter relies on a few ratings for checking facts: True, False, Mostly True, Mostly False, Half True, and Pants on Fire (reserved for only the most ridiculous falsehoods). 

However, to improve on its new app, PolitiFact got together with a handful of “journalists, technologists, and idealists” for an idea session—hosted by NPR—to figure out what concepts and features they wanted to have.

Here are the fruits of their labor:

The app has a simplistic Twitter-like interface and search feed that focuses on being user-friendly.  Searches using key words bring up a scrollable list of relevant quotes next to images of the people who said them. A search with the key words “same sex marriage,” for example, presented statements from well-known politicians/pundits to the not-so-well-known—among them were quotes from Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, senate delegate Bob Marshall, and popular Facebook posts.

Think you know your stuff? Other features of the app include the PolitiFact Challenge, a fun game which allows players to test whether they can recognize the factuality of statements. The game, which has users pick between “True,” “False,” and “Pants on Fire” ratings, also works on a point system. Earning points for each correct answer, players can move up through five player levels, from “Intern” to “Aide,” then from “Lobbyist” to “Pundit,” and finally to the highest level, “Wonk.”

Another, the “trending” feature shows the most buzzworthy current statements. The most popular statement at the moment is from Romney—“I didn’t inherit money from my parents”—which received a rating of “Half True.”

The app also allows you to share information with friends or opponents via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail.

Even if you can’t find what you’re looking for, the app allows you to submit your own requests for specific statements.

What’s the Verdict?
PolitiFact’s “Settle It!” does what it’s intended to do—and does it very well. Easy to use and easy to navigate, the app effectively draws lines of truth and fiction in tough debates where you need to be up on your facts and figures.

With PolitiFact Challenge and its interactive functions, the app also fulfills its goal of encouraging “engagement in democracy.”

What’s great about “Settle It!” is that the app not only gives you a verdict for individual statements, but breaks down its reasoning in layman’s terms. For those who are looking for a quick answer for a given topic, beneath the Truth-O-Meter, the site gives you a succinct explanation of why the statement was so right or so wrong.  However, the site will also give you a full rundown of the quote’s origin and the facts or misinformation behind it. It even samples excerpts from key documents (like the Constitution and the healthcare mandate) to point out exactly where people have misinterpreted text.

A large effect of the app is the comfort of having an on-demand service of fact checking. The posts are updated very frequently. Perhaps if you had the more convincing argument in a dinner table debate with Settle It!’s help you would even feel a lingering sense of satisfaction.

But the most lasting impression that the app and PolitiFact can give is a sense of accountability for speech and the written word—not only from the policy makers and elected officials that we anticipate will know their facts, but from the average person as well, to think and review their facts before they disseminate “Half Truths” and even “Pants on Fire” rumors to the larger digital world.  

Links to download the app are available at 

Post by Lori Keong, Student Worker/Blogger, Russell Library

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Swing States

Over the course of American history, voting in swing states, or battleground states, has been a strong reflection of the national mood and has been essential to shaping presidential election outcomes. For example, the swing states of Ohio, Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey and New York were crucial to the outcome of the 1888 election. Grover Cleveland narrowly beat Benjamin Harrison with a slim majority in the popular vote after Harrison swept four swing states in the Electoral College. More than 70 years later, in one of the closest elections in American history, Illinois and Texas would boost young, grinning JFK to the presidency.  Florida, after its disastrous voting controversy, was the key to the 2000 election and even more recently, Ohio aided George W. Bush to his reelection in 2004.

The 2012 Presidential election seems sure to be another tight race. Over recent months poll results have begun to even out between Obama and Romney. Both candidates have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into advertising in critical swing state cities like Cleveland, Ohio and Tampa, Florida. Politico, a political journalism organization, broke down polling averages in battleground states in a recent chart updated on its website, which shows that Romney, although still tailing Obama in most swing states, is playing catch-up fast – making significant gains across the board.

While Obama’s term has been the most telling display of what he could offer if he were re-elected, all eyes are now on the Romney/ Ryan team and the GOP.  Can Romney pull a fast one in the last bend of the curve? Will he be able to pull off what he has struggled to convey throughout the campaign—a convincing, reliable candidate who America can trust to remain firm and honest in his views?

Recently, conservative Congressman Akin (R-MO) stepped down after his “legitimate rape” comments sparked furor from women’s rights groups and people from across the political spectrum. Though Republicans hastily cut ties with Akin, the comments pushed the abortion debate back into the forefront of the political arena. Ryan has been grilled on his views on abortion, gingerly dancing around the subject, although a spokeswoman for the Romney/Ryan campaign has said the two would not oppose abortion in the case of rape and incest.

Akin’s comments have brought attention to just one of a string of social issues that have divided candidates. Women’s rights have been one of the central issues in this presidential contest, from the contraception clause in the healthcare mandate to abortion, while same-sex marriage remains a topic of contention.

On the other hand, despite his appeals to independent voters that he is the pliable candidate with the will to compromise, Obama’s handling of healthcare, the state of the economy, and the high unemployment rate (still hovering around 8%) could be major roadblocks in his bid to win swing state votes. “The incumbency advantage enjoyed by President Obama,” said Kenneth Bickers, a political science professor at the University of Colorado, said, “though statistically significant, is not great enough to offset high rates of unemployment currently experienced in many of the states." However, of the 12 swing states seen as critical in deciding November's presidential contest, two-thirds have unemployment rates below the national average, and four, including Ohio, have a lower unemployment rate than they did when President Obama took office.

“The fact that the majority of voters in the crucial states that will decide the election believe they are not better off is [also] a challenge for the Obama campaign. That includes 50% of independent voters in the swing states, in addition to 36% of Democrats and 84% of Republicans saying they are not better off [5].” –

Nearly 10 weeks before Election Day, both candidates are still courting battleground states (as the RNC began this week and the DNC begins soon) and touting promises on education and energy, among other topics. Who’s making the biggest gains? You’ll have to keep track of the polls. 

Post by Lori Keong, Student Worker/Blogger, Russell Library

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

1957 Civil Rights Act

It was 55 years ago today that Senator Strom Thurmond, then a Democrat from South Carolina, launched the longest filibuster in American history in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Taking the Senate floor at 8:54 PM on August 28 armed with throat lozenges and malted milk balls, Thurmond would continue speaking, with only brief interruptions for questions from other Senators, until 9:12 PM the next night – a filibuster lasting 24 hours and 18 minutes. This surpassed by almost two hours the previous record set by Oregon Senator Wayne Morse four years prior. During his daylong near-monologue, Thurmond read the election laws of all 48 states, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, George Washington’s Farewell Address, and his mother’s biscuit recipe.

The Act Thurmond opposed so vehemently was, in the canon of federal civil rights legislation, a minor entry. Though aimed at ensuring suffrage for African-Americans in the South, it did not seek to ban racially discriminatory practices such as the poll tax and dubious “literacy tests” administered in Southern states. The 1957 Civil Rights Act did, however, establish a Civil Rights Division within the U.S. Department of Justice to protect the rights of would-be black voters. Today that division is still known for enforcing federal voting rights, anti-discrimination, and hate crimes laws in federal court. John Doar, a Civil Rights Division lawyer in the 1960s and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division during the Johnson administration, described the division’s early activities and test cases in a 1997 article for the Florida State University Law Review.

The 1957 Civil Rights Act was not nearly the watershed moment for civil rights its 1964 successor – which banned both race and gender discrimination in employment and service – or the 1965 Voting Rights Act would prove to be. Indeed, between 1957 and 1960 black voter registration in the South inched up just three percent, a tiny increase compared to the strides made after 1965. Still, it was the first federal civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, after which racial laws in the South had taken something of a backward lurch for several generations, and as such, Thurmond spoke for a number of Southern Senators in opposing the Act’s passage. Yet many of his fellow Southerners were angered by Thurmond’s filibuster; they had informally agreed not to filibuster the bill but to water it down instead. Time reported on September 9 that Herman Talmadge, the junior Democratic Senator from Georgia and an ardent segregationist himself, had derided Thurmond’s effort as a “grandstand of longwinded speeches” which could “in the long run wreak unspeakable havoc upon my people.” Even Thurmond’s staffers had not been informed of his plan.

The filibuster, though long, failed to derail a deeply compromised Civil Rights Act. The Senate approved the final bill by a 62-15 vote just hours after Thurmond yielded the floor, and it would pass the House by a 270-97 margin before reaching President Eisenhower’s desk for enactment into law. The Act would be strengthened in 1960 and replaced by further-reaching civil rights legislation over the next decade. Thurmond, however, would continue a long and storied career in the Senate. He became a Republican in September 1964, largely in reaction to the beefed-up Civil Rights Act of that year championed by President Johnson, and served in the Senate until January 3, 2003. Thurmond died later that year, aged 100 and after some 48 years in office. His record for Senate service would be surpassed by Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia in 2006, but his filibuster record stands unchallenged, now a relic of an era in which such procedures were far more commonplace than they are today.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ready, Steady, Vote! Fall Program Series

Could your election season use a little non-partisan entertainment? If so, then plan to join the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies for Ready, Steady, Vote! a program series focused on getting citizens in the mood for the 2012 election season.

A combination of film screenings, community forums, debate watch events, and stump speeches, Ready, Steady, Vote! is free and open to the public. All events will take place on the 2nd floor exhibit level in the new Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries, Georgia’s newest cultural destination. Dates and short descriptions for individual events are listed below. For more information, please contact Jan Levinson at or call (706) 542-5788

Free event parking available in the Hull Street Parking Deck. For more information visit: 

To learn more about the Richard B. Russell Library, visit:

Thursday, September 6, 2012, 6:30PM-9:00PM
Film Screening, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Auditorium, Room 271, Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries

Doors will open at 6:30PM for light refreshments. The program will begin at 7:00PM with brief introductions from Dr. John Inscoe, Albert B. Saye Professor of History at the University of Georgia. Film run time: 129 minutes. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012, 5:30PM-7:00PM

Community Forum
, Topic: America’s Role in the World
Large Event Space, Room 285, Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries

What does “national security” mean in the 21st century? And how do we, as citizens of the United States, think our elected leaders should go about securing our nation? Join us for this deliberative discussion where we weigh the benefits and tradeoffs of three approaches to this issue using an NIF issue guide.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012, 5:30-7:00PM
Community Forum, Topic: Economic Security: How Should We Take Charge of Our Future?
Large Event Space, Room 285, Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries

As the nation slowly recovers from its worst recession in decades, it is a good time to ask how we can best take charge of the future, so families can feel reasonably secure, parents can help their children prosper, and everyone can move toward a financially stable retirement. Join us for this deliberative discussion where we weigh the benefits and tradeoffs of three approaches to this issue using an NIF issue guide.

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012, 5:30-7:00PM

Community Forum, Topic: Immigration in America: How Do We Fix a System in Crisis?
Large Event Space, Room 285, Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries

Most Americans agree that our immigration system needs an overhaul. Tackling the immigration issue requires that we take a fresh look at it and get beyond the polarized debates that too often divide the country rather than bringing it together. Our challenge today is to build a system that reflects our essential values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. Join us for this deliberative discussion where we weigh the benefits and tradeoffs of three approaches to this issue using an NIF issue guide.

Thursday, October 11, 2012, 6:30PM-9:00PM
Film Screening, The Contender (2000)
Auditorium, Room 271, Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries

Doors will open at 6:30PM for light refreshments. The program will begin at 7:00PM with brief introductions. Film run time: 126 minutes. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 8:00-10:30PM
Presidential Debate Watch
Auditorium, Room 271, Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries

Witness history in the making! Visitors will gather to watch the candidates go toe-to-toe on the big screen. Dr. Jamie Carson, Associate Professor of Political Science at The University of Georgia, will introduce the town-hall style debate and facilitate discussion.

Thursday, November 1, 2012, 6:30PM-9:00PM
Film Screening, The Candidate (1972)
Auditorium, Room 271, Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries

Doors will open at 6:30PM for light refreshments. The program will begin at 7:00PM with brief introductions from Dr. Brian Drake, Professor of History at the University of Georgia.
Film run time: 110 minutes.

Monday, November 5, 2012, 5:30-7:00PM
Art Opening and Reception, "Doors"
Richard B. Russell Library Exhibit Gallery, 2nd Floor, Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries

In 2011, the Russell Library commissioned acclaimed painter Art Rosenbaum to create a mural in its new gallery space. The result, titled “Doors", traces Georgia’s modern political history from 1900 through the present and depicts many of the major figures and events that shaped the state. This reception will serve as an opportunity to dedicate the finished mural, with commentary from Art Rosenbaum and Russell Library staff. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012, 12:00-2:00PM
On the Stump! Classic Campaign Speeches
from the Demosthenian Society
Richard B. Russell Library Exhibit Gallery, Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries

Members of UGA's Demosthenian Literary Society will re-enact classic campaign speeches in the Russell Library Exhibit Gallery, atop the mighty stump inlaid in the lobby floor. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Intern Spotlight

Name: Katharine Klein

Hometown: Burr Ridge, IL

Internship Period: Summer 2012

What am I doing here at the Russell Library? I have been working closely with the amazing duo Jan Levinson and Jill Severn in developing the newest rotation for the six small cases in the History Lives Showcase Gallery. These cases touch upon the six key collecting areas of Russell Library (politics, social relations, public good, environment, economy, and peace and war) and feature key documents and artifacts from the collections. When I am not working on the exhibitions, I am transcribing the Reflections on Georgia Politics interviews. Although this work can be tedious and it takes great concentration, the stories shared in these interviews give wonderful glimpses on history that cannot be learned from a textbook and I’m happy to be doing my part in bringing them to light. Plus, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for interviewer Bob Short’s voice and infectious laugh.

Education: I have a B.A. in History and in Greek & Roman Studies from Illinois Wesleyan University and recently obtained a M.A. in Public History with a museum concentration from the University of South Carolina.

I knew I was sucker for history when… I learned princes and princesses still existed. Once I knew this little fact, I was hooked. Of course, I was only just about to enter the first grade so I had to wait a bit to explore history on my own but this was a good thing because I also thought at the time this meant Sleeping Beauty was real. So really, my love for history stemmed from my attempts to prove that Prince Phillip really fought an evil queen/dragon and awakened the sleeping princess with a kiss. From following the lives of kings and queens, I also discovered my other favorite subject, Greek and Roman mythology.

The best part of my internship so far… Reading WWII love letters, deciphering the personal entries of an ambassador surviving a crisis, listening to someone’s account of the Freedom Riders arriving in Montgomery, etc., etc. Picking one thing as the best part would be like picking my favorite among M&Ms, Twix, or Snickers. It’s all good!

If I wasn’t spending time in the archives, my alter ego would be pursuing a career in…
Advertising. I’d love the chance to create a memorable slogan like “A diamond is forever” or “Think Small.” I’ve studied Bill Bernbach and researched in the N.W. Ayer’s collection before and I simply love the idea that a combination of two or three words can represent so much more.  

On days off, I’ll be…exploring. Nothing beats a good walk or drive to nowhere and you never know what you may find.

In five years I see myself…creating culturally significant exhibitions that will generate some meaningful conversations. My goal in life is to make some lasting impact on the world that will make some other historian study me. If I get this done in 5 years, I think I see myself also retired because I must have spent the previous four working like crazy.