1712: Politifact

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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"Ok, I lit the smoke bomb and rolled it under the bed. Let's see if it--" ::FWOOOSH:: "Politifact says: PANTS ON FIRE!"
Title text: "Ok, I lit the smoke bomb and rolled it under the bed. Let's see if it--" ::FWOOOSH:: "Politifact says: PANTS ON FIRE!"


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Updated slightly, could probably use further overseeing.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

The website PolitiFact rates political claims based on how true they are. The rulings from the Truth-O-Meter™ at PolitiFact are:

  • True
  • Mostly True
  • Half-True
  • Mostly False
  • False
  • Pants on Fire!

This comic presents a woman pretending to come from PolitiFact.com, annoying people (in this case especially Megan, but also her living partner Cueball), by rating everything they say on the Truth-O-Meter. When Megan, apparently just having gotten out of bed, says she had trouble sleeping, the PolitiFact.com woman (called PolitiFact from now on) appears at an open window and observes (directly to Megan's face) that she is telling the truth with the rating of "Mostly True!" (So according to PolitiFact she did not sleep well most of the night, but may have slept OK for some parts of the night...)

Megan appears distressed, which is not improved when PolitiFact enters their house through the window, which caused Megan to chase after PolitiFact. They run by Cueball whose comment makes it clear that this is not the first time PolitiFact has been in their house like this, and he tells PolitiFact to get out. Megan even swears she had locked the window, which would imply that PolitiFact had opened a locked window (breaking and entering), but PolitiFact denies the claim with the rating of "False!", indicating that the window was not locked (not that this makes it acceptable to enter other peoples houses).

After the chase, PolitiFact ends up hiding under the couples bed; Cueball's claim that Politifact "can't stay under there forever" is promptly rated "False". Megan remarks, however, that no one likes Politifact, is rated "Mostly True!" This indicated that PolitiFact actually knows that what she/they do annoy most people, but she/they keep on doing it anyway.

The comic may be commenting on the fact that many people become very defensive when claims they make in political discussions are debunked by PolitiFact.com. There is a phenomenon where the people most influenced by an erroneous claim are the least likely to believe a fact checker. For example, The Washington Post shut down their internet rumor fact checker because, "institutional distrust is so high right now, and cognitive bias so strong always, that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested in consuming information that conforms with their views — even when it's demonstrably fake." Many people like the idea of a fact checker, until they disagree with it.

PolitiFact.com has been accused of being both liberally biased and conservatively biased at various times and has angered politicians on both sides of the aisle. The summary statistic "rulings" are especially troublesome; often the critics will agree that the information presented by the fact check is correct, and may agree that all relevant information has been included, but will disagree as to the importance of context omitted by the original speaker or the interpretation of ambiguous language. Hence, the statement that no one likes PolitiFact is "mostly true".

The title text makes a play on PolitiFact.com's most untrue rating, "Pants on Fire!" - a reference to the childhood accusation "Liar, liar, pants on fire!"

As it is very likely that Cueball has a smoke bomb on his person, as shown in another comic with Megan and Cueball as a couple, see 486: I am Not a Ninja, it will below be assumed that he says the first line in the title text. But it could also have been Megan, who seems even more eager to smoke PolitiFact out. She could have borrowed the one Cueball has...

In the title text Cueball says that he lit a smoke bomb and rolled it under the bed near PolitiFact. When it goes off it was apparently near enough to ignite PolitiFact's pants - thus, PolitiFact's pants are literally on fire and she yells "PANTS ON FIRE!".

Alternatively (but maybe less likely?) Cueball just says this out loud (he could even roll something other that is not a bomb in under the bed) and maybe he himself makes the loud FWOOOSH sound to represent the bomb going off. Then he would be telling an outright lie and that would be rated as "Pants on Fire!" as well.

The fact that PolitiFact seems to yell it could be interpreted to fit better with real pants on fire, but if Cueball tries so desperately to "smoke" her out, that he lies about a smoke bomb, she might also choose to yell "PANTS ON FIRE!" out loud. Maybe it is intended that both interpretations should be possible.

It may be a coincidence, but the fact that PolitiFact.com was rewarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2009 for work done already in their first full year of work (after it was started in August 2007), and that this comic was released right after 1711: Snapchat that mocks the strange prize categories of the Pulitzer Prize seems related. National Reporting is probably also not one of the best known categories, although it may rank above the Pulitzer Prize for Snapchat.


[Megan with messy morning hair is walking right and rubs her eyes.]
Megan: I did not sleep well last night.
[A woman with hair like Megan (but a bit longer) wearing a white hat with brim and a small card attached to the hat (like a press card) crawls up on the pane of an open window. She begins all her sentences with the word PolitiFact. When she says this it is written in the color and style of the PolitiFact.com logo with blue Politi and red Fact. Megan has just walked past the window and has turned to look at the woman. She is still holding one hand up and her hair is still messy.]
PolitiFact: PolitiFact says mostly true!
Megan: Oh no...
[In a frame-less panel Cueball is walking right, while Megan, arms stretched out and hair flowing behind her, runs by him chasing PolitiFact who is running with a hand up to hold her hat in placehair also flowing behind her.]
Cueball: Not again. Get out of here, PolitiFact!
Megan: I swear I locked that window.
PolitiFact: PolitiFact says: False!
[Cueball and Megan looking downwards are standing at the foot of a well made bed with two pillows, and the bedsheets drawn tight. PolitiFact's voice emanates from a starburst at the edge of the shadow under the bed.]
Cueball: You can't stay under there forever.
PolitiFact (voice from under bed): PolitiFact says: False!
Megan: Nobody likes you, Politifact.
PolitiFact: PolitiFact says: Mostly true!

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The title text can be interpreted in two ways: Either that the pants are actually on fire or that rolling the smoke-bomb was a blatant lie. I'm not sure what to make of the "::FWOOOSH::" in the latter case... 16:46, 27 July 2016 (UTC)

I think there is also an aspect of excessive literalism here. For example when Meagan says "I swear I locked that window" Politifact says "false". While it is literally true that this statement was false this is only tangentially related to the conversation. What is important is the home break in going on. 17:59, 27 July 2016 (UTC)

I think that the title text has two equally true meanings. It was NOT a smoke bomb (it was some other type of bomb, so calling it "smoke bomb" is false) and also Politifact's pants were literally on fire. 21:32, 27 July 2016 (UTC)

Smoke Bombs are not as obviously incendiary as (say) Incendiary Bombs, but they are actually burning, beneath the deliberate smoke, and perfectly capable of igniting materials. Depending upon their (mis)use. 12:00, 28 July 2016 (UTC)

Is it appropriate for the transcript to have colored text? The point of a transcript is to have a formal plain text description, decorating the text in this manner to convey information seems contrary to that. An in-parenthesis statement of the color would perhaps be better. Thomson's Gazelle (talk) 16:51, 28 July 2016 (UTC)

Well that can be discussed, but it's the way it has been done in all comics with colored text. It is always easy to read it if you copy paste and you can still search for the words. And a reader will not have problems with the text. But agree that the transcript should mention that PolitiFact is written like their logo with colors. --Kynde (talk) 18:46, 28 July 2016 (UTC)
...maybe we should make a page for the formatting guidelines of transcripts. I swear I see this same thing on every page with formatted text in the transcript. Papayaman1000 (talk) 19:32, 28 July 2016 (UTC)
I think it is as it should be. --Kynde (talk) 20:05, 28 July 2016 (UTC)
While I feel that formatted text is a perfectly good style decision for the transcripts in this way, I'd like to point out that when there was a discussion on changing the tagline - "It's because you're dumb" - it was pointed out that there are blind people who use this site to follow xkcd, by having a reader program read this transcript. I'm not sure if such a program would mention colours or bold or italic text (etc), which would mean mentioning the colours could be more effective. - NiceGuy1 02:34, 29 July 2016 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 10:30, 9 June 2017 (UTC)
I did add that but Dgbrt reverted my changes do not quite know why... :/ --Kynde (talk) 07:17, 29 July 2016 (UTC)
"Revert: The transcript isn't the explain section." seems apt given the sheer amount of description added. If you'd have stuck with (in the first square bracket) saying "Politi is blue and Fact in red, whenever spoken by the PolitiFact character", or ideally something even briefer", it would aid the (colour?)blind readers to get the novelty of that more than the stuff like messy hair. IMO 08:15, 29 July 2016 (UTC)
The transcript should describe the scene. But I do agree that I may have filled to much info into this one. Sorry about that. Have reinserted parts of the text. But a transcript serves several functions:
  1. To make it possible to find out what any kind of text/numbers etc. reads, even if it is hard to read in the comic.
  2. To make a description of what happens in the images. This has two purposes:
    1. So people with eye disabilities can find out what the comic is about. So here a full description of the comic is needed apart from the text.
    2. So it is possible to search the comic for info on the content, like a woman with a hat with a white tag.
  3. Finally it is great if the transcript represents the way it is written in the comic as close as possible including colors (which should also be described in the text for those that cannot see them selves). So tables, colors and formatting is fine. If the text then is harder to read it is possible to copy paste it.
This has been used throughout the explain xkcd, and if it is done thorough enough it will enable people to search for characters and objects.--Kynde (talk) 17:25, 29 July 2016 (UTC)

I'm taking off the Incomplete tag. I tried to avoid deleting or diminishing the alternate interpretations, but I'm not sure I entirely succeeded. Also, when looking at the term Truth-o-meter, the only thing I'm capable of thinking is "wouldn't veritometer be a better term?" 02:15, 2 August 2016 (UTC)

Maybe but that's what PolitiFact calls it... I have tried to improve the explanation a bit, by putting in some deleted parts again. --Kynde (talk) 13:40, 15 August 2016 (UTC)

?Dubious legal claim? The article first describes PolitiFact as breaking and entering, then later says this:

> Although entering someone's house against their wishes is illegal, regardless of how entry is achieved, Megan's failure to secure the window means that PolitiFact cannot be charged guilty of breaking and entering

This claim seems dubious, especially since “breaking and entering” generally doesn’t actually require “breaking” in places where it is an actual charge as far as I can tell. It also contradicts the start of the article.

Perhaps remove this and replace “breaking and entering” with burglary earlier on? 19:23, 28 April 2021 (UTC)

That's right, it's certainly still illegal to enter somebody's house without permission even if they left their window open. 03:31, 19 May 2021 (UTC)

i'm typing this while listening to the sea shanty "wellerman" but backwards and sped up.New editor (talk) 05:38, 5 April 2022 (UTC)