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Top 5 falsehoods about Ebola

This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. Poynter is republishing with permission.

The spread of Ebola in West Africa, and now into Dallas, has stoked plenty of misinformation about the Ebola virus, its origins and the government’s response.

PolitiFact and PunditFact have been fact-checking claims about the Ebola outbreak since July. Here are our top five falsehoods.

No, illegal immigrants haven’t carried Ebola across the border

In July, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claiming that people are crossing the southern U.S. border carrying Ebola, citing "reports."

But none of the reports were credible, and the experts we talked to said Gingrey was wrong. (And since he said this in July, it’s safe to say we’d know by now if he was right.)

Gingrey’s claim rates Pants on Fire.

No, the Ebola outbreak isn’t a Bill Gates/George Soros conspiracy

Several conspiracy websites raised questions about a "bioweapons lab" in Sierra Leone being the source of the virus. Questions like, "What's behind the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone? Could it possibly be a U.S. bioweapons project gone amuck?"

Some of the websites tie the "bioweapons lab" to billionaires George Soros and Bill and Melinda Gates.

But, like Gingrey’s claim, there is no proof of Soros and Gates funding a bioweapons lab in Kenema, one of the largest cities in Sierra Leone with a population of about 150,000. And there’s really no case that a bioweapons lab in Kenema is behind the outbreak.

There are, however, a group of Tulane University researchers who have worked in the area for about a decade to better understand Lassa fever.

"We were there working 10 years and then Ebola came here," said Dr. Robert Garry, a Tulane University professor who is leading the research. "We’re not here to turn Lassa and Ebola into a kind of superweapon. It can do that on its own.

"The conspiracy theories really just kind of, wow," Garry said. "Our teammates are dying, and you’re talking this trash about us."

This claim is Pants on Fire.

No, Obama didn’t sign an order mandating detention of Americans

Bloggers are also behind a bogus claim that "President (Barack) Obama signed an executive order mandating the detention of Americans who show signs of ‘respiratory illness’."

The executive order in question is much more targeted than the article lets on, it isn’t aimed at Ebola, and while it allows health officials to quarantine someone with a highly contagious disease, it does not mandate it.

The executive order deals with respiratory diseases, but Ebola is not a respiratory disease.

Also, because public health matters are controlled by the states, the Department of Health and Human Services could only isolate people as they enter the country or attempt to travel from one state to another.

So this claim, too, is Pants on Fire.

No, we weren’t promised an Ebola-free America

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., claimed recently that the isolated cases of Ebola in the United States directly contradict the assurances of President Barack Obama and his administration.

"We were told there would never be a case of Ebola in the United States," McCain said.

Best we can tell, we were never told that.

We searched the public comments both of Obama and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found no such matter-of-fact assurances. What officials and Obama have repeatedly said is that while there’s a chance an Ebola case could appear in the United States, the possibility of an outbreak is extremely low.

McCain’s claim rates False.

No, the United States hasn’t been secretly anticipating a widespread outbreak

On the flipside of McCain is former Dallas star Morgan Brittany, who wrote a blog suggesting that  that Ebola is part of a larger White House plan to control the nation.

Brittany’s column describes a Los Angeles dinner party where the conversation turned grim.

"One of the men brought up the fact that Washington has known for months if not years that we were at risk for some sort of global pandemic," Brittany wrote. "According to a government supplier of emergency products, the Disaster Assistance Response Team was told to be prepared to be activated in the month of October for an outbreak of Ebola."

Brittany’s story was based on tweets from a private California medical and safety services company, which now says the tweets were based on nothing.

"A couple of EMS guys were talking about conspiracy theories," said Ed Castillo, president of Golden State FIRE EMS, the organization behind the chatter. "There are no facts to support it. It can be written off as a couple of guys shooting the breeze."

Brittany’s claim rates Pants on Fire. Read more


Wednesday, Oct. 08, 2014

Ben Affleck

Fact-checking the fallout from Bill Maher’s Muslim monologue

This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. is republishing with permission.

In this photo provided by HBO, Bill Maher hosts the season premiere of "Real Time with Bill Maher" Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/HBO, Janet Van Ham)

In this photo provided by HBO, Bill Maher hosts the season premiere of “Real Time with Bill Maher” Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/HBO, Janet Van Ham)

The comments about Islam from comedian, social critic, atheist and cable talk show host Bill Maher continue to stir reactions across the TV dial and across the political spectrum.

It started on Maher’s Sept. 26 HBO show. In a monologue, Maher said that when Muslim nations suppress political rights and deny freedoms to women, homosexuals and minorities, they are fair game for harsh criticism.

He singled out liberals for their unwillingness to criticize aspects of Muslim culture.

"We hear a lot about the Republican ‘War on Women.’ It’s not cool Rush Limbaugh called somebody a slut. Okay," Maher said. "But Saudi women can’t vote, or drive, or hold a job, or leave the house without a man. Overwhelming majorities in every Muslim country say a wife is always obliged to obey her husband. That all seems like a bigger issue than evangelical Christian bakeries refusing to make gay wedding cakes."

Maher’s comments have now fueled close to 10 days worth of reactions on cable news networks and on Maher’s HBO show. We’ve fact-checked several claims from the fallout.

Cherry-picking Saudi Arabia

Daily Beast columnist and comedian Dean Obeidallah zeroed in on Maher’s quote that we referenced in our introduction, the part where Maher said women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive.

"You can criticize Muslims," Obeidallah said on MSNBC’s The Ed Show on Oct. 6. "It’s about doing it responsibly. Don't pick and choose and cherry-pick facts to define us by our worst examples. … Like Saudi Arabia, women can't drive. That’s outrageous."

But, Obeidallah said, "that's the only Muslim country out of 47 Muslim-majority countries that does that."

Obeidallah’s claim that Saudi Arabia stands alone rates True.

We asked Obeidallah and he said not only is it accurate within the Muslim world, but Saudi Arabia might be the only country worldwide that doesn’t let women drive. He pointed to a NPR story that said the oil-rich nation holds that dubious distinction, although it clarified "while there is no law formally banning female drivers, the government does not give them licenses."

Some Saudi women have gotten behind the wheel and driven in plain sight to challenge the country’s policy.

We went through a list of Muslim-majority nations and from everything we found, Obeidallah is correct about Saudi Arabia’s unique status. Another country that blocked women from driving did not show up. (For the record, our list had 51 nations, not 47. And there's another list that has 49. But we won't quibble over that.)

John Esposito is a leading expert on Islam and a professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. We asked him if Saudi Arabia was the sole Muslim nation with this policy regarding women.

"Yes," Esposito said.

FGM and Muslim countries

Another critic of Maher, Reza Aslan, an author and University of California-Riverside professor of religious studies, accused Maher of another misrepresentation.

Aslan criticized Maher for making "facile arguments" when he generalized about Muslims and mislabeled female genital mutilation an Islamic problem.

"It's a central African problem," Aslan said. "Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It's a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It's a Christian country."

We found that Aslan is right that female gender mutilation is a problem that also occurs outside of Muslim countries.

So Aslan’s claim rates Mostly True.

Female genital mutilation refers to procedures that remove, in part or in whole, external genitalia for a non-medical reason. International groups such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Human Rights Watch condemn the practice as a flagrant example of gender inequality — one that carries risks of prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and complications during birth. When performed, the procedure is usually done on young girls.

Seven of the top eight countries with very high rates of female circumcision are majority Muslim, including the "almost universal" levels in Somalia, Egypt, Guinea and Djibouti, according to UNICEF. But Eritrea, as Aslan said, is No. 5 among countries with high prevalence at 89 percent, and it is home to more Christians than Muslims.

Ethiopia, which is 63 percent Christian and 34 percent Muslim, has a moderately high rate of 74 percent, making it No. 11 on the list.

So the countries in which female genital cutting is a practice are mostly Muslim, but they are not exclusively Muslim. Of the 29 countries tracked by UNICEF, 14 are home to more Christians than Muslims.

Affleck on ISIS, minor league baseball

Maher invited actor and liberal activist Ben Affleck on his follow-up program Oct. 3, where the two debated Maher’s earlier comments.

Maher argued that the beliefs and actions of Islamic State, while widely decried as extreme, are not all that different from the core tenets of Islam practiced by Muslims around the world. Affleck called that an unfair generalization of Muslims, which number about 1.6 billion people and represent the world’s second-largest religion.

Affleck then offered a comparison to speak to the size of the Islamic State versus the number of Muslims worldwide.

"ISIS couldn't fill a Double A ballpark in Charleston, W. Va.," Affleck said.

It’s clear Affleck’s comment was at least partially intended to draw laughs, but he used it to strengthen his argument that the number of Islamic State fighters pales in comparison to the Muslim population overall.

That’s worth a second look. Because it’s False.

The U.S. government has had a hard time pinning down the precise number of jihadist fighters within the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL.

Part of the problem is the group has grown quickly as it has captured more ground in Syria and Iraq.

Over the summer, it was widely reported that the U.S. government estimated about 10,000 fighters in the al-Qaida-linked group.

In September, the CIA more than doubled the group’s estimated size to between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters. In a statement to PunditFact, the CIA public affairs office explained the figure is based on intelligence reports collected from May to August. The CIA attributes the growth to "stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate, greater battlefield activity, and additional intelligence."

At least 2,000 of the fighters reportedly have Western passports, too.

Non-U.S. reports say the Islamic State is potentially much larger.  RT, the Russian government-sponsored English news organization, quoted an Iraqi intelligence adviser as saying the Islamic State numbered 100,000 in August. Al Jazeera reported that the Islamic State had an army of 50,000 troops in August. A Kurdish security official told 60 Minutes in September there were 40,000 Islamic State fighters.

Even the smallest estimate, 20,000, is too big for the West Virginia ballpark.

Charleston is home to the West Virginia Power, a Class A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2009.

The Power plays at Appalachian Power Park, which has a maximum seating capacity of 4,500 for baseball games, said Adam Marco, the team’s radio broadcaster and marketing director. The park could hold up to 11,000 people for charity events and concerts that would allow people onto the field, he said.

So even the lowest estimate of Islamic State fighters would be way too much for the stadium.

The story for Double A teams, which is what Affleck said even though the West Virginia is Class A, is no different.

The largest Double A team stadium belongs to the Jacksonville Suns, which can hold 11,000 fans, said Minor League Baseball spokeswoman Mary Marandi. Read more


Monday, Oct. 06, 2014


A fact-checker’s toast to ‘Crossfire’

This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. is republishing with permission.

The CNN show "Crossfire," which debuted Sept. 9, 2013, is on "indefinite hiatus," according to published reports.

The CNN show “Crossfire,” which debuted Sept. 9, 2013, is on “indefinite hiatus,” according to published reports.

After an eight-year hiatus, a revamped Crossfire was tapped to help launch a new era for CNN that focused less on news and more on the political back-and-forth that has become commonplace on MSNBC and Fox News.

But the show appears headed for extinction again, after less than a year on air.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that the show has been "withdrawn," a term that is perfectly mushy, yet fairly clear. New York Magazine described the show as on "indefinite hiatus."

The show debuted Sept. 9, 2013, and featured an alternating cast of liberals and conservatives, hosted by S.E. Cupp, Newt Gingrich, Van Jones and Stephanie Cutter.

Crossfire has not aired since July 15, 2014, and took an extended break in the spring so that CNN could devote time to the Malaysia Airlines crash.

While the show may not have been a ratings winner, it was a good place to find interesting fact-checks.

Here’s a sample of some of our more interesting work.

Trouble in Syria

The show debuted with a big guest, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who made a claim that still holds relevance today.

Paul was discussing the situation in Syria and how the United States didn’t have a lot of good options. Paul claimed that Syrian President Bashar Assad probably is a war criminal, but that some of his political opponents are equally dangerous.

"We've seen priests beheaded by the Islamic rebels on the other side," Paul said. "We've also seen an Islamic rebel eating the heart of a soldier."

News reports show that Islamic rebels gunned down a priest but did not behead him.

Paul’s claim about a rebel eating a heart is more accurate, but the details are sketchy. Both the focus on a heart and the idea of cannibalism push strong emotional buttons. But it might not have been a heart, and there might not have been an actual bite, we found. Still, a rebel carved up a dead Syrian soldier, boasted about it as he did so, and at the very least, spoke and acted as though he were eating the dead man’s liver and heart.

We rate Paul’s claim Half True.

NRA’s political influence

A few days later, talk turned to the political successes and failures of the National Rifle Association.

Liberal host Van Jones claimed that the NRA’s reputation of invincibility is exaggerated.

"The NRA is not popular on a big scale," Jones said. "They can cherry-pick their focus. … 1 percent of candidates that they endorsed in 2012 won — 1 percent."

That’s quite a low number, but it also is wrong. It rates False.

An independent analysis did find that about 1 percent of money spent by one particular NRA affiliate either helped elect a winning candidate or helped defeat a losing one.

But that ignores a second NRA affiliate that did much better, and the study in question looked at dollars spent — not endorsements.

From the data we compiled, the NRA’s endorsements were about 60 percent successful.

Jones later acknowledged his mistake, saying, "Yup, I botched that stat."

Jobs tied to Keystone

Jones played a central figure in one or more popular fact-checks of 2014.

The topic: the Keystone XL pipeline.

"Every time we have a show, somebody says something … about Keystone, and somehow Keystone is going to create all these jobs," Jones said during a February episode. "Then it turns out, look at the actual numbers. It turns out the actual numbers are 3,900 temporary jobs in the construction sector and 35 permanent jobs."

There’s plenty of debate over how many jobs the project would create during construction.

The State Department report puts the total at 42,100 jobs, though the definition of a job in this sense is a position filled for one year. Much of the construction work would come in four- or or eight-month stretches. About 10,400 seasonal workers would be recruited for construction, the State Department said.

When looked at as "an average annual job," it works out to about 3,900 jobs over one year of construction or 1,950 jobs each year for two years.

The rest of the jobs would be the result of spillover spending (formally called indirect or induced economic activity) as Keystone workers buy equipment and materials to complete the project and spend their money on an array of services, including food, health care, and arts and entertainment. As you might expect, it’s much harder to measure the widespread effect on job creation.

There’s no doubting that most of the economic activity comes during construction. Jones honed in on jobs after construction, which aren’t really a source of sharp debate.

"There’s very few jobs operating pipelines," said Ian Goodman, president of the Goodman Group Ltd., an energy and economic consulting firm in Berkeley, Calif. "That’s one of the reasons why pipelines are attractive to the oil industry. They’re relatively inexpensive to build and operate."

The report says the project would provide jobs for about 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.

The full-timers would be "required for annual operations, including routine inspections, maintenance and repair." Some would work in Canada. The U.S. employees would work at pump stations along the pipeline route as well as a Nebraska office.

Jones’ focused claims is on the mark. We rate it True.

Corporate taxes in focus

The taxes paid, or not paid, by corporations is a perennial topic in Washington. There is broad agreement that the current rules should be changed but no consensus on what those changes ought to be.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pulled out a dramatic statistic during a September 2013 back-and-forth with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "One out of four corporations doesn't pay a nickel in taxes," Sanders said.

Sanders' office pointed us to a Government Accountability Office study from 2008. In one sense, that study found that Sanders understated the situation. For all corporations, about two-thirds, or about 1.2 million, paid no federal income taxes in 2005. But many of those firms are quite small — an owner and a couple of employees.

For large U.S.-controlled corporations, those with at least $250 million in assets or $50 million in gross receipts, one out of four paid no taxes, as Sanders said. The total revenues for those large companies was about $1.08 trillion.

That, however, is not the end of the story.

The GAO study did not distinguish between firms that had losses in the normal course of business and those that reported losses solely through the use of the tax code. That means businesses could have paid no taxes because they didn’t turn a profit.

While special tax breaks and abuses of the tax code exist, an analysis from the progressive group Citizens for Tax Justice found that the ratio was, one out of six and possibly as small as one out of 16.

As such, we rate Sanders’ claim Half True. Read more


Wednesday, Oct. 01, 2014

Fact-checking the war comparisons between Obama and Bush

This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. is republishing with permission.

The irony of President Barack Obama, Nobel Prize winner and putative anti-war candidate, launching extensive airstrikes in Syria, quickly led to comparisons with his predecessor, President George W. Bush.

President Barack Obama walks with former President George W. Bush during the unveiling of his official portraits in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama walks with former President George W. Bush during the unveiling of his official portraits in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

PunditFact heard two different comparisons in recent days that we thought we were worth exploring.

Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for the New Yorker summed it up in one tweet.

"Countries bombed: Obama 7, Bush 4."

That’s True.

We asked Lizza for his list and he sent us this:

Bush: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia.

Obama: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria.

As we fact-checked Lizza’s statement, we found little reason to challenge the nations he named. If anything, he shortchanged both presidents.

There is no dispute whatsoever about airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Bush launched wars in the first two countries and drone strikes in Pakistan have been in the news for a long time, with or without official acknowledgment. Airstrikes in those places continued under Obama.

Somalia falls largely in the same category as Pakistan. The New York Times, BBC News and other news organizations reported airstrikes as early as 2007 against people linked to the al-Qaida network.  

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news service based at City University London, maintains a running list of U.S. military actions in a number of countries, including Somalia and Yemen. The bureau annotates each incident with links to press reports. By its tally, American drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Somalia occurred under both Bush and Obama.

The same pattern holds in Yemen. BBC News and Time magazine reported a CIA-directed drone attack in Yemen in 2002. This would increase Bush’s total to five countries, rather than the four Lizza cited. Lizza said he left Yemen off of Bush’s list because it was a "one-off strike, rather than a more sustained bombing campaign. Probably deserves an asterisk."

The air attacks on Libya that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 under Obama are well documented. In March 2011, the United States and British warships fired over 100 cruise missiles to destroy Libyan air defenses. And, of course, there’s now Syria.

Lizza said that Obama has bombed seven countries to Bush’s four. Depending on your view of Bush’s reported drone strike into Yemen, he may have slightly undercounted Bush’s tally.

But it's hard to fault Lizza for the numbers we use.

Muslim targets

On CNN’s State of the Union Sept. 28, political commentator LZ Granderson took the comparison one step further.

Granderson said Obama is losing favor among his base supporters because of his recent foreign policy decisions. In 2008, they were tired of the wars started under Bush and were hoping that a new president would bring them to a close.

"They voted for him because he was supposed to end these wars and stop bombing people," Granderson said. "And when you look at the raw numbers, three times as much Special Forces were used than ‘W.’, twice as many strikes (on) countries that are predominantly Muslim. Those were not the numbers that his staunch progressive base voted for."

Granderson’s claim that there have been "twice as many strikes (on) countries that are predominantly Muslim" is Mostly True.

Granderson used the same tally as Lizza, and in fact, all of those countries are predominantly Muslim.

We found at a Pew report that said each of the seven countries with confirmed airstrikes under Obama are more than 90 percent Muslim, as of 2010.

Afghanistan: 99.8 percent

Iraq: 98.9 percent

Pakistan: 96.4 percent

Somalia: 98.6 percent

Yemen: 99.0 percent

Libya: 96.6 percent

Syria: 92.8 percent

Our only quibble is that Granderson said twice, when he would have been safer saying nearly twice. Read more


Friday, Sep. 19, 2014

Toronto newsweekly falls short on Buffy The Vampire Slayer trivia

Toronto’s NOW magazine had to issue a correction due its lack of Buffy The Vampire Slayer knowledge:

This article originally stated that Joyce Summers, the mother of Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s titular character, succumbed to a cancerous tumour. As pointed out by Queen’s Park Briefing’s John Michael McGrath, Summers in fact died from an aneurysm [sic] that resulted from the tumour’s removal.

  Read more


Wednesday, Sep. 17, 2014

Ray Rice, Janay Rice

Fact-checking claims about domestic violence, Ray Rice

This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. is republishing with permission.

The release of a video showing NFL running back Ray Rice striking his now-wife in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator revived conversations about domestic violence on politics and sports shows alike.

This week, PunditFact and PolitiFact checked three claims about the prevalence of domestic violence in America and a claim about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s initial two-game suspension of Rice.

Three’s a crowd

On CNN’s State of the Union, Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise argued that Goodell should lose his job for his handling of Rice’s case.

"The thing that bothered me most is Roger Goodell at one point tried to play essentially a marriage counselor with the victim and the perpetrator, Janay and Ray Rice," Wise said. "He put the victim and the perpetrator together. Every domestic violence agency, every law enforcement agency, that’s a no-no."

Wise is right that Goodell met with the couple together. In the June 16 meeting, Janay Rice asked Goodell to be lenient to Ray Rice, an anonymous league source told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, saying major discipline could ruin the running back’s career.

When King’s story broke, news and sports sites alike — including the popular sports blog Deadspin — slammed Goodell for not talking to the couple separately. And Ruth M. Glenn, interim executive director of the National coalition Against Domestic Violence, told us that the domestic violence prevention community has pushed for years for law enforcement agencies to adopt policies that call for interviewing victims and suspects separately.

We found plenty of examples of law enforcement agencies doing just that, and detectives also make it a practice in general to question witnesses separately. But there are instances during the legal process where couples in domestic violence cases are interviewed together so officials can judge how they act with one another.

Experts also cautioned us from treating Goodell’s meeting like a law enforcement investigation: Rice had already been indicted for assault and accepted into a pretrial intervention program. With those caveats, we rated Wise’s claim Mostly True.

Family matters

In the same State of the Union segment, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., argued that because the NFL puts "out their players as role models," they have "to set a different culture" around domestic violence.

"Kids that have seen it (domestic violence) happen," Klobuchar said, "are twice as likely to commit it themselves."

That stat comes from a 1990 book using data from the National Family Violence Surveys of 1975 and 1985, which experts told us are the most recent definitive, comprehensive studies on the occurrence of domestic violence.

More recent studies — including a 2000 meta-analysis of 39 different studies on this issue — found a correlation between witnessing and perpetrating domestic violence. But different studies ranged from showing a causal relationship between witnessing and perpetrating to showing no relationship at all.

Domestic violence is particularly hard to measure, Glenn told us, given a lack of "good data" on who’s charged and convicted of domestic violence, confidentiality issues, and a variety of other methodological problems.

There’s enough out there to suggest that kids who witness domestic violence are more likely to perpetrate it, but saying something as precise as "twice as likely" is difficult. So we rated Klobuchar’s claim Mostly True.

Domestic murder

On the Sept. 11 pregame broadcast of Thursday Night Football, CBS Sports announcer James Brown focused on domestic violence instead of football. Brown delivered a 90-second monologue in which he urged men to learn "what healthy, respectful manhood is all about." Then he pulled out a stirring statistic.

"Consider this: According to domestic violence experts, more than three women per day lose their lives at the hands of their partners," Brown said. "that means that since the night Feb. 15 in Atlantic City (the night Ray Rice hit now-wife Janay Rice on the elevator) more than 600 women have died."

Brown’s figure is used across several outreach group websites, and experts say the claim is accurate.

Based on federal figures from the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, University of Colorado Denver professor Callie Rennison calculated that 3.3 women died at the hands of their intimate partners per day in 2010. That’s the number of intimate partner homicides with female victims (1,192) divided by the number of days in the year.

That’s down from a recent high of 4.2 deaths per day in 1993.

Rennison didn’t run the 2011 and 2012 numbers, but the trend holds. James Fox, a Northeastern University criminology professor, kept his own count of intimate partner homicides, factoring in unsolved homicide cases believed to have involved intimate partners. Using Fox’s numbers, which are slightly higher than the federal figures, the daily average of female deaths was 3.84 in 2010, 3.61 in 2011, and 3.68 in 2012.

Experts told us that Brown could have been more precise by saying "partners and former partners" instead of just "partners," but that doesn’t obscure his point. We rated his claim True. Read more


Monday, Sep. 08, 2014

Amazing name leads to amusing Huffington Post correction

A Huffington Post story about a woman with an awesome name (“Cherries Waffles Tennis”) and her brush with the law resulted in an amusing correction:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Tennis was arrested for allegedly making “fraudulent purposes.” Clearly that is neither a crime nor a statement that makes any sense. She was arrested for allegedly making fraudulent purchases.

But that may not have been the original version of the correction. According to the Twitter account @_youhadonejob, the correction originally restated the mistaken text:

Fair warning: I didn’t see the original allegedly incorrect correction for myself on the HuffPost site.


Read more
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Tuesday, Sep. 02, 2014


Fact-checking claims about the Islamic State

This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. is republishing with permission.


The violent terrorist group that calls itself the Islamic State is eliciting fear from all corners of the world after its brutal advances through Iraq this summer, including the slaughter of religious minorities and soldiers and the video-recorded beheading of two American journalists.

How the United States should respond has been a ripe topic for pundits and politicians, with many dogging President Barack Obama for saying "we don’t have a strategy yet" to deal with the threat also known as ISIS.

Feeling lost in the chaotic developments?  Here’s a roundup of claims about the group that we have vetted so far.

Islamic State was too extreme for al-Qaida

In his final turn moderating NBC’s Meet the Press, David Gregory explored whether the group’s rapid growth was preventable.

"This is a terror state trying to construct a caliphate, cast off by al-Qaida because this group is considered too extreme," Gregory said Aug. 10. "This is a big, expansive terrorist threat that has amassed on (Obama’s) watch."

His statement is Mostly True.

Iraqi security forces hold a flag of the Islamic State group they captured during an operation outside Amirli, some 105 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq, Sept. 1, 2014. (AP)

Iraqi security forces hold a flag of the Islamic State group they captured during an operation outside Amirli, some 105 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq, Sept. 1, 2014. (AP)

When top leaders at al-Qaida disowned ISIS in February 2014, their reasons included needlessly brutal tactics, particularly against other Muslims. But other ideological differences with al-Qaida command and in-fighting between other al-Qaida affiliates also contributed to the split, which experts said was in the works for years..

The removal of U.S. troops from Iraq

The Islamic State was not on the radar as Obama heralded the fulfillment of his central campaign promise to pull the U.S. out of Iraq. But the group’s relatively easy takeover of cities in the region has some wondering whether the pull-out was too much, too soon, leaving the region unstable and vulnerable to hostile takeover by Islamic State.

Even Obama, ABC News chief international correspondent Martha Raddatz said, wanted some troops to stay behind to train Iraqi security forces and conduct counterterrorism missions. "They wanted 10,000 troops to remain in Iraq — not combat troops, but military advisers, special operations forces, to watch the counterterrorism effort," she said on This Week on Aug. 24.

Her claim rates Mostly True. Before Obama took office, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President George W. Bush finalized a status of forces agreement that spelled out the withdrawal of all American soldiers by Dec. 31, 2011. Even then, the idea was to maintain thousands of advisers and special forces there to make sure the country remained stable.

As the 2011 deadline approached amid reignited terrorist attacks, Defense Department officials recommended about 20,000 such troops stay behind. The White House wouldn’t go for that, but Obama was open — for a while — to leaving up to 10,000 troops beyond the end of 2011.

That number shrank before becoming a moot point, as negotiations on a new status of forces agreement broke down over the issue of providing American forces with immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Snowden-leaked documents show U.S. and Israel created Islamic State

As Obama ordered air strikes against Islamic State targets in early August, bloggers fanned an inflammatory claim connecting Edward Snowden, National Security Agency documents, and the group’s true origins.

Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News reported, for example, that "Edward Snowden has revealed that the British and American intelligence and the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) worked together to create the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)."

Conspiracy theorists, cool down! The claim rates Pants on Fire.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, one of the few people with access to Snowden’s trove, refuted the hoax. Reporting on the group has shown it started as an offshoot of al-Qaida.

Obama ordered the release of Islamic State leader

Conservative actor James Woods tweeted this Aug. 5 to his 145,000 followers, "The leader of ISIS was imprisoned by American troops and ordered released to Iraq by Obama administration in 2009."

That claim is False.

The leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was held at Camp Bucca in Iraq from early February 2004 to December 2004, the Defense Department said, long before Obama moved into the White House.

He was not recaptured, the department said. The 2009 storyline stems from a Daily Beast interview with Army Col. Kenneth King, the former commander of Camp Bucca, who said he knew Baghdadi at the camp and that he was handed over to Iraqi officials in 2009.

ABC News ran a report questioning King’s story, and King acknowledged he "could be mistaken" but was "99 percent" sure Baghdadi was at the camp before it closed in 2009.

Even if his memory is accurate, it does not make Woods’s claim so. An agreement negotiated by the Bush administration required U.S. forces to give up custody of virtually every detainee, so Obama would have been fulfilling that agreement.

Intelligence leaders predicting attack by Islamic State in the U.S.

One reason some leaders are pressing for a stronger military response to the vicious group: They say Islamic State wants to attack Americans on their home soil.

"Do you really want to let America be attacked?" Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Armed Services Committee, asked on Fox News Sunday Aug. 10. "What is going on in Washington when the FBI director, when the head of national intelligence, the CIA, the Homeland Security secretary, tells every member of Congress, including the president, we’re about to be attacked in a serious way because (of) the threat emanating from Syria and Iraq?

"If he does not go on the offensive against ISIS, ISIL, whatever you want to call these guys, they are coming here. This is not just about Baghdad. This is not just about Syria. It is about our homeland," Graham said.

His striking claim misses some nuance. It rates Half True.

Graham’s office provided quotes from three of the four officials he mentioned in which they talked about their fears for Syria becoming a training ground for jihadists who may want to launch attacks in America.

But Michael O’Hanlon, a Brooking Institution foreign policy analyst, said Graham’s comment overreaches.

"The ISIS threat is very grave, but attacks are not — and in fact, virtually never are —  inevitable," O’Hanlon said.  "We have a host of defense mechanisms and shouldn't be fatalistic about protecting ourselves." Read more


Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

Veterens Day

The VA story the networks didn’t cover this week

This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. is republishing with permission.

punditFact-logoBack in May, anyone who tuned in to almost any news show was guaranteed to hear about administrative delays that caused the deaths of 40 veterans at a VA hospital in Phoenix. Sometimes, the charge was softened a bit and news anchors talked about how the delays "might have" led to the deaths, but the general message was clear: Mismanagement, and even criminal deceit, had cut short the lives of people who had served their country.

On Tuesday, the Office of Inspector General at the Veterans Affairs Department issued its final report on the matter. While it confirmed a manipulation of scheduling records that it called unethical and in some cases criminal, it refuted the allegation that drove the headlines in May.

"We were unable to assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans," the investigators wrote.

TV news responded with barely a whisper.

CNN reported that veterans were dying due to delays at VA hospitals. But an inspector general's report released this week found that allegation unsubstantiated.

CNN reported that veterans were dying due to delays at VA hospitals. But an inspector general’s report released this week found that allegation unsubstantiated.

The national programs from Fox, MSNBC and ABC didn’t report it at all (although many ABC affiliates did mention it in their local newscasts.) CBS, NBC and PBS mentioned it in passing, largely in the context of President Barack Obama speaking at a national meeting of veterans earlier in the day. Only CNN spent any appreciable time relaying the inspector general’s findings. CNN consistently gave this story more attention than any other outlet. CNN had conducted an investigation that spurred lawmakers to draw attention to the troubles at the VA hospital system in the first place.

The contrast from three months ago is striking, a review of transcripts from the major news networks shows. The VA story emerged with little fanfare in mid-April but grew rapidly. In May, according to the news database on Nexis, the stories that include the deaths of 40 veterans appeared on the networks 162 times. That’s a bit more than five times a day.

It’s tricky to compare Tuesday’s coverage of the inspector general’s report to the build-up, which took place over weeks. But we chose May 15, the day that former Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, as a baseline for comparison.

May 15 was a key point in the discussion, though not as prominent as the day Shinseki resigned, May 30.

On May 15, the 40 VA deaths were mentioned in 18 different television reports. We broke it down versus the coverage of the inspector general’s report Tuesday.


Stories on May 15, 2014

Stories on Aug. 26

























Why did networks barely report this update in an ongoing prominent story?

Frank Baumgartner, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who co-authored a study of how much time the media spends on public issues, said networks often pick a "hot" topic to follow, until the next topic comes along.

Baumgartner calls it "churning."

"One reason why the ‘no bad news’ angle about the VA is not news is simply that the VA is no longer the focus of other reporters," Baumgartner said.

Much has happened since the VA health system story broke. Shinseki is gone, the VA endorsed all of the 24 recommendations that the inspector general proposed, and in a rare act of bipartisanship. the White House and Congress moved quickly to pass a $16 billion overhaul of the troubled agency. That would also tend to make news organizations treat the inspector general’s report as an afterthought, even if it did fundamentally undercut the allegations that drove the May headlines.

The loser in all of this, Baumgartner says, is the public. The VA bureaucrats served veterans badly but not as horrendously as the first stories originally suggested. The full picture has received little play.

"This is strongly related to the public perception that government is worse than it actually is," Baumgartner said.

About this article:


Office of Inspector General – Department of Veterans Affairs, Review of Alleged Patient Deaths, Patient Wait Times, and Scheduling Practices at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, Aug. 26, 2014

Search of Nexis transcripts

Internet Archive, TV News Archive

Google Trends: VA hospital

Email interview, Frank  Baumgartner, professor, political science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Aug. 27, 2014

Researchers: Jon Greenberg Read more


Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014


Fact-checking claims about race after Ferguson shooting

This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. is republishing with permission.


The shooting of 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer has led to a broader discussion of race in America. PunditFact has recently fact-checked several claims centering on race.

No. 1 cause of death for young black men

Fox pundit Juan Williams recently expounded upon a column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal in which he described "thuggish behavior" as creating a culture of violence in African-American communities.

"The violent behavior of young black men and the police response have become a window on racial fears," Williams wrote. On Fox News Sunday Williams said, "On the black side of this equation, I think there’s fear of intimidation, harassment being legitimized by the fact that there is a high rate of crime, especially among young black men.

"No. 1 cause of death, young black men 15 to 34 — murder," Williams said. "Who’s committing the murder? Not police. Other black men."

We decided to check Williams’ claim that the leading cause of death for African-American males 15-34 is murder.

That’s True.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide was indeed the No. 1 killer of black men between the ages of 15 and 34 in 2011, the most recent year with statistics available. Accidents were the second leading cause of death.

Compared to other ethnicities, the numbers really stand out. Forty percent of African-American males 15-34 who died were murdered, according to the CDC, compared to just 3.8 percent of white males who died. Overall, 14 percent of all men 15-34 who died in 2011 were murdered.

As the laws of aging go, younger men are less prone to fall victim to natural causes of death, so they are more likely to die of unnatural causes. And the racial disparity between those causes has partially to do with the likelihood of getting into car-related accidents, said James Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University.

"Suburban whites drive more than urban blacks, and putting in more miles on highways —  that’s important because not a lot of people are going to get killed in fender benders in neighborhood streets," Fox said. "There are relatively few auto-accidents in black urban areas."

Beyond driving habits, the criminal homicide rate among young black males is significantly higher than other groups. This, experts agreed, has to do with poverty and geography.

The difference in social structures, access to jobs, educational opportunities, and many other factors between impoverished black neighborhoods and others is often a matter of life and death, according to Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  

"The (homicide) numbers highlight the condition in minority areas, where a lot of violence occurs and the whole way of life is further intensified because police surveillance is always trying to track down people," he said. "People have heightened survival instincts, will do anything to survive, and they’ll seek retribution for anything … because  they don’t trust law enforcement."

Unarmed black killed ‘every 28 hours’

On CNN, conservative African-American radio host Larry Elder and liberal African-American professor and author Marc Lamont Hill debated the state of race relations in the country.

"How often does it happen that an unarmed black is shot by a cop?" Elder asked in the Aug. 20, 2014, interview.

"Every 28 hours," Hill said. "Every 28 hours, Larry. Larry, every 28 hours. According to the MXGM study, a black person is killed by law enforcement, vigilantes or security …"

Elder cut in, but Hill revisited his point later in the interview, saying, "But if this study bears out, and it does, that every 28 hours an unarmed black person is killed, then that also is a problem."

Hill has his figures wrong. That claim rates False.

Hill is referencing a 2013 report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement called "Every 28 Hours," which examined killings of African-Americans in 2012 by law enforcement, security guards and "vigilantes" who claimed self-defense.

The report is not an academic, unbiased representation of these deaths. It was put together by one volunteer researcher and details 313 deaths based on news clips and police reports. It arrives at one death "every 28 hours" by dividing the number of hours in a year, 8,760, by the number of deaths, 313.

But the report doesn’t say what Hill offered on CNN, that an "unarmed black person is killed" every 28 hours.

In fact, less than half of the people who were killed were unarmed, according to MXGM. PunditFact found 136 were labeled as unarmed after reviewing the compiled profiles.

The 28-hour calculation factored in all 313 deaths, which included people who were armed, "allegedly" armed and unarmed.

Also, not all of the "unarmed" people are analogous to Brown’s case or were killed by police.

Included in the unarmed tally, for instance, is Trayvon Martin, the Miami Gardens teen who was killed by a neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman. In other cases, whether someone was really "unarmed" may depend on your definition. In nine cases, police said they shot at suspects because they were charging at them from behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Another case to make the list is Rudy Eugene, the Miami man who attacked a homeless man and gnawed his face before police shot him to death.

We also found several "unarmed" deaths that were due to accidents, many car crashes as officers sped to a scene. In another example, one woman was killed at her birthday party, hosted by an off-duty police officer, when she hugged the officer from behind and somehow set off his gun.

More whites are victims of police shootings

The turmoil in Ferguson has spurred many assertions that blacks are unfairly victimized by police. Conservative talk show host Michael Medved aimed to turn that argument on its head.

In a post-show summary on his website, Medved cast police as the protectors of African-Americans. Medved said that blacks are much more likely to be killed by another black person than they are by a cop.

"When it comes to keeping black youths from violent death, police aren’t the problem – in fact, they’re a crucial part of any solution," Medved said.

As for the charge that police target blacks, Medved said the opposite is true.

"More whites than blacks are victims of deadly police shootings," he said.

That’s technically correct, but only because there are many more whites in the United States than blacks. So Medved’s claim rates Half True.

In a country that is about 63 percent white and 12 percent black, the probability that an African-American will die in a confrontation with police is much higher than for whites.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps data on fatal injuries from 1999 to 2011 and one category is homicides by legal intervention. The term "legal intervention" covers any situation when a person dies at the hands of anyone authorized to use deadly force in the line of duty.

Over the span of more than a decade, 2,151 whites died by being shot by police compared to 1,130 blacks. In that respect, Medved is correct.

However, Brian Forst, a professor in the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology at American University, said this difference is predictable.

"More whites are killed by the police than blacks primarily because whites outnumber blacks in the general population by more than five to one," Forst said.

Rather than comparing the raw numbers, you can look at the likelihood that a person will die due to "legal intervention" in the same way you might look at the chance a person will die in a car accident or a disease like lung cancer. When you do that, the numbers flip.

A 2002 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that the death rate due to legal intervention was more than three times higher for blacks than for whites in the period from 1988 to 1997.

Ferguson’s black unemployment rate

Fox pundit Lou Dobbs  criticized President Barack Obama for not going firsthand to Ferguson to calm tensions after the killing of an unarmed 18-year-old African-American by a white police officer.

Obama, Dobbs claimed, bears responsibility for the economic issues that have contributed to the tensions in Ferguson. "Black unemployment is three times that of white unemployment," Dobbs said on Aug. 19’s America’s Newsroom. "The community itself has a 13 percent unemployment rate, more than double that of the national average. The household net worth in that community is $10,000, a third less than the national average."

Attorney General Eric Holder talking with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake’s Place Restaurant in Florrissant, Mo. (AP)

"These are the results of policies on the part of the state government, the local community, and the president of the United States," Dobbs said, arguing that President Obama should assure residents that "there will be honest and forthright dealing" with "no ambiguity about the conclusions."

Obama needs to see, Dobbs said, "what happens when you don’t push job creation, you don’t push prosperity for all Americans."

Dobbs’ claim that Obama is behind the disparity in unemployment rates is False.

First and foremost, Dobbs’ numbers are off. The most recent and best available statistics say the black unemployment rate is 1.9 times higher than the white unemployment rate in Ferguson (16 percent to 8.5 percent).

Second, that has little to do with Obama. Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping data in 1954, African-Americans have been nationwide are more likely to be unemployed than whites.

Read the full fact-checks at Read more