A fact-checker’s toast to ‘Crossfire’
This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. Poynter.org is republishing with permission.
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The New York Times reported over the weekend that the show has been "withdrawn," a term that is perfectly mushy, yet fairly clear.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.