On November 16, PolitiFact ruled that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' remark that "climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism" is "mostly false." But while Sanders arguably overstated how "direct" the connection is between climate change and terrorism, his broader point that the two are linked is well substantiated, as PolitiFact itself noted when it rated a similar statement from fellow Democrat Martin O'Malley. Nonetheless, PolitiFact gave Sanders the same "mostly false" rating it has given to Republican politicians and fossil fuel industry allies who deny that man-made climate change is even occurring.
Foreign policy and military experts agree with Sanders' assessment that climate change helps create the conditions for terrorism to thrive, and major studies and reports have detailed how global warming played an important role in the rise of ISIS. In particular, climate change likely worsened drought conditions in Syria, which in turn helped spark that country's civil war, allowing ISIS to seize territory and establish a base of operations. PolitiFact noted many of these same facts when it assessed a remark by O'Malley and ruled that it was "mostly true" that "the cascading effects" of climate change contributed to the rise of ISIS.
However, PolitiFact took issue with Sanders' use of the word "directly" when he said at a November 14 Democratic presidential debate that "climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism":
SANDERS: [C]limate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism. And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say you're gonna see countries all over the world-- this is what the C.I.A. says, they're gonna be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops. And you're gonna see all kinds of international conflict.
PolitiFact rated Sanders' comment as "mostly false," writing: "While there is a body of literature backing his broader point that climate change contributes to the growth of terrorism, Sanders is overstating the 'direct' connection. ... We couldn't find any evidence of a 'direct' relationship between climate change and terrorism, though many reports have noted an indirect link."
Maybe so. But when it comes to accuracy, Sanders' remark is light years ahead of Republican politicians and fossil fuel allies who deny the clearly-established scientific consensus that climate change is happening and human activities are the primary cause of it. PolitiFact gave all four of these blatantly false claims the same "mostly false" rating as Sanders' purported "overstatement":
Image at top via Flickr user Michael Vadon using a Creative Commons license.
At least 30 state governors -- 29 Republican, 1 Democratic -- are parroting right-wing media myths about security concerns presented by incoming Syrian refugees to argue against taking part in expanded refugee resettlement programs. However, the overwhelming majority of refugees pose no credible threat to the United States, and the vetting process for refugee applicants is thorough. Furthermore, state governments lack the legal authority to dictate immigration policy in the United States.
Right-wing media mischaracterized President Obama's remarks that ISIS has been "contained" to suggest that he downplayed the international threat posed by the terrorist group. However, fact-checkers have determined that "references or suggestions that Obama claimed ISIS no longer presents an active threat are incorrect."
Conservative media used the terrorist attacks in Paris to fearmonger about the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States, claiming that the U.S. cannot effectively vet potential refugees, ignoring experts who say that the thoroughness of the U.S.'s refugee vetting process sets it apart from those of European countries.
Right-wing media seized on the November 13 terror attacks in Paris to make at least five false or misleading claims about Syrian refugees, past statements from Hillary Clinton, President Obama's strategy against ISIS, the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees, and how guns in civilian hands could have supposedly changed the outcome of the attacks.
PolitiFact Rhode Island acknowledged that both halves of a two-part claim about the incidence of mass shootings in the United States were "true," but bizarrely concluded that the overall claim was only "half true."
In a November 1 article, PolitiFact Rhode Island purported to fact check a claim by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who said that "There have been more than 300 mass shootings in the United States this year -- more than any other country in the world."
There is strong evidence for both the claim that more than one mass shooting happens each day in the United States and that mass gun violence occurs in the U.S. in a way that is not seen in other countries, as PolitiFact acknowledged.
PolitiFact, however, rated the overall claim "half true," arguing, "while both parts are basically correct, Cicilline was off base when he put them together. ... The first half of his sentence is true and the second half is true. But two trues, in this case, don't make the whole truth."
This conclusion is as convoluted as the reasoning used to reach it.
PolitiFact first acknowledged that it is "true" that there have been more than 300 mass shootings in the United States this year. PolitiFact cited the same data source as Cicilline, the Mass Shooting Tracker, which counts any shooting in the United States where four or more people are shot, regardless of whether anyone was killed, or whether the incident occurs in public or in private residences.
PolitiFact asserted, however, that "The second half of the congressman's claim" -- which dealt with mass shootings in other countries -- "is more problematic because it has little in common with the first half of the claim."
To determine the incidence of mass shootings in other countries, PolitiFact cited a study of public mass shootings in foreign countries by University of Alabama professor Adam Lankford.
The difference between the definition of a "mass shooting" and a "public mass shooting" is that mass shootings encompass all incidents where large numbers of people are shot (even in private homes), while "public" mass shootings are a subset, only including shootings at shopping centers, movie theaters, churches, and schools, and other places where victims are typically shot indiscriminately in a public or semi-public space.
The other distinction is that the Lankford study only included public mass shootings where at least four people were killed, while the Mass Shooting Tracker counts incidents where four individuals were shot regardless of whether the victims were injured or killed.
Lankford's study concluded that public mass shootings are more common in the United States than other countries, and significantly, Lankford told PolitiFact "Any politician who says that is correct."
But in its summation, PolitiFact argued, "The problem with [Cicilline's claim] is that he mixes disparate facts to draw a single conclusion. The 'mass shootings' of the first part are not the same as the 'public mass shootings' of the second part":
And so while both parts are basically correct, Cicilline was off base when he put them together. The Mass Shooting Tracker does not tally foreign shootings. And the social scientist from the University of Alabama looked at different events from a different period of time.
The first half of his sentence is true and the second half is true. But two trues, in this case, don't make the whole truth.
The problem with this logic is that the disparities in the data could actually strengthen Cicilline's point. Lankford's study identified 90 individual public mass shooters -- who killed at least four victims -- in the U.S. between 1966 to 2012. That was five times more mass shooters than the next highest foreign country, according to his study. Even if the Mass Shooting Tracker captures more private shootings than Lankford would have counted, it still identified 65 shootings just this year where 4 or more people died; and the chances of another country increasing their incidents of public mass shootings enough to gallop past the U.S. just since 2012 seems deeply unlikely.
Overall, the evidence is on Cicilline's side concerning the grotesque incidence of mass shootings in the United States, and PolitiFact's criticism of his claim seems to rest more on grammar than on the data.
Media outlets called out Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's "utterly wrong," "wildly misleading," and long discredited claim at the October 28 CNBC presidential debate that women held 92 percent of the jobs lost during President Obama's first term, pointing out that that statistic is recycled from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and newer data completely contradicts Fiorina's claim: women actually gained jobs by the end of Obama's first term.
Sean Hannity echoed a previously debunked statistic to claim that 38 percent of all murder convictions in some states are committed by undocumented immigrants. The claim appears to have originated on the conservative news site Breitbart.com, and has been debunked by PolitiFact for relying on a flawed study from the conservative Center for Security Policy.
Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are being called out by the media for making false and misleading claims during CNN's Republican presidential debate about side deals, inspection criteria, and sanctions relief in the Iran nuclear deal.
Numerous conservative media outlets are parroting the misleading conclusions of a September 2015 report by an anti-immigrant nativist group, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which claims that "immigrant households use welfare at significantly higher rates than native households." Like previous flawed CIS studies, these findings have been called into question by immigration experts for failing to account for the economic hardship of some immigrant families, lumping American-born beneficiaries into "immigrant household" categorizations, and conflating numerous anti-poverty programs with so-called "welfare."
Right-wing media have praised former Florida Governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's 1999 executive action eliminating race-based affirmative action in higher education admissions. Now, a new report from The Washington Post finds that black student enrollment is in decline at two of Florida's largest four-year schools.
Conservative media outlets have repeatedly asserted that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) - federal legislation that would ban employment discrimination against LGBT workers - discriminates against Christian businesses, but a new report from PolitiFact has rated that claim "False."
On December 16, PolitiFact evaluated a fundraising email from the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) which claimed that ENDA would unfairly punish Christian businesses. PolitiFact rated TVC's claim "false," noting that ENDA includes religious exemptions that are actually more generous than those contained in other federal non-discrimination laws.
PolitiFact also noted that non-religious businesses operated by religious individuals have to comply with the law regardless of the business owner's faith (emphasis added):
Under Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964], and therefore under ENDA, religious organizations, which need not be church-run, would be exempt. Additionally, all businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt, whether they're religious or not.
Nelson Tebbe, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in religious liberty, said ENDA's religious exemption exceeds Title VII's.
"It's broader because the religious exemption in Title VII only allows religious organizations to discriminate [against LGBT individuals] on the basis of religion," he said. But it doesn't allow religious groups to discriminate based on factors like an employee's gender or race.
So by permitting religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, ENDA allows them more flexibility than Title VII.
The bill's religious exemption indicates that churches, church-run initiatives and other religious businesses need not comply by employing people of all sexualities and gender identities. And there's no special negative treatment for Christians.
Businesses of any religion could qualify for the exemption. Individuals of any faith who oppose sexuality would have to abide by the law, so no religion is singled out.
We rate this claim False.
The myth that ENDA would discriminate against Christian businesses has been widely debunked, but that hasn't stopped the lie from gaining prominence among right-wing media outlets.
Media outlets are ramping up their pushback against a highly questionable PolitiFact Virginia analysis of the proposed elimination of no-fault divorce law supported by Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia and favorite of "father's rights" groups.
PolitiFact ignored Mitt Romney's repeated statements about the auto industry to criticize President Obama for saying during the third presidential debate that Romney opposed government assistance for U.S. auto companies.
During the debate, Obama said to Romney, "You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies even if they went through bankruptcy. You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn't true."
PolitiFact declared Obama's statement "mostly false." In its analysis, PolitiFact spent a great deal of time trying to parse a phrase from Romney's widely discussed 2008 New York Times op-ed on the subject of the auto industry rescue. In the op-ed, Romney stated: "The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing."
But PolitiFact ignored other remarks from Romney on the subject. As The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn noted, Romney clearly stated in a November 2011 Republican primary debate that the auto industries should have been forced to go bankrupt without any government involvement.
When asked by CNBC's John Harwood about his op-ed, Romney responded, in part:
My view with regards to the bailout was that whether it was by President Bush or by President Obama, it was the wrong way to go. I said from the very beginning they should go through a managed bankruptcy process, a private bankruptcy process.
We have capital markets and bankruptcy, it works in the U.S. The idea of billions of dollars being wasted initially then finally they adopted the managed bankruptcy, I was among others that said we ought to do that.
My plan, we would have had a private sector bailout with the private sector restructuring and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding the direction as opposed to what we had with government playing its heavy hand. [emphasis added]
Likewise, in a February Detroit News op-ed attacking the auto industry rescue, Romney portrayed government intervention as having been forced onto GM and Chrysler, rather than something they were in dire need of. Romney wrote positively of managed bankruptcies for the companies, but then said, "Before the companies were allowed to enter and exit bankruptcy, the U.S. government swept in with an $85 billion sweetheart deal disguised as a rescue plan. By the spring of 2009, instead of the free market doing what it does best, we got a major taste of crony capitalism, Obama-style."
Romney also once told reporters that it "would have been best had the auto companies gone through the bankruptcy process without having taken $17 billion from government."
In reality, government intervention is the only thing that kept the companies alive. Many experts, including the chief economist for the industry's think tank, the Center for Automotive Research, have said that a bankruptcy could have meant liquidation for the auto companies because a private restructuring was impossible. When the rescue was taking place during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, credit markets were frozen and private financing was unavailable.
Fox News is distorting President Obama's economic agenda by pushing the straw-man argument that taxing the entirety of millionaires' incomes would fund the government for less than three months. In fact, Obama has proposed no such thing, and this Republican talking point obscures the billions in revenue that would be generated from letting the Bush tax cuts expire for wealthy households.