Thursday

August 6th, 2020

The Fact Checker: The Truth Behind the Rhetoric

Debaters put forth some claims that are head-scratchers or downright wrong

Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee

By Glenn Kessler & Michelle Ye Hee

Published Jan. 15, 2016

Fox Business News aired two GOP presidential debates Thursday: a prime-time event starring seven candidates and an earlier debate featuring three second-tier contenders, based on an average of recent polls.

Not every candidate uttered statements that are easily fact-checked, but following is a list of suspicious or interesting claims.

"Someone who lies to the families of those four victims of Benghazi can never be the president of the United States." --- Marco Rubio The senator from Florida once again claimed that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, lied to the families of the victims of the Benghazi attacks and asserted that the attacks took place because of a YouTube video.

The evidence for this claim is murky and open to interpretation. But Rubio really goes too far in suggesting that she told this to all the families of the four who were killed in the terrorist attacks. Based on interviews, here's the rundown of what we know:

The father of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens says Clinton did not mention a video.

The mother of State Department information specialist Sean Smith says every administration official, including Clinton, cited the video.

The father of former Navy SEAL Tyrone S. Woods says Clinton cited the video as the cause, but Woods's mother says Clinton did not mention the video.

The mother of former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty says Clinton did not mention a video. His sister says she did not mention a video but referenced a "spontaneous protest."

At the very least, Rubio cannot so sweepingly declare that she made such statements to "the families of those four victims." Some of those family members say they did not hear that.

"First, I didn't support Sonia Sotomayor. Secondly, I never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood." --- Chris Christie The New Jersey governor is being misleading on both fronts. He did support President Obama's nomination of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, although begrudgingly.

Christie first opposed her nomination, saying in a radio interview during the 2009 gubernatorial primary that she was "not my kind of judge." Then, in July 2009, Christie released a statement expressing support, though he added that she "would not have been my first choice."

On Planned Parenthood, it's not clear exactly what happened. In 1994, a newspaper quoted Christie as saying that he supported "Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution."

Now he says he never made the donation. Christie said this week that he was misquoted in that 1994 article, which was even quoted in a 2012 biography of Christie by Bob Ingle and Michael Symons. Why it took 22 years to point out this error publicly, we're not sure.

"The FBI director told the American people, told Congress, that he could not guarantee that he could vet them [Syrian refugees] and it would be safe." --- Christie Christie overstated what FBI Director James B. Comey said.

Comey made his remarks in response to a bill that would require Comey to personally certify that every single refugee admitted into the country was not a security threat. "Could I certify to there being no risk associated with an individual?" Comey said on Dec. 9. "The bureau doesn't take positions on legislation, and we don't get involved in policy decisions. But that practically would be impossible."

Comey has made it clear that the process in place to vet refugees has gotten better, but there is nothing that is "risk-free."

"When I looked at the migration, I looked at the line . . . where are the women? They look like - very few women, very few children - strong, powerful men. Young. And people are looking at that, and they're saying, 'What's going on?' "

--- Donald Trump In answering a question about refugees from Syria, the businessman incorrectly cited refugee demographics data.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data, men and women are split evenly among the 4.6 million registered Syrian refugees. These numbers reflect Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR in a number of countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. According to the data as of Dec. 31, 2015, 6.5 percent are "young men" of 12 to 17 years old. An additional 22.2 percent of the refugees are men over 18 years old. The rest are women, girls and boys. So clearly, this data set does not support Trump's description of refugees as mostly young men.

There is another data set, the "sea arrivals," that supports his claim. This is the UNHCR count of refugees and migrants who cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. There were just over 1 million arrivals by sea in 2015, and 49 percent of them were men. Women accounted for 19 percent and children were 31 percent. But Syrians make up 48 percent of the total sea arrivals.

"We have record numbers of men out of work." --- Carly Fiorina This statement is a bizarre claim, apparently touted by right-leaning websites. The former corporate chief executive appears to be referring to the number of men not in the labor force. The figure in the December jobs report reached a total of 38,233,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But only about 2.6 million of those men actually want a job, while a little under a million are marginally attached to the labor force (such as discouraged from seeking work). The other 34 million men are retired or simply are not interested in working, such as stay-at-home parents. So it's highly misleading to claim that these men are "out of work."

"The hate crimes in this country - over 5,500 - about 1,100 were religious hate crimes. And of those, 58 percent were directed toward Jews. Only 16 were toward Muslims." --- Mike Huckabee The former Arkansas governor's reference to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report hate-crime figures checks out. But there are some caveats to note.

The 2014 Uniform Crime Report's hate-crimes data show that of the 6,727 hate-crime incidents, 1,140 were victims of anti-religious hate crimes. Of those 1,140, 56.8 percent were victims of crimes motivated by anti-Jewish bias, and 16.1 percent were victims of anti-Muslim bias.

Crime statistics in the Uniform Crime Report are vastly underreported, because they only capture voluntary reporting from a fraction of police jurisdictions in the country.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the real number of hate crimes could be 25 to 40 percent higher than FBI totals, which "means the real 2014 total of anti-Muslim hate crimes could be as many as 6,000 or more."


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An award-winning journalism career spanning nearly three decades, Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street. He was The Washington Post's chief State Department reporter for nine years, traveling around the world with three different Secretaries of State. Before that, he covered tax and budget policy for The Washington Post and also served as the newspaper's national business editor. Kessler has long specialized in digging beyond the conventional wisdom, such as when he earned a "laurel" from the Columbia Journalism Review

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