Monday, December 22nd, 2014

PolitiFact Florida: Our most popular fact-checks of 2012

Tampa is not the strip club capital of the world, despite what locals say.
Tampa is not the strip club capital of the world, despite what locals say.

With 2012 coming to a close, PolitiFact Florida editors decided to look back at your favorite fact-checks of a busy political year.

In no particular order, here are a selection of the most read PolitiFact Florida fact-checks of 2012.

The presidential race

Mitt Romney came to Florida in January fending off Republican challengers like Newt Gingrich, who accused Romney of being anti-immigrant after his tough rhetoric on immigration. Romney hit back with a Spanish-language radio ad, telling voters that Gingrich once said, "Spanish is the language of the ghetto."

In a 2007 speech, Gingrich did say that a language other than English was the "language of living in a ghetto." He didn’t specifically say Spanish, but a lot of people assumed it, given the context. After negative reaction, Gingrich released a web video saying he could have phrased his comments better. We rated Romney’s attack Mostly True.

During the general election, President Barack Obama wooed Hispanic voters at a town hall event hosted by Univision’s Jorge Ramos. Ramos asked Obama about "Fast and Furious," a federal investigation intended to track illegal gun sales. But investigators lost track of the guns, and they ended up at a crime scene where a federal agent was killed.

Obama said the operation ended when his administration learned of it, and blamed the administration of George. W. Bush for starting "Fast and Furious." But Obama got his timeline wrong. While similar programs happened under Bush, "Fast and Furious" began after Obama took office. We rated his statement False.

Other election-year attacks focused on Medicare. Romney repeatedly charged Obama with cutting the popular health insurance program for Americans over age 65 (even though Republicans had their own plans to reduce Medicare spending). Romney said Obama "cuts Medicare by $716 billion, takes that money out of the Medicare trust fund and uses it to pay for Obamacare."

Romney left out many details, though. Obama did seek to make Medicare more efficient by creating new incentives and penalties for hospitals. Those aren’t traditional budget cuts, and they weren’t intended to affect patient care. But Romney was correct that Obama counted the savings against new spending in the federal health care law, so he could  claim the law would not drive up the federal deficit. We rated Romney’s statement Half True.

Scott’s fight against the health care law

Gov. Rick Scott spent most of 2012 opposing the federal health care law, even after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the law’s constitutionality. In the days after the court ruling, Scott went on a media blitz saying he still opposed it.

But Scott didn’t quite get the basics of how the law works. Scott claimed a company he knew of with 20 employees would go "out of business" because of health care law requirements to buy insurance. Actually, businesses with fewer than 50 employees were exempt from that. We rated his statement Pants on Fire.

After Obama was re-elected, Scott seemed to soften his rhetoric on the law, and he’s scheduled to meet with federal officials to discuss it on Jan. 7.

Wasserman Schultz on Israel

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, continued leading the Democratic National Committee in 2012 with pithy quotes and many national interviews. But she found herself in an argument with a conservative newspaper over what she told Jewish Democrats at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

The Washington Examiner reported that Wasserman Schultz said, ‘We know, and I’ve heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel." Wasserman Schultz said she was misquoted and that wasn’t what she said.

But when we listened to the tape, she did say those words. A spokesman said she meant that Republicans were using Israel as a political football in their criticisms of the Obama administration’s policies on Israel, and that was what the ambassador said was dangerous. We rated Wasserman Schultz’s claim that she was misquoted Pants on Fire!

Tampa as ‘strip club capital of the world’

In Tallahassee, legislators from South Florida tried unsuccessfully to allow casino gambling at new destination resorts. In support of the move, they said gambling wouldn’t hurt Florida’s wholesome image.

"People do not go to South Beach to see Mickey Mouse. They just don't," said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. "We have the strip club capital of the world in Tampa. ... We have not ruined our family-friendly image."

We exhaustively researched whether Tampa could claim the "strip club capital of the world" title and found that it couldn’t. Even Miami outdoes Tampa. We rated the claim False.

Communists in the House

A voter at a town hall event asked U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Palm Beach Gardens, "What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists or International Socialist?"

"It's a good question," West replied. "I believe there's about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party who are members of the Communist Party. ... It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus."

While liberal, none of the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus claim to be Marxists or international socialists. We rated West’s statement Pants on Fire!

Nelson attacks Mack

U.S. Sen Bill Nelson is the only Democrat holding statewide office in Florida, and Republicans were hoping to pick up his seat in 2012.

Nelson apparently decided a good defense was a good offense, so he went on the attack early against his opponent, U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers. Nelson’s ads said Mack had been "a promoter for Hooters with a history of bar room brawling, altercations and road rage." The ads didn’t mention that Mack had worked for a company that did work for Hooters, and that it was 12 years ago, or that the bar room brawling and other incidents were roughly 20 years ago. Still, those incidents did happen. We rated Nelson’s claim Mostly True.

The ‘real’ Trayvon Martin

Florida was riveted by the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old who was shot in February by George Zimmerman, volunteer neighborhood watchman. When Zimmerman wasn’t arrested immediately following the shooting, local protests soon went national.

Zimmerman’s defenders blamed the media for portraying Martin as an innocent child, focusing on the fact that some photos in press coverage were several years old.

But a chain email crossed the line into fabrication when it claimed the media refused to run a photo of Martin with tattoos on his face. The photo in the email wasn’t Martin at all, but a 32-year-old California rapper who uses the stage name "Game." We rated the chain email’s claim Pants on Fire.

Fluoride in the water

The war over putting fluoride in the water -- long since settled in most parts of the country as a sensible way to prevent tooth decay -- came to Pinellas County this year when the county commission voted to stop it.

PolitiFact Florida looked at the claim from fluoride opponents that water fluoridation started in Nazi Germany ghettos and death camps to pacify the Jews. Holocaust experts we spoke with said they had never heard of such a thing.

Historians of fluoridation, though, said conspiracy theories are common that falsely attribute fluoride in water to Nazis, communists or a shadowy "One World" order. The claim about Nazis, at any rate, is flat out wrong. We rated it Pants on Fire!

By the end of the year, voters tossed two of the commissioners out, and a new commission voted to put fluoride back.