PolitiFact Florida's top 10 fact-checks for 2014
A busy election season is over, but as PolitiFact Florida reflects on what our readers found most popular, we noticed an interesting trend -- many of our most widely read fact-checks for 2014 weren’t election-related at all. Whatever could pique readers’ interest more than gubernatorial candidates’ records on education spending or jobs numbers? Read on and find out which were the top 10 items of the year.
A chain email in April invoked a smattering of conspiracy theorist scapegoats, blaming the Environmental Protection Agency and President Barack Obama for endangering gun rights by closing the last lead smelter in America. Bullets, therefore, would have to come from overseas, the message claimed. The facts weren’t so dire: A Missouri smelter that extracted lead from ore did close in 2013, and it was the last smelter able to get lead directly from that ore. But there are plenty of smelters still open to get lead from old batteries and the like. Bullet manufacturers are still churning out ammunition. We rated this Pants On Fire!
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had a strong reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in June against the Affordable Care Act’s provisions to pay for birth control. "Nearly 60 percent of women who use birth control do so for more than just family planning," she said. Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair from South Florida, was referring to a November 2011 report that said 58 percent of pill users cited at least one noncontraceptive reason for taking the drug. The same study said 86 percent of its subjects cited contraception as the main (if not only) reason they took the pill. We called the claim Mostly True.
While the media tittered about whether or not Jeb Bush would run for president in 2016, the former Florida governor worked hard at raising his public profile. Bush said in an October fundraising letter for his Foundation for Excellence in Education that "today, among the developed nations, we are the least economically and socially mobile country in the world." Data and interviews with experts showed that indeed, it is harder to climb from the lowest economic rungs to the top in America than it is in other major economies. We rated this True.
In one election-related item popular with readers, we checked whether Scott was right to say during an October debate that when his opponent Charlie Crist was governor, "utility costs went up 30 percent and went from below the national average to above the national average." He added, "Since I got elected, utility rates have come down 11 percent and now we are below the average." The numbers didn’t add up for him, though, because he didn’t specify the difference between base rates and fuel surcharges, or the way electric rates fluctuated over the last eight years. There were so many ways the statement was wrong, we turned out the lights and called it False.
Former U.S. Rep. Allen West said on Facebook in September that Obama issued an "illegal order" that required the military to allow undocumented immigrants into the service. A program that allowed some legal aliens with needed language skills to apply to join the military was initiated by Bush in 2008, before Obama was president. Obama said some undocumented immigrants could apply, although the military didn’t have to accept them (and likely wouldn’t in most cases). We rated the claim Mostly False.
State Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, weighed in on the Common Core debate this year by saying American Institutes for Research, the company tapped create the test to replace the FCAT, also attempts to turn children into homosexuals. One part of AIR’s business is creating materials for schools on LGBT Youth issues, in which it studies the youngsters’ experiences and offers recommendations for how to help the students. That’s much, much different than trying to convert students’ sexuality, a ridiculous claim to begin with. We rated this one Pants on Fire!
This one is technically not a fact-check, but it was so popular we’ll include it anyway. A gubernatorial debate between Scott and Crist took a turn for the surreal in October when Scott refused to come onstage for several minutes because Crist was using a small fan under his podium. Scott claimed this violated the rules of the debate. The rules stated that candidates could not bring electronic devices and even specified fans, but it seems Crist’s side got the organizer to relent and agree to a handwritten caveat. There was no official ruling on whether it violated the guidelines or not, so we couldn’t rule on it ourselves -- but readers enjoyed learning why for themselves.
Florida Democrats repeated an old talking point in February when they pointed out Gov. Scott was the CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain when it was busted by the FBI for Medicare and Medicaid fraud in 1997. That investigation found the chain routinely overbilled the government for procedures, and Columbia/HCA agreed to pay $1.7 billion in criminal fines, civil damages and penalties. Other cases have since surpassed the dollar figure, although they didn’t involve Medicare as directly as Columbia/HCA. Scott, meanwhile, took a golden parachute and resigned under pressure, although he never admitted to any wrongdoing. This claim was diagnosed as Mostly True.
The state GOP followed the national trend of trying to hang the Affordable Care Act on Democratic candidates, including Crist. One Republican Party of Florida ad featured several unnamed people saying how the law had hurt them, including boosting health care costs 30 percent or more in Florida, then showed Democrat Crist calling the law "great." Our research showed that while some outliers may have suffered higher-than-average costs, the typical experience was nothing like the GOP’s anecdotes. We called it Mostly False.
After we checked this statement from a conservative blog in April, this item was consistently popular with readers. The site said Democrats in the Florida Senate voted against a bill that prohibits judges from applying foreign law in family law cases if it contradicts U.S. public policy. The blog equated that vote with Democrats wanting to allow foreign rules that barred women from voting, allowed forced marriages for young girls, advocated stoning adulterous women to death and required women to wear burqas. In reality, though, the bill would have essentially codified current practices in courts. The bill didn’t focus on Sharia law -- a wide-ranging set of rules that govern aspects of Islamic life -- and the U.S. Constitution still applies. We ruled the statement Pants on Fire!