Friday, October 24th, 2014

PolitiFact Florida's Top 10 fact-checks of 2013

This is not Trayvon Martin. It is the rapper Game.
This is not Trayvon Martin. It is the rapper Game.

The death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin continued to fuel nationwide debate about the "stand your ground" law and statistics about race and murder. Martin was fatally shot on Feb. 26, 2012 by George Zimmerman; a jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder on July 14, 2013.

Claims related to the case were among a few of PolitiFact Florida’s Top 10 greatest hits in 2013. Other hot topics included the national health care law, the government shutdown and medical marijuana.

Before we turn our sights to 2014, let’s countdown to our most popular fact-check of the year, as determined by page views:

10. Jeb Bush says President Barack Obama was closing embassy to Vatican

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tweeted on the day before Thanksgiving, "Why would our president close the embassy to the Vatican? Hopefully, it is not retribution for Catholic organizations opposing Obamacare." We found, though, that the United States is not going to "close" its embassy -- it’s relocating it to a place that’s closer to the Vatican. Officials said the new location is more secure, less expensive and more architecturally distinctive. In addition, the move didn’t originate with Obama. It has been in the works since George W. Bush -- Jeb Bush’s brother -- was president. Finally, we found no evidence to support the idea that the relocation was related to battles over Obamacare. We rate Bush’s claim Pants on Fire!

9. Did Jay Z and other artists boycott Florida due to Zimmerman acquittal?

After the Zimmerman verdict, Instagram posts claimed that dozens of the world’s hottest musical acts -- including Justin Timberlake and Jay Z -- were joining music legend Stevie Wonder in protest of Florida’s "stand your ground" law. Most of the stars identified in social media lists may have spoken out against the verdict or in support of Trayvon, but we didn’t see them call off shows. We rated this claim False.

8. Allen West blames "Obama’s EPA" for "back door gun control"

The former South Florida congressman took aim at the EPA in a case involving a Doe Run lead smelter in Herculaneum, Mo., which was slated for closure in December. But EPA’s case against Doe Run actually began decades ago when the St. Louis area failed to meet federal clean air standards for lead in 1987 -- during the Reagan administration.

And ammunition experts shot massive holes in the notion that the smelter’s closure would cut production, reduce supply or raise the cost of ammunition. Pants on Fire!

7. Sen. Marco Rubio says 300,000 Floridians would go without health insurance

In October Rubio said, "On this very day in Florida, it was announced that 300,000 people are going to lose their individual coverage because of Obamacare. Now those people next year, they don’t have health insurance." Rubio was referring to 300,000 Florida Blue members who were enrolled in plans that failed to meet the new benefit requirements.

Rubio would have been accurate if he had simply talked about people losing their current plans, but instead he added that they wouldn’t be able to get new insurance, and that’s not accurate. Letters from Florida Blue stated that consumers will have "continuous health care coverage" and assigned them a particular plan, or gave them the option to contact Florida Blue and choose another plan. Rubio wrongly suggested that these folks would be uninsured in 2014, so we rated his claim Mostly False.

(On a related note, we named Obama’s often repeated claim "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," our Lie of the Year.)

6. Pro-pot group claims marijuana is less toxic than alcohol

A group is working to get a question on the 2014 ballot that would change the Florida Constitution to allow medical marijuana. We fact-checked an ad by the Marijuana Policy Project that pot is "less toxic" than alcohol. Research shows that deaths or even trips to the hospital are much more likely due to alcohol, and scientists could not find any documented deaths from smoking marijuana. Also, a study found the safety ratio for marijuana (the number of doses to cause death) is much greater than compared to alcohol. Put another way, marijuana is 100 times less toxic than alcohol. We rated this claim Mostly True.

5. Are illegal immigrants covered under health care law? Nope!

Obama signed the federal health care bill into law in 2010, but falsehoods about it continue to live on including this chain email: "The bill will provide insurance to all non-U.S. residents, even if they are here illegally." Actually, the Affordable Care Act does nothing to provide health insurance to anyone living in the United States illegally. It does offer some assistance to legal non-U.S. citizens, which by the way is different than non-U.S. residents, as the email claims. (A non-U.S. resident could be living in Mexico, France or anywhere.) We rated this claim Pants on Fire!

4. Did the federal shutdown literally shut down the ocean?

In October, critics of the federal shutdown flooded Twitter with claims such as this one: "Obama has jumped the shark and ordered the ocean closed!"  The Dry Tortugas and the Florida Bay in the Florida Keys were closed as a result of the shutdown. That means that 1,100 square miles of prime fishing was off limits -- a blow to fishing charter companies and others that benefit from that access. Biscayne National Park was also off limits. But it’s an exaggeration to state that Obama tried to shut down the entire ocean. We rated that claim False.

3. Did Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays really make that incredible catch?

At PolitiFact, we like to take an occasional break from politics to fact-check a claim from pop culture or sports. Tampa Bay Rays’ Evan Longoria makes a spectacular catch of a line drive captured in a viral video in 2011 that continues to lure in readers two years later. Was the video real, or a clever marketing stunt? Longoria said it was real, but we reviewed the evidence and gave his claim a blazing fastball: Pants on Fire!

2. After Zimmerman verdict, tweets zeroed in on black-on-black murder statistics

Twitter lit up with this claim: "In the 513 days between Trayvon dying, and today’s verdict, 11,106 African-Americans have been murdered by other African-Americans." The numbers cited were actually an extrapolation of murder statistics for 2005. More current figures from 2011 show fewer deaths. Also, this claim lacks important context. Yes, it’s true that the majority of black murder victims are murdered by blacks, but the same holds true for whites: Most whites are murdered by whites. And in both cases, this race statistic is not available for all murders, but only ones where the race of both perpetrator and victim can be determined. We rated this claim Mostly False.

1. Did the media avoid using a real photo of Trayvon Martin?  

A chain email accused the media of trying to deceive the public by publishing younger photos of Trayvon.

"They don't show the up-to-date pictures of Trayvon Martin, in the media," a 2012 chain email says. "Now you know why. Kinda scary, ain't it?" The chain email included a photo of an alleged Trayvon -- clearly a man and not a teenager -- with facial hair and loaded up with tattoos. We found out that the man in the photo is Jayceon Terrell Taylor, also known as Game, a rapper from Compton, Calif., near Los Angeles. We rated this claim Pants on Fire!