Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Animal activists put PolitiFact New Jersey in crosshairs over ruling about hunting statistic

A recent Pants on Fire ruling about hunting in New Jersey sparked angry responses from some animal activists. Pictured above are other activists protesting the state's bear hunt.
A recent Pants on Fire ruling about hunting in New Jersey sparked angry responses from some animal activists. Pictured above are other activists protesting the state's bear hunt.

While hunters have targeted the bears in New Jersey, animal activists have taken aim at a recent ruling by PolitiFact New Jersey.  

A statement on the Bear Education and Resource Group’s website about support for hunting in the state got a Pants on Fire on the Truth-O-Meter in a ruling published on Thursday.

Since the ruling came out in The Star-Ledger and at PolitiFactNJ.com, we have received several lengthy emails and phone calls blasting our ruling.

First, some background.

The organization, which was among a group of animal activists that went to court and tried unsuccessfully to stop the ongoing bear hunt in northwestern New Jersey, posted on its website the following statement: "99% of NJ voters do NOT support hunting."

PolitiFact New Jersey checked the statistic and referenced two polls in its research, including one by the Humane Society of the United States. Although the polls results differ, both showed that opposition to bear hunting in New Jersey does not begin to approach the black bear advocacy group’s claim of 99 percent.

We contacted the group early Tuesday afternoon to ask about the statistic. Later in the afternoon, a member of the group  admitted the statistic was wrong and said a webmaster had been notified to remove it. It’s unclear how long the statistic had been on the site prior to us contacting the group, but it was still up more than 28 hours after the spokesperson admitted it was erroneous. By Thursday morning the statistic had been changed to read "99% of NJ voters do NOT hunt."

The Truth-O-Meter issued a Pants on Fire ruling because of the length of time an acknowledged wrong statement remained on the website and because of how wildly off the statistic was from the truth. That fits the PolitiFact definition of Pants on Fire: the statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

After we confirmed that the erroneous statement had been removed from the BEAR Group website, we posted an Editor’s Note in our original story to let readers know about the change.

But the claws came out anyway in accusation-filled emails.

Carol Livielle of West Orange, a member of the BEAR group and legislative district director of The League of Humane Voters, said our ruling "could only be attributed to the apparent pro-hunting bias on the part of Star-Ledger," and included with her email a photo of a dead bear cub with a gun on top of its body. Animal rights activist Stuart Chaifetz called and sent at least five emails to us requesting a retraction and accusing us of defaming people, along with claiming that we should have gone after The Star-Ledger editorial board for its editorial last week supporting the bear hunt that ended Saturday. Chaifetz also put up a lengthy post about the claim on our Facebook page. Further, we received email from Susan Russell, a wildlife policy specialist with the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, League of Humane Voters of New Jersey and the BEAR Group, accusing us of several things, particularly bias and questioning the timing of our fact-check during the bear hunt. She also referenced several years’ worth of Star-Ledger editorials about hunting.

To be clear, the paper’s editorial board has nothing to do with PolitiFact New Jersey and vice versa.

Our original ruling stands. Join the conversation about it at NJ.com.