Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Fact-checking the Aug. 3 news shows

Juan Williams was a pundit on "Fox News Sunday" on Aug. 3, 2014.
Juan Williams was a pundit on "Fox News Sunday" on Aug. 3, 2014.

Pundits and politicians in Washington spent Sunday talking about why we’re talking about impeachment.

Democrats point the finger at tea party conservatives such as Sarah Palin, who has raised the possibility of impeaching President Barack Obama for what they describe as abusing his executive power.

Republicans blame Democrats for stoking an imaginary crisis, using the words of Palin and others as a fundraising gimmick and scare tactic.

There is probably some truth to both arguments.

In July, left-leaning MSNBC mentioned the words "impeach" or "impeachment" 801 times on air, according to a PunditFact review of closed captioning information. On Fox News in the same time period: 370 mentions.

Yet few Americans actually support impeaching Obama -- 33 percent, according to a new CNN poll. On Fox News Sunday, liberal pundit Juan WIlliams suggested the minority who support impeachment have several things in common.

"They are all white, they're all older, and guess what, they're in the far right wing of the Republican Party," Williams said.  

"All" is going too far, but Williams’ claim rates Mostly True.

The publicly available polling shows that the people who support impeachment are more likely to be white, conservative and older. In a Fox News poll, about a third of the public supported impeachment, while about two-thirds of tea partiers said they did. In another conducted for the Huffington Post, 40 percent of whites supported impeachment compared to 10 percent of African-Americans.

Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard University, said Williams took "a few everyday language shortcuts, but he is basically right."

"In our research in 2010-11, we found that conservative Republicans/tea party sympathizers are overwhelmingly white and definitely tend to be older," Skocpol said. "Now, keep in mind that all Republicans tend, statistically speaking, to be older and whiter than other Americans. So any time you talk about Republicans, you are talking older and whiter. And of course, only Republicans tell pollsters in a majority that they favor impeachment."

The situation at the southern U.S. border also remained in the news for another week, after Congress failed to pass legislation on Friday before adjourning for a five-week recess.

On CNN’s State of the Union, Texas Gov. Rick Perry reiterated the severity of the problem, highlighting what he said are "historic record highs" of people being apprehended along the border with ties to terrorist safe havens.

"My citizens' safety is what is foremost here and hasn't got anything to do other than those numbers of individuals who are coming across the border, and when you think about the idea that some of them are from countries that have substantial terrorist ties, whether it's Pakistan or Afghanistan or Syria, we are historic record highs with individuals being apprehended from those countries," Perry said.

Perry’s claim is a bit of a puzzler. We rate it Pants on Fire.

The most recent Department of Homeland Security data does not show record apprehensions of individuals from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria or any other designated terrorist countries, nor does it show an upward trend in apprehensions of individuals from those areas.

Moreover, while Perry was using this statement to justify bringing more resources to the Texas-Mexico border, an apprehension and other enforcement measures can happen at the border, in the country’s interior or at designated places outside of the United States.

Historically, only an extremely small number of people from the Middle East or South Asia who try to enter the United States illegally do so by crossing a land border, said Stephen Kelly, former deputy chief of mission for the United States in both Mexico and Canada.

"People from those areas are more likely to try to enter via an airport, perhaps with false documents," said Kelly, now a public policy professor at Duke University.

Lastly, the  numbers of apprehensions of individuals from Pakistan, Syria and Afghanistan is incredibly low compared to the primary sources of illegal immigrants. In 2012, Homeland Security officials apprehended nearly 450,000 Mexicans, 55,000 Guatemalans and 50,000 Hondurans. In contrast, officials apprehended 95 Afghanis, 458 Pakistanis and 56 Syrians.