Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Fact-checking the Sunday Jan. 19 news shows

Russian president Vladimir Putin appeared on ABC's "This Week."
Russian president Vladimir Putin appeared on ABC's "This Week."

President Barack Obama’s call for modest reforms of the National Security Administration’s massive data collection program was met with skepticism from both the right and the left on the Sunday news shows.

Obama stayed vague in his Friday address, but proposed limiting the NSA’s ability to collect and review phone calls and electronic communications of millions of people around the world.

"He sounded like a political figure attempting to strike the right balance," conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said on ABC's This Week. "The speech ultimately was unsatisfying."

Liberal political commentator Tavis Smiley voiced frustration for another reason. Of the spying programs, Smiley said, "You cannot convince me how the dots connect to make us safer."

NSA talk permeated all five Sunday shows, three of which included an interview with House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. Rogers suggested NSA leaker Edward Snowden may have been aided by the Russian government.

"Let me just say this. I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow," Rogers said.

This Week secured a rare interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin told host George Stephanopoulos that Snowden, who is currently living in Russia, is welcome to attend the upcoming Olympics in Sochi.

Putin also defended a new Russian law that makes it illegal to display "gay propaganda" in front of children. Before Americans criticize Russia, they should first look inward, he said.

"In some of the states in the U.S., homosexuality remains a felony," Putin said.

That rates False.

Several states still have sodomy laws on the books, and a few specifically prohibit gay sodomy. But they are unenforceable and have been for a decade after the Supreme Court ruled the laws unconstitutional.

Putin’s comment misrepresents the reality in the United States, where many states have legalized gay marriage or passed anti-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation, said Dale Carpenter, a University of Minnesota constitutional law professor.

"It’s much bigger than just sodomy laws," he said. "But if you want to focus on just that, it’s a whole lot more complicated than saying the states have felony laws. That just hardly scratches the surface."

Putin also defended the Russian law by saying that it’s not a crime to be gay in Russia, as it is in many other places in the world.

In Russia "all people are absolutely equal regardless of their religion, sex, ethnicity, or sexual orientation," he said, while "70 countries of the world have criminal liability for homosexuality."

That claim is Half True.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, 76 nations consider being gay a crime. Nearly half of those countries, 36, are in Africa.

But it’s a stretch for Putin to say all people in Russian are "equal."

In June 2013, Putin signed a law banning promotion of "non-traditional sexual relations" toward minors, a prohibition on so-called "homosexual propaganda." The Russian law places stiff fines on individuals and companies that promote homosexualtiy in front of children, whether in public or through media or the Internet. Critics say the law essentially bans homosexuals from speaking out in public. The scope of the law is broad, and it's not clear how it will be enforced.

Same-sex relationships are not recognized in Russia. Same-sex couples also cannot adopt and lesbians cannot undergo artificial insemination to have children. Employers are not banned from discriminating based on sexual orientation. Gay pride parades are also banned and have been going back to 2005.

Staff writers Steve Contorno and Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman is the editor of PunditFact.com.