Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Fact-checking the March 23 Sunday shows

Matt Damon talked about the need to increase access to clean drinking water on the March 23, 2014, episode of ABC's "This Week."
Matt Damon talked about the need to increase access to clean drinking water on the March 23, 2014, episode of ABC's "This Week."

Mitt Romney returned to the Sunday news shows -- for the third time of 2014 -- to criticize President Barack Obama’s handling of Russia and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation, Romney attacked the president for not anticipating Russia’s move to annex Crimea from Ukraine.

"There's no question that the president's naiveté with regards to Russia, and his faulty judgment about Russia's intentions and objectives, has led to a number of foreign policy challenges that we face," Romney told host Bob Schieffer.

Romney rattled off a list of Russian aggressions, from supporting the governments in Syria and North Korea, to harboring former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. And how do we retaliate?

Obama, Romney said, stopped plans to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe "as a gift to Russia."

"What he should have done from the very beginning was have the judgment to understand that Russia was not our friend, that Russia had very different ambitions and interests than we did, and that you have to stand strong," Romney said.

We can’t check what Obama should have done, but we can look at Romney’s assertion that Obama nixed a missile defense program in Easter Europe "as a gift to Russia."

Yes, Obama killed plans for a missile defense shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic that was an idea of President George W. Bush’s administration. But Obama has plans of his own to protect the United States and its allies from long-range missile attacks.

We find Romney’s claim Half True.

Obama abandoned Bush’s missile defense plan partly at the urging of the man who helped propose the idea in the first place -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The defense shield was being built to protect the United States and its allies from Iran (not Russia) and American intelligence suggested the United States would be better off focusing on short- and medium-range attacks.

"Making the Russians happy wasn’t exactly on my to-do list," Gates wrote in his memoir Duty.

As part of the change in strategy, the United States still plans on placing a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, not just the one Bush proposed, said Lance Janda, chairman of the Department of History and Government at Cameron University.

The U.S. will address the ballistic missile threat with Aegis missiles in Eastern Europe by 2018, and perhaps earlier.

"While our decision to cancel the sites in 2009 eased tensions with Russia -- which deeply opposed the sites -- we also had legitimate security reasons for not moving forward and in that sense it's not like we were really doing Putin a ‘favor,’ " Janda said. "And we're certainly not leaving Poland or the Czech Republic exposed."

We also heard on Sunday from an unlikely pundit, actor Matt Damon.

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Damon discussed an initiative he is spearheading to deliver cleaner water to the developing world.

To drive home point, Damon delivered a startling statistic.

"Every 20 seconds, a child dies because they lack access to clean water and sanitation. Every 20 seconds, three kids every minute somewhere on planet Earth," Damon said. "Not here. Our kids aren't going to die from diarrhea. That's just an inconvenience to us in the West. But it is a stark, terrifying reality to billions of people on the planet."

Damon is accurately describing the problem. But his specific statistic is from 2004 and outdated, PunditFact finds. We rate his claim Half True.

The Bourne series star is using decade-old research from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, which found that 1.5 million deaths a year in children under five were from diarrhea caused by tainted water.

Due to poor sanitation conditions in much of the developing world, millions of people are risking their health virtually every time they take a sip of water. Infection in the intestinal tract from tainted water often leads to diarrhea. It can last days or weeks, and if persistent can cause death due to fluid loss. Young children are especially at risk because of their weaker immune systems.

But while the problem remains serious, conditions have improved, new research shows. More recent reports from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Centers for Disease Control put the number at about 760,000 deaths a year.

That would mean a child dies every 40 seconds from water-related illness. Still a harrowing statistic, but not quite what Damon said.

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