Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Sweeping statements oft fuel fact checks

PolitiFact Texas is produced by the staff of the Austin American-Statesman
PolitiFact Texas is produced by the staff of the Austin American-Statesman

Objecting to Republican proposals potentially hastening cuts in public school aid, the chairman of the Travis County Democrats recently sounded a skeptical note about GOP Gov. Rick Perry’s Feb. 8 call on higher education to devise a way that students could earn bachelor’s degrees at a cost of $10,000, including textbooks.
   
"As for the governor’s preposterous scheme to serve up $10,000 college degrees, nobody in higher education believes that is even possible," Andy Brown said in a Feb. 22 blog post. "Tuition and books for a single year easily add up to that amount, and tuition likely will increase in the face of state funding cuts."

Brown’s statement tickled the Truth-O-Meter all the way to False because it was so sweeping. Nobody?

That put the Austin lawyer in a crowd of figures who brought on fact checks by making absolute declarations -- often signalled by red-flag words like "all," "never," "nobody."

Some PolitiFact Texas memorables:

--In a recent column, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said "our children do not spend any time in school learning our own U.S. Constitution." Talk about an unqualified statement. It not only proved wrong--state curriculum guidelines are dotted with directives to incorporate the nation’s founding document--it proved ridiculous. Pants on Fire!

--In December, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, planted a flag for not repealing the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" law preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Gohmert said, "All those who do not answer directly to the president, they've said this is a terrible idea." False, we found. Some—not all—military personnel objected to repealing the law, some saying the timing is bad. And not all who don’t answer directly to the president labeled the change a terrible idea.

--State Rep. Mike Villarreal, seeking to tweak teacher training requirements, said in November 2010 that Texas "children may have a teacher who never spent one minute practicing teaching." We were initially skeptical of the San Antonio Democrat’s sweeping claim. Yet it included an important qualifier -- "may" -- and we ultimately concluded his statement was True.

--In August, U.S. Rep. John Carter told reporters he thinks the United States is the "only country in the world that affords citizenship" to children born to parents illegally in the country when their child is born here. Not so, we confirmed, because more than 20 other nations, including Canada, afford birthright citizenship.

This sampling is almost certainly incomplete. Why? We expect Texas politicos to continue to make cover-the-horizon statements--to which we’ll continue to pay attention.