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PolitiFact Texas turns two

By W. Gardner Selby
Published on Thursday, January 12th, 2012 at 6:00 a.m.

Two years ago today, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was staring down Republican challengers for re-election, President Barack Obama was hoping to pass a health care overhaul into law and PolitiFact Texas birthed its first fact checks.

Some of those first articles covered Democrat Marc Katz’s claim that Texas ranked last in mental health spending (Mostly True); U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s statement that she quadrupled federal agents on the border (Mostly False); and a Perry boast about Texas job gains -- that the state accounted for 70 percent of national gains over a recent year -- that rated False. Perry’s campaign reacted by calling the Truth-O-Meter broken.

Also in the first batch: our first Pants on Fire rating, of Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky’s claim that Attorney General Greg Abbott required rape victims to pay the cost of rape kits. While some sexual assault victims have been mistakenly billed on occasion, the attorney general did not require rape victims to pay for rape kits and never had.

More than 500 PolitiFact Texas fact checks have since been published, counting contributions from the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact in Washington, D.C., and state-based PolitiFact teams in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia and Wisconsin; PolitiFact Tennessee debuts soon.

We're happy to report too that WFAA-TV, Channel 8, in Dallas features our work on "Inside Texas Politics" and news gatherers including Harvey Kronberg's "Quorum Report," the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's PoliTex blog and Austin's KUT, 90.5 FM, likewise spread the word. To show our Truth-O-Meter findings on your website, write us.

To mark this moment, we're recapping readers' favorite Truth-O-Meter articles, as measured by web visits.

Perry’s decision to run for president probably explains why most of the favorites touched on claims by, or about, him.

No. 1 favorite: Our August 2011 check of Perry’s declaration that Texas schools teach both evolution and creationism. That’s False. No doubt, some Texas teachers address the subject of creationism, but it’s not state law or policy to intermix such instruction.

No. 2: Perry said in late 2011 that children can’t openly pray or celebrate Christmas in school. False, we concluded, though public school officials are barred from advancing a religion or making children pray or celebrate solely the Christian aspects of Christmas.

Nos. 3 and 6: U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and Texas Republican Debra Medina each said Perry played a leadership role in Al Gore’s 1988 Texas presidential campaign.

In looks at this topic, we initially hewed to long-published accounts that Perry, who was a Democrat until the late 1980s, co-chaired Gore’s Texas effort. But we reconsidered in September 2011, concluding that Perry was a supporter, not more. It looked to us like a Democratic foe slapped the co-chair label on Perry in 1998 -- and it stuck.

Nos. 4 and 10: Claims by U.S. Sen. John McCain and Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst that Phoenix ranks as the world’s No. 2 kidnapping capital each rated False. While Phoenix had experienced hundreds of kidnappings, we couldn't find reliable evidence to confirm that only Mexico City experienced more.

No. 5: Perry claimed in 2010 that his nulled order that teenage girls be vaccinated against a virus that can cause cervical cancer was not mandatory. Mostly False, we concluded. Parents can file and refile notarized forms declining school immunizations, but it wasn’t certain the opt-out would have been accepted for the 15 percent of Texas girls attending private schools. We noted too that the governor issued an order for a state official to "adopt rules that mandate the age appropriate vaccination of all female children for HPV prior to admission to the sixth grade."

Nos. 7 and 8: Obama figured into two claims, first for his answer to a query from WFAA-TV in Dallas by saying Perry "helped balance his budget with about $6 billion worth of federal help, which he happily took, and then started blaming the members of Congress who had offered that help." Mostly True; Perry indeed accepted stimulus money that helped balance the Texas budget. But as to whether Perry then started "blaming" members of Congress who had supported the stimulus legislation — well, not in so many words. Perry’s criticism of the federal government had started long before.

On the day Obama released the long-form version of his Hawaii birth certificate, state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, was quoted saying the hospital Obama lists on his birth certificate — in fact, all hospitals in Honolulu — have denied the president was born there. Berman then told us that two hospitals, including Kapiolani Medical Center For Women and Children, where Obama says he was born, have denied it. Kapiolani, citing federal privacy law, hasn’t confirmed Obama’s birth there. But we found no record of the hospital denying it — nor did Berman deliver evidence. Pants on Fire!

No. 9: Perry’s 2010 claim that the Social Security program is a Ponzi scheme rated False. In brief, Social Security is accountable to Congress and the American people while a Ponzi scheme is a crime.

Send greetings any time to politifact@statesman.com. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter. What have you read or heard lately that merits a fact check?

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See related Truth-O-Meter articles.

Researchers: Meghan Ashford-Grooms, Ciara O'Rourke, Sue Owen

Names in this article: Leo Berman, David Dewhurst, John McCain, Debra Medina, Barack Obama, Ron Paul, Rick Perry

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