Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

This campaign season's Pants on Fire guide

Pants on Fire ratings account for 9 percent of our 6,003 Truth-O-Meter fact-checks.
Pants on Fire ratings account for 9 percent of our 6,003 Truth-O-Meter fact-checks.

The reality is, as they say, no one wants to read about all the planes that landed safely.

And so here at PolitiFact, one of the first questions we are inevitably asked about coverage of this year's election season is, "Which claims got Pants on Fire?"

We reserve that ruling on our Truth-O-Meter for those statements that are not only false, but ridiculously false. And the rhetoric flying around this this election cycle his included plenty of claims that fit the bill.

Here's some of our favorites:

Health care, health care, health care ...

For pure outrage, it's hard to beat the claim leveled against a number of Democratic candidates that they support taxpayer-funded "Viagra for rapists." How? By voting for the controversial health care reform bill. Starting in 2014, the bill will provide some low to middle income people with tax credits to help buy insurance policies through government-sponsored exchanges. Because anyone can qualify for the tax breaks, it's possible that sex offenders will buy insurance policies with government subsidies. And they might ask for and be prescribed Viagra. That means tax dollars would be subsidizing Viagra for sex offenders. Got it? During the final negotiations for the health care law in the Senate, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., offered an amendment specifically prohibiting coverage of Viagra for child molesters and rapists. But Democrats rejected the amendment for procedural reasons, saying any late changes, no matter how small, could effectively kill the bill. When the "Viagara for rapists" charge was leveled against several incumbent Senate Democrats, we ruled the claims Barely True, because the amendment was at least considered and rejected in the Senate. But when the American Action Network, a conservative advocacy group, made the accusation against Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., we downgraded the ruling to Pants on Fire, because the House never voted on the amendment one way or the other.

Lots of Republicans have made the dubious claim that the health care bill amounts to "government-run healthcare." But Dan Coats, Republican candidate in the Indiana Senate race, upped the ante with an ad that claimed the law will "force seniors into Barack Obama's government-run health care program." Let's set aside for a moment that the law wouldn't force anyone to join any plan they aren't already in. More importantly, seniors are already in a government-run health care program. It's called Medicare.

Last year, PolitiFact gave its first-ever "Lie of the Year" to Sarah Palin's claim that the health care bill included "death panels" -- that the government would set up boards to determine whether seniors and the disabled were worthy of care. It hasn't gotten any truer over time. So when Republican John Raese said during a West Virginia Senate debate that under the new health care law, "the first person (a) patient has to go to is a bureaucrat. That is called a panel." -- you can probably guess where he ended up on the Meter?

Speaking of panels, in Wisconsin, Republican Congressional candidate Reid Ribble said in a news release, "I lost my health insurance and my doctor because of Obamacare." It turns out his company's provider decided to get out of the insurance business before Obama even entered office. Moreover, Ribble isn"t losing his insurance, his ability to get insurance or even, to be technical about it, his doctor.

And then there's Delaware ...

Perhaps you've heard that Republican Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell of Delaware is not a witch. But is her opponent, Democrat Chris Coons, a Marxist? The claim originated from an opinion piece Coons wrote for the Amherst College student newspaper during his senior year. The headline: "Chris Coons: The Making Of A Bearded Marxist." It was a story about Coons' transformation from stalwart Republican to an ardent Democrat, largely as a result of his experiences spending a semester in Kenya during his junior year. The "bearded Marxist" line was a joke playing off the jabs of some of Coons' conservative buddies at college. But O'Donnell stuck with the story line during a debate, warning voters about Coons' "Marxist beliefs." The comment lit up our Truth-O-Meter.

O'Donnell earned another Pants on Fire rating when she called on Coons to stop running negative ads. O'Donnell claimed her campaign had taken the high road and hadn't "yet taken out a negative ad." Which was interesting given that just a few days before, PolitiFact had spent the better part of a day dissecting an O'Donnell campaign ad that portrayed Coons as some sort of roving psychopath in a mock horror movie trailer, in which Coons was dubbed "The Taxman"..."taxing everything out here."

Beware of immigrants ...

Speaking of horror movies, who could forget Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's comments defending her state's controversial immigration law. Brewer said things have gotten so bad, "Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that have been beheaded." That was news to county medical examiners along Arizona's border with Mexico, and Brewer later said she "misspoke." (Update: a man recently beheaded in a suburban Phoenix apartment -- not the desert - was a suspected victim of Mexican drug cartel violence spilling over the border.)

But in the immigration debate, perhaps no fact was more widely misreported than the claim that Phoenix, Ariz., is the No. 2 kidnapping capital of the world. It was debunked over and over, but that didn't stop politicians, such as Ohio State Rep. Courtney Combs, from repeating it.

Speaking of the stimulus ...

Republican Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott made a claim that has not fared well on our Truth-O-Meter this year, saying in a press conference that "the stimulus has not created one private sector job." But we found plenty of evidence that not only were new jobs created, but hundreds of private employers in Florida signed up to provide them. We tracked down Billy Weston, an account executive at a Riviera Beach pharmaceutical company, who -- even though he was a "devout Republican" -- said Scott's claim was "absolutely wrong." The clincher: A Louisiana company where Scott is a part-owner sent out a press release proclaiming it had established 1,300 private jobs because of a stimulus grant.

Switching to the Florida Senate race, Gov. Charlie Crist went on CNN in late 2009 and told Wolf Blitzer "I never endorsed" the federal stimulus plan. Wait, wasn't there a big hug for President Barack Obama during a rally that year to push for passage of the $787 billion federal stimulus? Didn't he lobby Florida congressmen and women on both sides of the aisle to support the stimulus? Didn't he write a letter to the White House endorsing it? Yes, yes, and yes, we said. Also, Pants on Fire.

How soon we forget ...

Short-term memory loss was rampant among many Democrats in Congress in August, when they passed a $26 billion bill to provide money to help states avert teacher layoffs and health program cuts. Some Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Zack Space, said the measure was paid for entirely by closing corporate tax loopholes. Space and others failed to mention an even bigger source of money for the bill: a nearly $12 billion cut in future food stamp spending.

And, finally, hard to categorize ...

We also fired up the meter when a Wisconsin radio host called out U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, claiming he phonied-up a TV ad. In the ad, Feingold revisited an image from his successful 1992 campaign when he painted promises on his garage door in Middleton. Facing a tough re-election battle, the Wisconsin Democrat told voters he owns the same house and is still the small-town fella they elected 18 years ago -- except that today he posts promises on a website instead of his garage. WISN-AM talk radio host Mark Belling called Feingold out, saying, "I"m going to make an accusation here, and I am very confident that I am correct in my accusation. That ad is a fake. That ad is a fake. Feingold is not standing in front of his house in this new ad. They faked it." Turns out, it was his house. Whoops.

This is just a sampling of the many Pants on Fire rulings on the national and state PolitiFact sites this campaign season. To see more, go to the national or state PolitiFact site of your choice and click on the drop-down menu for Truth-O-Meter items by ruling. And don't forget to peruse the merely False ones as well.

And not that you probably care, but in the time it took you to read this, lots of planes have landed safely... and some politicians probably said some things that were absolutely true.