Glenn Beck's Greatest Hits (and Misses)
Today, June 30, 2011, Glenn Beck ends his two-and-a-half-year television run on Fox News. Love him or hate him, there's no debating he has had a significant impact on the national political discourse.
A frequent critic of the left and the Obama administration, Beck often challenged viewers to do their own research and check his facts. And so we did, 23 times.
"From the corruption at ACORN to the Czars to Van Jones, Glenn exposed the left's agenda and routinely flustered the White House in the process," Beck's website boasted in an article about the Fox news finale.
As we take this opportunity to look back at Beck's record on the Truth-O-Meter, we think those three subjects -- ACORN, Czars and Van Jones -- are a good place to start.
Beck has been a tireless critic of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a collection community-based organizations perhaps best known for its voter registration efforts (and problems it has had with volunteers padding registration rolls with fictitious names).
Beck was among a number of pundits who claimed Barack Obama had been a lawyer for ACORN. We checked this a couple times -- first when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it during the 2008 presidential campaign, and later when Republican strategist Karl Rove said it. It's true that when Obama worked for a civil rights law firm in Chicago, he and two other attorneys represented ACORN (and four other plaintiffs) in a 1995 federal civil lawsuit against the state of Illinois, demanding that it enforce a new federal law known as "motor voter," which allowed people to register to vote when they got their drivers' licenses. But Obama never worked for ACORN as a staff attorney or in a longer-term relationship. We rated that one Half True.
Beck was also among those at Fox who erroneously claimed White House Political Director Patrick Gaspard was once the political director for Bertha Lewis, chief organizer of ACORN. He was not. We rated the claim False.
Beck provided a forum for some of the most vocal critics of ACORN. His was one of several programs, for example, on which Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., made the claim that ACORN could get up to $8.5 billion in tax dollars from the economic stimulus -- another frequent Beck target -- "despite (ACORN) being under investigation for voter registration fraud in a dozen states." We found the claim to be irresponsibly misleading on several levels. The federal money was for grants to build an affordable housing project or to buy, fix and sell abandoned homes. If an ACORN affiliate were to apply for grants funded by the stimulus and open to application by a range of organizations, that's exactly what the money would have to be used for -- not anything related to voter registration. And then there's the matter of trying to make a splash by throwing out the massive $8.5 billion number, suggesting ACORN "could get "up to" that amount, as in all of affordable housing grant money. That's absurd. We ruled Bachmann's statement False.
Beck also claimed, as did Bachmann, that ACORN would be a paid partner with the Census Bureau in charge of going door-to-door and collecting data from the American public. ACORN was not "in charge" of going door-to-door and collecting data from the American public. The U.S. Census was in charge of that. Some of the 1.4 million people who got Census-taking jobs may have learned about the job through ACORN. But that's about it. That claim got a Pants on Fire.
And while we're on Bachmann and the census, Beck also ran with her claim that the Constitution only requires you to tell the census "how many people are in our home." Said Beck on the Fox News Network on Aug. 28, 2009: "I'll fill it out as the Constitution requires, which says that, you know, how many people live in this house?" We didn't rate Beck's statement, but when Bachmann said it, we rated the claim Pants on Fire.
Who can forget the Beck's famous chalkboards filled with long lists of the names of Obama's so-called czars. (Keep in mind that the title of czar is largely arbitrary media shorthand for "It's this person's job to make sure (blank) goes right," and take a look at our list of people in the Obama administration who have tagged with the czar moniker).
Beck has alleged Obama's "czars" hold all sorts of controversial positions on issues.
For example, Beck earned a Pants on Fire for his claim that John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (or science czar), "has proposed forcing abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population." Beck also claimed Cass Sunstein, President Obama's regulatory czar, wants to give animals legal standing to sue humans. We checked the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre when he said something similar, that Sunstein "wants to give legal standing to animals so they can sue you for eating meat." We rated that Half True.
And that brings us to....
For weeks, Beck railed against the then little-known Jones, who was special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Beck argued that Jones was a communist who believed George W. Bush knew about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks ahead of time and allowed it to happen. Those arguments got more attention after video was posted to the Internet showing Jones speaking at a forum in Berkeley, Calif. A progressive activist asked Jones why Republicans seemed better at pushing their legislative agenda through when they had the majority than Democrats are now. "They're a--holes," Jones said. "That's a technical political science term." Those comments, and others, ended up costing Jones his job.
But as for Beck's claim that Jones signed a petition indicating he "thinks the Bush administration blew up the World Trade Center and covered it up," we found that Jones was listed as a signatory to a 2004 petition calling for an investigation about the Bush administration's role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The petition strongly implies a conspiracy, but doesn't state outright that the Bush administration blew up the buildings. Jones has since renounced the petition. We rated Beck's statement Half True .
And as for Beck's repeated claims that Jones is an avowed communist. We found that Jones was up front that he was, in fact, a communist for about 10 years. But he ultimately changed his politics and his approach. More recent statements show Jones has transformed into a cheerleader for eco-entrepreneurs. So we rated this Beck statement Barely True .
Beck is also a big fan of history, but we found his facts weren't always exactly right:
For example, Beck said Franklin D. Roosevelt never allocated more than 12 percent of GDP to federal spending, while the percentage for Barack Obama is not projected to drop below 22.8 percent. We rated that one Barely True. We also checked his claim that "Thomas Jefferson created the Marines for the Islamic pirates that were happening" and found that he had a little bit right and a little bit wrong. We rated it Half True.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention the controversial health care law championed by President Obama. Beck, of course, has been a sharp critic of the law.
During the height of debate over the bill, Beck warned that 45 percent of physicians would quit if health reform passed. We found that to be a questionable assertions based on questionable data, and rated it False. Beck also claimed that in Massachusetts "Mitt Romney ... gave you government health care that is now bankrupting the state." We found that while the state may be broke, it has little to do with the health care program Romney put in place over three years ago. Instead, tax revenue shortfalls and growing payments for unemployment benefits due to layoffs have put a massive budget burden on the state. As a result, we gave Beck a False. And last, one of our favorites, was Beck's claim that "in the health care bill, we're now offering insurance for dogs." We rated that one Pants on Fire.
In the summer of 2010, Glenn Beck drew tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands, depending on the source of crowd estimates) to his "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In the lead-up to the rally, Beck ominously warned it might be the last chance to attend a large rally at the historic Lincoln Memorial because "the government is trying to now close the Lincoln Memorial for any kind of large gatherings." We called the National Park Service and found the memorial is still very much open for business. We rated Beck's claim Pants on Fire.
However, we found Beck was dead-on with a statistic used to underpin one of his central themes: that the federal government needs to rein in spending.
"The federal government is now on track" for the second-largest budget deficit "in 65 years," Beck said. He's right. We rated that True.
Of our 23 fact-checks of Glenn Beck, here's the breakdown: True, 2; Mostly True, 1; Half True 5; Barely True, 4; False, 6, and Pants on Fire, 5.
This not a goodbye for Beck. Fans of Beck and his trademark blackboard can soon find him at his new home, his own Internet network, GBTV, which (for a fee) will begin streaming a two-hour live show in September.