Friday, October 24th, 2014

PolitiFact's oddest fact-checks of 2012

Bane, a super-strong prison escapee, is the villain in Dark Knight Rises. (AP photo)
Bane, a super-strong prison escapee, is the villain in Dark Knight Rises. (AP photo)

If you want fact-checks on the weighty, wonky issues of the day, you turn to PolitiFact.

But the Truth-O-Meter also has a sense of humor, so we occasionally do light-hearted or downright odd fact-checks.

Here are some of the more unusual fact-checks we did in 2012:

Was Bane, the villain in the new Batman movie, a sneaky attempt to smear Mitt Romney?
Uh, no. It turns out that the villainous Bane first appeared in Batman comic books in 1993, long before Romney entered presidential politics. Even the character’s creator — who identifies as a conservative — called a suggested link "ridiculous." We rated this statement Pants on Fire!

Are there more shark attacks in Florida than cases of voter fraud?
Oh, Florida. In March, the state’s controversial new election law was the subject of national barbs, including on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the Report that Florida officials claimed they needed to pass the law to prevent voter fraud, but those cases were actually pretty rare — more rare than shark attacks. We looked at fraud cases and shark attacks from 2008-11, and with a couple of caveats, he was right: Mostly True.

Did the D.C. City Council ban rat extermination?
In January, news stories mentioned extra rats around Occupy DC camps a few blocks from the White House. Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general in neighboring Virginia, told a conservative website that D.C. law "doesn’t allow them to kill the dang rats. They have to capture them, and capture them in families." Our colleagues at PolitiFact Virginia scurried for the evidence, and found a 2010 law prohibiting lethal trapping specifically exempted the common type of rat that lives in our nation’s capital. (That would be the Norway rat, you comedians!) Pants on Fire.

Is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons … a "congress"?
Our fact-checking colleagues in Rhode Island have learned from experience to be skeptical of anything they see in the contagion of e-mails they receive. But they wondered, since they’re always skeptical of their own skepticism, whether this little tidbit from a chain email might be true. Sadly for comedy and the English language, the correct term is a "troop." Pants on Fire.

Which witch trials came first?
U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia thought he was on safe ground with a tongue-in-cheek claim that "on most things except witch trials, Virginia will always have been first." The second half of his statement was more true than he knew: Massachusetts is well known for its attempts to root out sorcery, but evidence shows Virginia held the first witchcraft trial in the colonies — in 1641. (The more famous inquisition in Salem, Mass., came in 1692.) PolitiFact Virginia judged his claim False.

Can the word "vagina" get a lawmaker banned from the Michigan House?
Yes, this did happen, and the uproar included this post passed around Facebook: "Vagina. Because apparently, saying that word in the Michigan State House of Representatives can get you a two-day ban from speaking on the floor." Republicans who silenced Democratic Rep. Lisa Brown, who used the word in debate about abortion rights, say the reason wasn't the word itself, but that she violated decorum and invoked an offensive parallel to rape. She was banned from speaking, though for one day, not two. We rated the Facebook claim Mostly True.

Was a Glee character right that "the U.S. Census believes that by 2030 the majority of Americans will use Spanish as their first language"?
A Spanish teacher portrayed by singer Ricky Martin on Glee, a show about a fictional Ohio glee club, made a bold, seemingly factual claim about the language in February: "The U.S. Census believes that by 2030 the majority of Americans will use Spanish as their first language." PolitiFact Florida was on it. And it turns out the Census Bureau doesn’t do regular projections of language spoken. Two Census researchers projected that somewhere between 13 and 15.3 percent of people in the United States will speak Spanish in 2020 — a far cry from the majority of Americans, and we don’t know how many of those will speak it as their first language. They said the numbers from 2030 would still be nowhere close to the 50 percent mark. Permit us a bit of Spanglish: Pantalones en Fuego!

Did Portland Schools spend half a million dollars to declare the peanut butter and jelly sandwich racist?
The Oregon PB&J kerfuffle started with a Portland Tribune story about diversity training that quoted a K-8 principal, Verenice Gutierrez. Using the peanut butter sandwich as an example in a classroom lesson, she said, might not resonate with Somali or Hispanic students. "Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita." Shortly, this headline turned up on Breitbart.com: "Portland Schools spend $500K to deem PB&J sandwiches racist." Our colleagues at PolitiFact Oregon don’t usually weigh in on lunch, but who could resist? They found the statement inaccurate and silly. Or, more concisely put: Pants on Fire.

Are there daiquiri drive-thrus in Louisiana?
It’s always nice when a lawmaker speaks from personal experience. In this case, Oregon state Rep. Bill Kennemer told a reporter: "We just don't want to get to be like Louisiana, where you have drive-up daiquiri shops." (Oregon, you see, is a control state. It buys, stores and sells distilled spirits to retailers and consumers.) Turns out, Kennemer had direct knowledge of those Louisiana drive-up daiquiris. PolitiFact Oregon: Did you order the drinks and then drive off? Kennemer (small voice): "I’m afraid we did." Technically, Louisiana doesn’t allow open containers in vehicles, but an attendant hands over a frozen, fruity drink and a straw, and what you do with those two objects is up to you. Now you know. It’s True.

Can you fit a gun rack in a Chevy Volt?
Newt Gingrich told presidential primary voters that President Barack Obama would make you ditch your gas guzzler at the side of the road for the electric Volt, if he had his way. "And I keep trying to get across to my liberal friends: You cannot put a gun rack in a Volt," the former Georgia congressman told a crowd in Cobb County in February. Well, our PolitiFact Georgia colleagues decided to test his statement. They installed two gun racks in a Volt that toted four guns combined. They gave him a False.

Does the health care law require you to insert microchips in your body?
From the claims that just won’t die department: We wrote this one in 2009 but continued to get many inquiries about it in 2012. The inquiries were sincere and serious, from people who got a chain email that an "implantable radio frequency transponder system" would be implanted under the health care law to "collect data in medical patients," including "claims data" and "electronic health records." A chip does exist that allows patients to mark themselves with a medical ID number. But it doesn’t store records, isn’t required by anyone, and has nothing to do with the health care law. So, for the record, no. A big Pants on Fire no!