Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Top 5 most popular fact-checks for June 2014

This video clip of a speech by Barack Obama has been circulating on the Internet, but it has been tampered with in ways that drastically change what Obama said. Here’s what he really said.

Here are PolitiFact’s top 5 most viewed fact-checks of June 2014, counting down to the most popular item.

5. More than 500 Guantanamo detainees were released or transferred under Bush

We fact-checked this claim five years ago, but it got a second life this month because of the swap of American prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Berghdal for the release of five Taliban officials from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters on June 16, 2009, "Some 500 detainees were released from Guantanamo during the Bush administration."

Several government documents backed up the fact that 500 Guantanamo detainees had been moved from the prison under former President George W. Bush. Our only quibble with Hoyer was his use of the word "released" -- some of the 500 were released, while others were transferred to another country. We rated his claim Mostly True.

4. Ted Cruz: 'U.S. policy has changed, now we make deals with terrorists'

When President Barack Obama announced that Bergdahl was freed by his Taliban captors after five years in custody, critics were quick to jump on his decision to release the Guantanamo Bay detainees. Later that week, White House national security adviser Susan Rice said Obama was justified because the United States was at war with Bergdahl’s captors, even if it wasn’t in the traditional sense. But Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took exception to that characterization and said Obama changed "decades" of policy of not negotiating with terrorists.

We found that even though presidents and officials often say "we do not negotiate with terrorists," it has not proven to be a hard-and-fast rule. Obama’s actions so far do not signal a change in policy, but rather the latest in a long line of exceptions presidents have made throughout recent history. (The list includes former presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.) We rated Cruz’s statement Mostly False.

3. A video of Barack Obama speech was edited to change his meaning

A reader recently asked us to look at a YouTube video clip of Obama that puzzled them. The brief video showed Obama giving a speech in which he said, "And for the international order that we have worked for generations to build, ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign."

The clip came from an address to European youth at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels on March 26, 2014. But while the clip comes from a genuine White House video, it has been edited to make an entirely different point than the one Obama was making -- Rather, he was saying that these sentiments run counter to the ideals of free will and democracy. The statement in the chain email video was spliced together in a way that twists Obama’s argument beyond recognition, so we rated it Pants on Fire.

Bonus: Check out our video showing the truncated version compared with the original speech here.

2. Have there been 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook?

A striking statistic about school shootings made its rounds on the Internet this month. It said that at least 74 school shootings had occurred since December 2012, when an assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School left 28 dead. The statistic came from Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The figure is accurate only if you use a broad definition of "school shooting" that includes such incidents as suicides, accidents and spillover from adjacent criminal activity. The figure has some value in quantifying the proximity of guns to school campuses, but the group makes a significant stretch by tying the statistic so closely to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook. By doing this, the group closely associates the statistic with planned mass shootings targeting students and school staff -- a category that, using a more strict definition, accounts for only 10 of the 74 incidents.

The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rated it Mostly False.

1. Did Barack Obama sign a bill to forgive all outstanding student debt? No

In early June, a reader pointed us to a shocking headline circulating in chain emails and social media posts -- "Obama Signs Bill Forgiving All Student Loan Debt." It sounded too good to be true, at least from the students’ point of view, and it turned out to be a satirical article from the website, Empire News.

While Obama has taken executive action and called for passage of a student-loan refinancing bill now pending in the Senate, he didn’t say he was planning to forgive all student debts -- a far more massive undertaking. The claim is ridiculously false, so we rated it Pants on Fire.