PolitiFact's Thanksgiving dinner guide to harmony and accuracy
You just sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, famished from a game of touch football in the backyard with all the cousins. The mashed potatoes are steaming. Your family is going around the table to say what they’re thankful for — love, each other and good health aplenty.
But there’s always one person who’s just a little too surly for the occasion. This person — maybe he’s like Saturday Night Live’s Drunk Uncle — falls asleep to cable news and doesn’t like what he’s learned from "the Facebook." He uses the meal to go on a diatribe about immigration and the do-nothing Congress, and before anyone can stop it, he’s roped the entire table into a political debate.
Don’t be caught looking like a turkey. Here’s our guide to separating fact from fiction when the conversation gets political on Thanksgiving.
Consider the source. Chain emails. Facebook memes. Viral tweets. Satirical websites. No matter how elaborate or realistic these seem, if they’re shared en masse on the Internet, be skeptical. Of our 292 fact-checks of memes, chain emails and bloggers, almost 75 percent received our False or Pants on Fire ratings, while just 29 were True or Mostly True.
For example, a popular chain email claims President Barack Obama has signed 1,000 executive orders, more than any of his predecessors. Not only has Obama signed nowhere near 1,000 executive orders (the updated number is 193), he’s on pace to sign fewer than any two-term president since Teddy Roosevelt.
The point is, if someone at the dinner table starts a sentence with, "I read on the Internet … " you have pretty good standing to question whatever comes next.
Cable news doesn’t get a pass. While typically more credible than anonymous Internet sources, you shouldn’t always take what talking heads and cable news hosts say as fact either.
PunditFact maintains running scorecards for the leading broadcast and cable news networks based on the accuracy of investigated claims. About 60 percent of claims from Fox pundits were either rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire, compared to 43 percent of statements from personalities on MSNBC and NBC. CNN pundits have fared better, with 20 percent of fact-checked statements falling at Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.
But attempts to discredit the networks, particularly the liberal target Fox News, tend to be pervasive and inaccurate as well.
One meme claimed Fox News is "banned in Canada" for "lying to viewers" in violation of Canadian law. In reality, Fox News has had a presence in our northern neighbor via satellite since 2004, so that claim is rated Pants on Fire. Another Facebook post claimed Fox News "admits they lie" and claims the right to "distort news." This is False.
If it’s scary, be wary. The recent election saw the return of scare tactics aimed at voters just before they headed to the polls. From "Mediscare" ads targeting grandma and grandpa to fear mongering with Ebola and Islamic State, we heard many claims not worthy of your time and trust.
Be bold in shooting down and moving on from the following wild claims if they come up at dinner.
Can Ebola be transmitted through the air by a sneeze? False. Did Republicans increase Medicare costs for current seniors by $6,000 a year? False. Would a bipartisan gun background-check bill leave you vulnerable to attack in your home? Pants on Fire.
Find common ground. Maybe you can’t stop your relatives from believing the chain email conspiracies. (In that case, you can try selling them batteries and bottled water.) Consider changing the conversation to mutual disdain for Congress, a sentiment shared by your table’s Rush Limbaugh disciples, liberal college activists and moderates.
Facebook memes are rarely accurate, but we actually rated this one True. The post claimed Congress has 11 percent approval ratings but a 96 percent incumbent-reelection rate. The numbers were pretty spot on. Americans as a whole are annoyed with their legislative branch, yet there are few new faces coming to Washington.
But be careful in your criticism. Complaints about Congress can miss the mark. Despite what we often hear, Congress isn’t "exempt" from the Affordable Care Act. And contrary to another oft-circulated graphic, the makeup of Congress does not include 36 people accused of spousal abuse, 84 arrested for drunken driving in the past year, and 71 with terrible credit.
If you are successful in fighting fiction with facts this Thanksgiving, maybe next year drunk uncle will skip the soapbox and just say what he’s thankful for.