Top 5 fact-checks and reports for August

As summer starts to recede into the rear-view mirror, we take a look at our most-read stories of August. Pictured: Clearwater Beach (Douglas R. Clifford-Tampa Bay Times)
As summer starts to recede into the rear-view mirror, we take a look at our most-read stories of August. Pictured: Clearwater Beach (Douglas R. Clifford-Tampa Bay Times)

Political rhetoric never takes a vacation. Nor, apparently, do our readers, judging by the popularity of our reports for August. Here are the top five fact-checks and reports for the month, including a look at presidential vacation statistics, minimum-wage summer jobs, and even President Barack Obama’s summer attire.

1. Who took more vacation -- George W. Bush or Barack Obama?

The Obama family’s summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., revived interest in how much time he had spent away from the White House, compared with President George W. Bush.

A blizzard of domestic and foreign-policy challenges occurred while Obama was on vacation -- and often on the golf course -- and it was not lost on many of his critics, as well as some of his supporters.

CBS White House reporter Mark Knoller is the unofficial but widely trusted chronicler of data on presidential travels and other day-to-day White House goings-on, so we turned to his calculations.

On Aug. 8, 2014, Knoller tweeted that Obama had taken 19 vacations totaling 125 days while in office. Those numbers have risen a bit due to the Martha’s Vineyard vacation, but that’s still fewer than George W. Bush’s 65 combined trips to his Texas ranch and his parents’ home in Kennebunkport, Maine, which totaled 407 days at the same point in his presidency.

Not included in this data are trips to the Camp David presidential retreat in western Maryland, which Knoller doesn’t count as "vacation." Knoller told Yahoo! News that, through Aug. 12, 2014, Obama had made 33 visits to Camp David for all or part of 84 days, while Bush had been there 108 times for 341 days.

As we’ve noted previously, the unique security concerns for a president mean that he and his family can’t simply head out on the road and plop down at a Motel 6. And all presidents have to be accessible for consultation and decision-making even if they’re on vacation. As Knoller tweeted, a president "is never really on ‘vacation.’ The job and responsibilities go with him wherever he is."

Read the full story here.

2. Could a minimum-wage earner in 1978 earn enough in a summer to pay a full year's tuition?

A meme circulating on social media -- created by OurTime.org, an advocacy group for young Americans -- said, "In 1978, a student who worked a minimum-wage summer job could afford to pay a year's full tuition at the 4-year public university of their choice."

Using federal statistics, we found that this was accurate, with one caveat -- the phrase "of their choice" isn’t quite accurate, because the data only refers to in-state tuition, meaning that a student would have access to this tuition rate only at their home-state university. On balance, we rated the claim Mostly True.

3. Global warming is a hoax, says Louisiana congressional hopeful Lenar Whitney

A five-minute video outlining the beliefs of Republican Lenar Whitney, a Louisiana state representative running for U.S. Congress, made the rounds on the Internet earlier this year. Whitney labeled global warming a big-government "scam" and "conspiracy."

"Energy security is real, global warming is not. It is merely a strategy designed to give more power to the executive branch while increasing taxes in a progressive stream to regulate every aspect of American life," Whitney said in the video.

We have fact-checked climate change denial claims regularly, usually finding them to be False or Pants on Fire. There is an overwhelming consensus among respected scientists that human-caused global warming is real, and we found Whitney’s counter-evidence lacking. We found her claim of a hoax to be Pants on Fire.

4.  Rep. Lynn Jenkins blames Harry Reid for 'do-nothing Senate'

As members of Congress decamped to their home districts for the August recess, readers asked us to check comments made by Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., about House-passed bills dying on the doorstep of the Senate. Jenkins said that in the "do-nothing Senate," there are 352 House bills "sitting on Harry Reid’s desk awaiting action," including 55 introduced by Democrats. (Reid, a Nevada Democrat, is the Senate majority leader.)

We found that in some cases, committee chairs -- not Reid -- may be blocking or moving slowly on these bills. In other cases, senators are working on their own alternative bills on the same topic.

The claim also oversells the degree of bipartisanship in the House; a majority of the Democratic-sponsored bills she cites are relatively minor pieces of legislation.

Ultimately, Jenkins placed all the blame on the Democrats and the Senate, but experts agree that it takes two to tango. Both parties and chambers have played a role in creating the current legislative dysfunction. On balance, we rated the claim Half True.

5. The audacity of taupe

Shortly before Labor Day, Obama came to the podium to address a serious topic: Russia and Ukraine. But in an age in which everything is scrutinized, the Twitterverse got giddy poking fun at Obama’s suit color.

"The audacity of taupe," tweeted The Atlantic political reporter Molly Ball. "Yes we tan," offered New York Times reporter Nick Confessore.

An astute Twitter follower noted the suit may have triggered warning sirens — not from the fashion police, but the Flip-O-Meter.

Scott Ritter of New York City sent us a link to Michael Lewis’ 2012 profile of Obama in Vanity Fair magazine. "You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits," Obama told him. "I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."

We didn’t officially put his sartorial choice on his permanent Flip-O-Meter record, but we made clear that when it comes to suit color, his fashion statement at the press conference was a Full Flop.