Two scorchings averted

Minority Leader Ward Armstrong was upset to learn the SCC gave him the wrong number.
Minority Leader Ward Armstrong was upset to learn the SCC gave him the wrong number.

PolitiFact Virginia spared two politicians the rigors of facing the Truth-O-Meter even though their statements were obviously false. They were House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong and Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Armstrong, D-Henry, erred in saying that Appalachian Power rates "soared by more than 90 percent" from 2007 to 2009. We discovered he was accurately citing a wrong figure that the State Corporation Commission gave him.

It turns out that Appalachian’s rates increased by 33 percent over the two-year span. After we made inquiries, the SCC acknowledged its mistake.

We debated whether to deploy the Truth-O-Meter for Armstrong. The argument for doing so was that Armstrong continued to use the SCC figure for a week after he was told on Jan 20 it was wrong by Appalachian, the Office of the Attorney General and several utility industry lobbyists.

Armstrong told us he didn’t trust Appalachian and the lobbyists. He said he stuck with the SCC until the regulatory agency admitted it was wrong.

In the end, we decided to write a story about the mistake instead of doing a Truth-O-Meter piece focused on Armstrong. It seemed clear that Armstrong would not have used the faulty figure in the first place had the SCC not supplied him with it. We felt he should not be held responsible for another party’s mistake.

That decision did not sit well with one utility lobbyist, who e-mailed us, "Even after he was told he was wrong, he didn’t bother to re-check (his facts) until you guys got engaged. If that doesn’t deserve a pants on fire, I don’t know what does."

McDonnell made a mistake during a Jan. 17 news conference at which he laid out a plan for state colleges to award 100,000 additional degrees over the next 15 years.

The governor claimed that state colleges and universities only have room for 38 percent of Virginians seeking higher education. We received a tip that he was wrong.

McDonnell did not include the bad number on a news release detailing his plan to expand colleges. When we called his office, we were quickly told the governor misspoke. McDonnell meant to say that barely one-third of young Virginians move past high school and the state needs to do a better job promoting higher education.

Again, we ended up writing a story rather that starting up the Truth-O-Meter. The governor is often called on to cite statistics and we decided to give him leeway for a mistake that was quickly acknowledged and not repeated.