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The first step in reporting a Truth-O-Meter story never changes.
We always call the person who made the claim and ask where he or she got the information that his or her statement was based on.
Sometimes the answers are a little surprising. Politicians will cite broadcasts they thought they heard or web sites with strong ideological biases. Sometimes they cite newspaper stories. Despite having aides at their disposal, politicians don’t always check out the accuracy of their information before making statements. That’s especially true when they come across a nugget that can help advance their agendas.
U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, a Republican who represents coal-rich Southwest Virginia, is our latest example of speaking before verifying. Griffith unseated 14-term Democrat Rick Boucher last fall, in part by promising to "rein in" the Environmental Protection Agency. He issued a statement last month saying the EPA has approved new rules that would subject milk spilled on dairy farms to the same cleanup regulations that govern oil spills.
Griffith was wrong. The agency is getting ready to implement a 2009 rule change that excludes milk and dairy farms from the spill rules governing oil products -- the exact opposite of what the congressman claimed. We rated Griffith’s statement False.
Where did he get his information? His press secretary sent us an inaccurate editorial from The Wall Street Journal, which also dislikes the EPA.
Here are a few other examples of politicians, from Virginia and other states, who spoke before verifying:
*Virginia House Speaker William Howell claimed last November that "there’s talk in Congress about basically confiscating your private 401(k) or IRA plan and rolling it into Social Security to strengthen Social Security." Howell got a Pants on Fire. While Congress had questioned whether tax-deferred accounts resulted in sufficient savings for retirements, there was never discussion about "confiscating" the accounts from people.
Howell’s source was an article in the conservative Carolina Journal Online.
*George Allen, who is seeking to regain the U.S. Senate seat he lost in 2006, said last November that the national debt had increased by $6 billion since President Barack Obama took office. Turns out the debt had gone up by $3 billion at the time of Allen’s statement, which we rated False.
Allen cited a CBS News report as his source. The report said that in 2012, the debt is projected to grow by $5.9 billion under Obama’s watch.
*U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., claimed last November that an Obama trip to India late last year was "expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day." The statement drew gasps because perhaps the most expensive presidential overseas trip, by Bill Clinton to Asia in 2000, was estimated to cost $10 million a day. The claim was rated False.
Asked for her source, Bachmann said "these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press." Turns out the claim was attributed to an anonymous source in a report from the news agency Press Trust of India.
*U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, said in January, "the last Christians are about to leave "Iraq." He got a Pants on Fire.
He cited a story in The New York Times which actually said that the last Christians were leaving Habbaniya Cece, a town of 10,500. The State Department estimated there were still between 400,000 and 600,000 Christians in Iraq.
*The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal Washington, D.C. organization, blasted out an e-mail last month saying Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, "has threatened to call out the National Guard" if state workers protest against collective bargaining laws. The group got a Pants on Fire.
The organization cited a number of news reports. But what the stories actually said was that Walker was prepared to call out the National Guard to provide services if protesting state employees don’t show up at work. He never said he would use the National Guard to suppress demonstrations at the state Capitol.
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