PolitiFact California's Top 10 fact checks (so far) in 2017
In the first half of 2017, PolitiFact California’s most popular fact-checks and articles, in terms of pageviews, ranged from a Pants On Fire claim that state lawmakers legalized child prostitution to a Mostly True statement about the extremely slim odds of being killed by a refugee in a terror attack.
Two of the fact-checks were published in 2016 and continued to draw strong readership in the first six months of this year. They include a Half True claim that now Vice President Mike Pence supported conversion therapy. It was our most read fact check in 2016 and also in the first half of 2017.
Also on the list: Fact checks on California’s extremes, including a True rating regarding the state’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rate (at least when cost of living is factored in) and a Mostly True claim about the state possessing the sixth largest economy on the planet.
Here are the Top Ten most popular fact-checks and articles (so far) in 2017 in reverse order:
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has contended that politicians give themselves an unfair advantage in elections when they can draw district lines — a tactic known as gerrymandering. To support his argument, he tweeted in February that "The average margin of victory in the House of Representatives was 37%." That number was backed up by an independent election tracker and a veteran political professor. Our rating: True.
State Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes got it right in January when he said California had the country’s worst poverty rate, after factoring in cost-of-living expenses. Experts said the distinction was important, because factors such as California’s huge housing costs affect the poverty rate. Our rating: True.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted in March: ""Cost of iPhone: $399 - Cost of healthcare for 1 year: $10,345 - Hearing @jasoninthehouse compare the 2 as if they are the same: priceless." He was reacting to a controversial statement made by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, that Americans should invest in healthcare rather than a ‘new iPhone.’ Evidence backed up Newsom’s numbers, but varying prices for both iPhones and healthcare led us to believe he needed to clarify a few points. Our rating: Mostly True.
Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen assigned false-blame to Gov. Jerry Brown in February when he accused him of failing to avoid the Oroville Dam crisis. Travis, who is now running for governor, tweeted that "California passed a $7.5 Billion water bond in 2014 but Jerry Brown didn't spend $1 on new water storage or improvements to existing infrastructure like Oroville." The dam is not eligible to receive funds from the water bond in question. Our rating: Mostly False.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra called California a "donor state" in January, saying it pays more in tax dollars to Washington than it receives in federal spending. Multiple analyses showed that statement was mainly true, although the exact ratio varied, and one estimate showed California just barely getting less from DC. We didn’t give this a rating on our Truth-O-Meter rating.
State Senate leader Kevin de León grandly claimed at the Democratic National Convention last year that California has "the sixth largest economy on planet Earth." Comparisons are often made between economies of the state and other countries. But this claim ignored some important factors, such as cost-of-living. Still, the hypothetical ranking of GDP was accurate. We published this in July 2016, but it’s remained one of our most popular fact checks in 2017. Our rating: Mostly True.
Amid fears in February that the Trump administration could crack down on states that legalized recreational marijuana, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Trump "committed to honoring states' rights when it comes to marijuana legalization." Then-candidate Trump did say in multiple interviews that he favored leaving the recreational marijuana question to states. He relayed some concern about pot use, but said nothing that would contradict Newsom’s claim. Our rating: True.
GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen ignited a firestorm of controversy late December when he wrote in an op-ed that "Beginning on Jan. 1, prostitution by minors will be legal in California." He was responding to a bill set to go into effect that decriminalized prostitution for minors. The bill did not legalize commercial sex, but recognized minors who solicit sex as victims, not perpetrators. Our rating: Pants on Fire!
Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu slammed President Trump’s travel ban in a press-release in January, saying, "The chances of being killed by a refugee committing a terrorist act is 1 in 3.6 billion." That number is truthful, but Lieu should have clarified that these odds are "per year," and that they reflect attacks on U.S. soil. Our rating: Mostly True.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in July 2016 that now Vice President Mike Pence "advocated diverting taxpayer dollars to so-called conversion therapy." Pence’s words on his 2000 congressional campaign website have been interpreted by LGBT advocates as supporting the controversial practice. We found, however, the claim is not fully supported. Our rating: Half True.
The second half of 2017 promises to be busy at PolitiFact California. We’ll continue to check the facts on topics important to Californians, from healthcare to tax reform and climate change to immigration.
We’ll also be on duty to fact-check candidates in the 2018 governor’s race as part of our Tracking the Truth project throughout this year and next.
As we sort through true and false claims, we’d like feedback from you -- our audience. Whether you agree or disagree with our ratings, we’d like to hear your voice.
We also welcome your ideas for a fact-check. Have you heard something that makes you wonder: ‘Is that true?’ If so, fill out a form here with your idea.
It’s now time for more fact-checking in the second half of 2017.
PolitiFact California intern Eli Flesch contributed research and writing to this article.