Whose pants are the most on fire: the NBA, the NFL, Congress or Facebook memes?
Several readers sent us Facebook messages this week asking about a meme popping up on their newsfeed. It’s a list of statistics about crime, corruption and generally bad behavior, and it asks the viewer to guess if the list describes players in the NBA or the NFL. Surprise! It says it’s actually describing Congress.
The meme struck us as suspect right off the bat.
It says, of Congress’ 535 members:
- 36 have been accused of spousal abuse
- 7 have been arrested for fraud
- 19 have been accused of writing bad checks
- 117 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
- 3 have done time for assault
- 71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
- 14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
- 8 have been arrested for shoplifting
- 21 are currently defendants in lawsuits
- 84 have been arrested for drunk driving in the last year
Our friends at Snopes and FactCheck.org debunked the claims in this image years ago. But with the NFL’s current scandal concerning spousal and child abuse, it makes sense that this meme is circulating again.
So we’re going to debunk it again.
We don’t dispute that some lawmakers are involved in nefarious activities. Take, for example, former Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., who resigned earlier this year after he was caught buying cocaine from a federal agent.
There’s no comprehensive database about all congressional crime and generally unsavory behavior, so we can’t come up with the real numbers on our own. But we know enough about where the meme originated to say that these statistics can’t be trusted.
We searched the news, Congressional Quarterly membership profiles and other sources and couldn’t find anywhere near 84 arrests for drunk driving, 14 arrests for drug-related charges, 36 accusations of spousal abuse or any of these other accusations. We’re not even sure how you’d measure things like indirectly bankrupting a business or a person’s bad credit.
The meme gives no author or source information. However, Snopes examined a near-identical 2012 version that references a 1999 series of articles by Capitol Hill Blue, an online politics publication. (Capitol Hill Blue has had several issues with credibility in the past.)
Keep in mind that if these statistics were true -- and we’re reasonably certain they’re not -- they’re 15 years old. Only 100 members of the current Congress were in office in 1999, when Capitol Hill Blue published the stories.
The Capitol Hill Blue articles say the authors’ research revealed each one of the statistics listed above, though sometimes with slightly different wording. (With one exception: the article says 29 members have been accused of spousal abuse, rather than 36.)
The authors mention "public records, past newspaper articles, civil court cases and criminal records," but do not quote specific documents. They also say plainly of some of their sources, "We have talked with former associates and business partners who have been left out in the cold by people they thought were friends." So these sources possibly had an agenda in talking to Capitol Hill Blue.
We can’t even check which members of Congress Capitol Hill Blue is talking about. The article says, "We will not run lists of every member who has written a bad check, punched somebody out or been charged with slapping a spouse."
All of this makes it difficult to take these allegations seriously.
Even further, the series has been removed from Capitol Hill Blue’s website. It’s only accessible through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which periodically saves web pages. As far as we can tell, it was removed mid 2013. (In the last version that was saved, editors had removed the statistics from the article completely.)
We reached out to Capitol Hill Blue for comment but haven’t heard back.
A Facebook meme says Congress includes 36 people accused of spousal abuse, 84 arrested for drunk driving in the past year, 71 with terrible credit and more.
These accusations appear to be fabricated. The statistics come from an article written 15 years ago, and the original source, Capitol Hill Blue, has removed the original article from its website. Congress’ record isn’t blemish-free, by any means, but these statistics have no basis in fact. We rate this meme Pants on Fire!
Facebook, NBA vs. NFL meme, Sept. 18, 2014
Capitol Hill Blue, "Congress: America’s Criminal Class," Aug. 1999
Snopes, "Congress Mend," April 2012
FactCheck.org, "An Unlawful Congress?" April 22, 2009
Advanced Congressional Quarterly search, Sept. 23, 2014
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