Our most widely read fact checks this year have dug into President Trump’s pumped-up immigration numbers and Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s spin on the Republican tax cuts. They’ve covered the special counsel’s Russia investigation and the Democrats’ Green New Deal.
To mark the halfway point of 2019, here’s a list of the top 10 most-read fact checks so far this year:
1. ‘Some people did something’: The full context for Rep. Omar’s remarks
In April, a video clip of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaking to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) spread like wildfire across social media. She said, “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
A video snipping that line from Omar’s speech quickly went viral, and the phrase “some people did something” as a reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks drew heated criticism. As we often find, looking at the entire speech gives a different view. For starters, CAIR was founded in 1994, not in response to 9/11, as Omar claimed.
Her remarks were part of a larger point about anti-Muslim discrimination and came after she listed some examples. A longer look at what she said: “For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” We leave it for readers to decide whether Omar was clear enough on terrorism.
2. Does the Walton family earn more in a minute than Walmart workers do in a year?
No matter how you measure it, this claim from Sen. Bernie Sanders is solid. Even assuming a 40-hour week, the average Walmart worker earns less in a year than the Walton family earns in a minute just from dividends paid on the family’s stock holdings.
It’s the kind of surprising statistic that usually makes for a good fact check, and it happens to be correct. Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, earned a Geppetto Checkmark.
3. Trump tweets nonsensical figures on illegal immigration
A presidential tweet from January caught our eye because it included huge (and oddly precise) numbers on illegal migration. “We are not even into February and the cost of illegal immigration so far this year is $18,959,495,168. Cost Friday was $603,331,392,” Trump tweeted. “There are at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens, not the 11,000,000 that have been reported for years, in our Country.”
The president tweeted that these figures were from the Department of Homeland Security, but instead they appeared to come from the right-leaning One America News Network. That’s not all. Trump appears to have taken OANN’s number for “total aliens” and used it to describe “illegal aliens” instead. We gave him Four Pinocchios.
4. What happened in the White House between Democrats and Trump?
Trump met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer over the border wall in January, but things apparently went off the rails. Did Trump “slam” the table, and did Pelosi reject border security? We investigated. Everyone at this meeting was biased in some way, so no Pinocchios were given, but there were a few conclusions we could draw nevertheless.
5. What’s actually in the Green New Deal?
When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) rolled out the Green New Deal resolution with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Republicans lampooned the plan as an attempt to ban cow farts and air travel. The Green New Deal resolution doesn’t go quite that far, though it’s very ambitious, as we found in this fact check.
Key goals include cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years and guaranteeing jobs for all. The plan has prominent Democratic backers, including Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), all of whom are running for president. Many liberal and environmental groups are on board. Republicans say it’s a nonstarter that reeks of socialism.
6. Harris’s misleading tweet on Trump’s tax cuts
In February, Harris dashed off a critical tweet after the IRS reported preliminary data showing the average tax refund check down 8 percent ($170) compared with last year: “The average tax refund is down about $170 compared to last year. Let’s call the President’s tax cut what it is: a middle-class tax hike to line the pockets of already wealthy corporations and the 1%.”
But the size of a refund tells you nothing about a person’s tax bill. We gave Four Pinocchios to Harris because she linked these facts deceptively and without context, making it appear as though the smaller tax refunds were evidence of a tax hike on the middle class. In reality, the size of a tax refund reflects nothing about the size of a tax cut or tax increase — and at least in 2018, the vast majority of middle-class Americans can expect to pay less in taxes as a result of the Trump tax law.
7. Ocasio-Cortez misfires with wage statistics
At an event in January, the congresswoman said: “I think it’s wrong that a vast majority of the country doesn’t make a living wage, I think it’s wrong that you can work 100 hours and not feed your kids. I think it’s wrong that corporations like Walmart and Amazon can get paid by the government, essentially experience a wealth transfer from the public, for paying people less than a minimum wage.”
A lot of Americans do not earn enough for a living wage, but we cannot find evidence that it is the “vast majority.” One researcher’s estimates suggest the number is between 32 percent and 38 percent. We gave Three Pinocchios to Ocasio-Cortez (not Ten as she predicted).
8. What Attorney General Barr said vs. what the Mueller report said
Before the special counsel’s report on Russia and President Trump was released to the public April 18, Attorney General William P. Barr made several statements about what was in its 448 pages.
The report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was more damning than Barr indicated in a letter and in a news conference. After reading the Mueller report, we gave Three Pinocchios to Barr for the warped descriptions he initially gave the public on questions of collusion and obstruction of justice.
9. Stephen Miller’s claim that ‘thousands of Americans die year after year’ from illegal immigration
Trump adviser Stephen Miller slipped this line in the final seconds of a contentious interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace over the president’s emergency declaration to fund a wall along the southern border. It’s an astonishing claim, and we gave it Four Pinocchios.
10. Planned Parenthood’s false stat: ‘Thousands’ of women died every year before Roe
The president of Planned Parenthood claimed repeatedly that “thousands of women” died every year from botched abortions before 1973, when the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade. This Four Pinocchio-claim from Dr. Leana Wen is based on decades-old studies that, upon close inspection, rely on guesswork more than science.
Planned Parenthood referred us to a policy statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): “It is estimated that before 1973, 1.2 million U.S. women resorted to illegal abortion each year and that unsafe abortions caused as many as 5,000 annual deaths.” Where does that estimate come from? ACOG sent us several studies, but none of them included the 5,000 estimate. To support Wen’s claim, Planned Parenthood then sent us citations that included a study from 1936 — before antibiotics were invented and made abortion less risky.
There is, of course, a health risk from botched abortions. But the issue here is passing off a hunch as science.
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