Monday, September 17, 2018

Starting a pre-election series via FactCheck: Trump and Obama have both played fast and loose with facts lately

At a time where accusations of the oxymoron "fake news" run rampant and news outlets are under the microscope, it's more important than ever for everyone to get their facts right. That's why each Monday from now until Election Day, and perhaps more often, we will list a few of the most relevant items from It's a well-sourced, non-partisan service run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. We encourage you to subscribe to their alerts, which you can do here, and republish their findings, which you can do for free with credit to them.

As Hurricane Florence ravages the mid-Atlantic states, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said the federal government shifted nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Robert Farley reports for Fact Check. A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees both agencies, denied the accusation and said the money represented savings from FEMA's routine operating expenses that came in under budget, and was not taken from hurricane disaster response. But FEMA's Operations and Support fund, from which the $9.8 million was transferred, plays a role in disaster response, Farley notes. In the end, whether the $9.8 million could have helped with hurricane response, it's a tiny fraction of the $26.5 billion in FEMA's disaster relief fund, he concludes.

In two early-morning tweets, President Trump rejected research that estimated 2,975 Puerto Ricans had died because of Hurricane Maria, and he made some false and misleading claims, FactCheck reports. Trump said the hurricane-related death toll in Puerto Rico was from 6 to 18, but the Puerto Rico government's earliest estimate of the toll was 64. Trump claimed that the higher estimate was done by Democrats to make him look bad, but it was found by an independent study commissioned by Puerto Rico and done by George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. Trump said the study counted deaths for unrelated causes such as old age, but that was untrue.

FactCheck called out former President Barack Obama, too. In a Sept. 7 speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Obama said Republicans' changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act had caused more than 3 million Americans to lose health insurance. "That’s according to one estimate, but another found no significant change in the rate or the number of uninsured from 2016 to 2017," Lori Robertson reports. "As politicians are wont to do, Obama cherry-picked the higher figure that more strongly supported his point."

In the same speech, Obama said it's important not to threaten the freedom of the press, and that even though he complained about Fox News, he never threatened to shut it down or called its staffers enemies of the people. But FactCheck's Eugene Kiely notes, "The Democratic president did more than complain. His administration at times took action against the cable network. The Obama Justice Department surveilled one of Fox News’ reporters, and a White House spokesman acknowledged excluding Fox News from interviews. And while he may never have called Fox News 'enemies of the people' — a phrase President Donald Trump has used repeatedly for the media at large — Obama did say that its 'point of view' was 'ultimately destructive' to the U.S."

In an Aug. 30 rally in Evansville, Ind., Trump made three unsubstantiated claims about wind turbines: that a single turbine can kill thousands of birds, that wind not blowing causes "problems," and that living near turbines is noisy enough to make someone "go crazy after a couple of years," Jessica McDonald reports for FactCheck. She notes that a 2013 study estimated that each turbine causes about five bird deaths per year, power grid operators can easily handle sporadic periods without wind, and people living near turbines are rarely exposed to sound levels above 45 decibels, which McDonald says is about as much as a humming refrigerator.

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