PolitiFact Wins the “Golden Shovel” Award

Donald Trump:  “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”  — PolitiFact National on Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Disclosure: I’m not a big fan of President Trump’s tweets. I prefer my presidents to be more in the Abraham Lincoln mold. But, on the other hand, in this age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, maybe Trump is a more skillful communicator than he is given credit for. Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert, one of my favorite newspaper cartoons, has commented on this in a very insightful blog post titled, “Persuading Terrorist Cowards.” It’s worth reading.

PolitiFact’s Argument

This is my fourth look at a PolitiFact pants-on-fire claim against President Trump. And here is the exact tweet that PolitiFact takes issue with: “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”

PolitiFact rates this as a pants-on-fire lie for the following reasons:

  1. There is no evidence that General Pershing shot Muslim insurgents with bullets dipped in pig’s blood.
  2. Trump got the idea from a popular culture myth.
  3. In fact, President Trump got it wrong about the harshness of General Pershing’s tactics. Pershing put a lot of effort into ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the Muslim insurgents on Moro.
  4. It’s highly unlikely that any Muslim would be deterred by pig’s blood.
  5. After Pershing’s 4-year tour as governor of the mainly Muslim Moro province in the Philippines, the violence didn’t stop for the next 25 or 35 years as President Trump said. It remained a place of unrest. The violence there continued for some time after 1913, the year Pershing left.

My Opinion

  1. PolitiFact rated President Trump’s August 17, 2017 tweet as ‘pants-on-fire’ because they flat-out don’t believe his story about Muslim terrorists being executed by General Pershing with bullets dipped in pig blood, or that that practice brought peace to the land.
  2. As an alert reader, I’m sure you’ve already noticed that President Trump doesn’t mention pig’s blood or executions in his tweet. So where does PolitiFact get this from?
  3. For its argument, PolitiFact assumed President Trump was referencing something he said a year earlier on February 16, 2016, and to which comment PolitiFact had already attached its ‘pants-on-fire’ label. PolitiFact  
  4. We could discuss all day whether PolitiFact should be writing up duplicate ‘pants-on-fire’ claims for the same statement, and then double-counting them when they publish their aggregate number of pants-on-fire claims against President Trump. But let’s ignore that for the present.
  5. We could also discuss all day the ethics of PolitiFact ‘mind reading’ President Trump and presuming they knew exactly what he was referring to in his August 2017 tweet about General Pershing’s handling of terrorists in the Philippines. In his tweet, President Trump invited people ‘to study’ what General Pershing did. Maybe President Trump read PolitiFact’s 2016 pants-on-fire claim on the subject and has since studied up on the subject himself and learned something new. Maybe not. We don’t know, and neither does PolitiFact. But let’s also ignore that for the present.
  6. For the present, let’s go back to President Trump’s February 2016 statement about Muslim insurgents being deterred from terrorism by the fear of being executed by a bullet smeared with pig’s blood. Where in heck did President Trump get that from? PolitiFact thinks it’s a ridiculous urban legend with no basis in fact.
  7. In fact, the essence of the story was first told in 2002 by Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Is President Trump to be called a liar because he repeated a story told by the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee? Of course not. And if the terrorist/pig story is false, shouldn’t Democratic Senator Graham have been the target of PolitiFact’s accusations and not President Trump.
  8. To review:
    1. In August 2017, PolitiFact wrote an entire ‘pants-on-fire’ accusation against President Trump, not based on what he wrote in a tweet, but based on combining what he wrote in that tweet with something he’s said the year before and for which they had already labeled him a liar.
    2. The story in question was first told by the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2002. President Trump was simply repeating the story, albeit a somewhat exaggerated version.
  9. PolitiFact’s final point is a rather subjective one. They are positive that whatever General Pershing did in the Philippines, it certainly didn’t bring peace to the land for 35 years. Well, the history books say that the Muslim Moro province rebellion lasted from 1899 to 1913. In other words, the rebellion stopped in 1913, the year that Pershing left.

Here is where PolitiFact got its story wrong:

General Pershing did take extraordinary and controversial steps to control Islamic Terrorism when he was fighting Muslim insurgents during the Philippine war. And he believed those steps were effective.

Below, are a series of quotes. The first quote, strangely, comes from PolitiFact. It was used in the PolitiFact article to support their claim against President Trump, but it seems to me PolitiFact missed an important point in their own quote. Major Bell is offering his support to Pershing in maintaining a practice that Pershing already had been enforcing. From PolitiFact:

…the editor of the 2013 edition, John T. Greenwood, cited a letter about the incident from Maj. Gen. J. Franklin Bell, the commander of the Philippines Division, to Pershing: “Of course there is nothing to be done, but I understand it has long been a custom to bury (insurgents) with pigs when they kill Americans. I think this a good plan, for if anything will discourage the (insurgents) it is the prospect of going to hell instead of to heaven. You can rely on me to stand by you in maintaining this custom. It is the only possible thing we can do to discourage crazy fanatics. PolitiFact: Trump retells story

This next quote is from an August 17, 2017 article in the Washington Examiner:
“The story is highly controversial because it suggests that the government has used a deliberate form of religious discrimination as a successful anti-terror tactic. A 2009 biography of Pershing by Jim Lacey, a military analyst for the Institute for Defense Analyses, claimed to confirm that Pershing did use the tactic. Washington Examiner: Trump repeats story

“Until now the historical verdict is that this was a vicious rumor and while it may have happened in occasion, Pershing neither knew about it nor, given his humane outlook, would have condoned such an action. That verdict is wrong as Pershing’s own unpublished autobiography states,” Lacey wrote in Pershing: A Biography, published by PalGrave MacMillan.

The book then cites an unpublished letter by Pershing: “These juramentado attacks were materially reduced in number by a practice the Army had already adopted, one that the Mohammedans held in abhorrence: The bodies were publicly buried in the same grave with a dead pig. It was not pleasant to have to take such measures but the prospect of going to hell instead of heaven sometimes deterred the would-be assassins.”

Further, an August 17, 2017 New York Daily News articles quoted Lacey again:

There is evidence that he committed what we would call war crimes, chopping off heads and burying insurgents in pig skin, and that’s from his own autobiography,” told the Daily News. Lacey said that he discovered the admission, missing from other accounts of the general’s life, for work on his own biography of Pershing. He added that the story was out of character for the general, who he described as a model for the “nation-building” strategy in U.S. foreign military engagements.”

This final quote below shows that President Trump was not just repeating an urban legend. He was repeating a story told by the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham (D-Fla.) cited as an example a dinner he attended last week with people who work on intelligence issues and have connections to the intelligence community. The dinner conversation ranged in part on how U.S. military commander “Black Jack” Pershing used Islam’s prohibition on pork to help crush an insurgency on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao after the Spanish-American War at the turn of the last century. In one instance, Graham explained in an interview, U.S. soldiers captured 12 Muslims. They killed six of them with “bullets dipped into the fat of pigs.” After that, Graham said, the U.S. soldiers wrapped the Muslim rebels in funeral shrouds made of pigskin and “buried them face down so they could not see Mecca. Then they poured the entrails of the pigs over them. The other six were forced to watch. And that was the end of the insurrection on Mindanao,” Graham noted.”   LA Times: Trump

Now let’s go back and judge the original PolitiFact pants on fire claims against President Trump:

  1. PolitiFact: There is no evidence that General Pershing’s men shot Muslim insurgents with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. My opinion: Agreed. They used pig’s fat not pig’s blood. Though truth be told, I’m not sure how you smear something with pig’s fat and not get a little blood mixed in there too. And let’s also not lose sight of the fact that President Trump’s 2017 tweet said nothing about shooting Muslim terrorists with bullets of any kind.
  2. PolitiFact: Trump got the idea from a popular culture myth. My opinion: False. The basic facts behind the story were told by Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
  3. PolitiFact: In fact, President Trump got it wrong about the harshness of General Pershing’s tactics. My opinion: False. Letters and Pershing’s own autobiography clearly show he used pig’s skins, and more, to discourage rebels.
  4. PolitiFact: It’s highly unlikely that any Muslim would be deterred by tactics involving pigs, etc. My opinion: False. Reports from ‘boots on the ground’ clearly show Pershing and other officers thought the method effective.
  5. PolitiFact: After Pershing’s 4-year tour as governor of the mainly Muslim Moro province in the Philippines, the violence didn’t stop for the next 25 or 35 years as President Trump said. It remained a place of unrest. The violence there continued for some time after 1913, the year Pershing left. My opinion: False. The war ended in 1913. However, according to the historical record, some minor violence did continue periodically in Moro province in the decades after Pershing. However, was there a recurrence of the Radical Islamic Terror that President Trump referred to? I honestly don’t know. I couldn’t find any reference to it in my research. And neither could PolitiFact. Certainly, Muslim combatants fighting for their independence is not the same as Radical Islamic Terror.

Conclusion

My ruling: For this ill-advised attempt to label President Trump a liar, I award PolitiFact the “Golden Shovel” award. Next time they need to dig deeper. When I research something all I have is Google. Surely, the PolitiFact reporters working for the Tampa Bay Times have access to more research databases than I have. How come I could find that additional information on Pershing and Senator Graham and they couldn’t?

Given the sheer number of ‘pants-on-fire’ statements PolitiFact has attributed to President Trump, there is no doubt that PolitiFact is ‘on a mission.’ But wow! Couldn’t they find ‘lies’ that were, well, actual lies. Apparently not. Or at least not so far. Four down, seventeen PolitiFact statements to go! Maybe PolitiFact will get the next one right.

In my next post, I will tackle PolitiFact’s assertion that President Trump lied when he said: Amazon has a “no-tax monopoly.”  on Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

 

 

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PolitiFact Wins the Mr. Magoo Award

in this post I tackle the second on my list of PolitiFact “Pants-on-Fire” statements by President Trump.

Disclosure: I disagree with President Trump on the elimination of the estate tax. I believe the tax doesn’t have to be eliminated to protect small businesses and farmers from excessive taxation. To quote Winston Churchill, estate taxes are “a certain corrective against the development of a race of idle rich”. And I believe that the ‘idle rich’ cause as many problems in a society as the idle poor.

PolitiFact Writes

Donald Trump

Ending the estate tax would “protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer.”

— PolitiFact National on Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Here is My Opinion

In its efforts to peg President Trump a shameless liar, PolitiFact does a very good job of explaining why the “Death Tax” should be kept. In fact, PolitiFact’s position won my vote on that score.

But the question before us is not whether the estate tax is good or bad, but whether President Trump lied when he said that ending the estate tax would “protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer.”

This is only the second PolitiFact claim than I’ve examined, but I’m already seeing a trend. PolitiFact doesn’t like Donald Trump, consequently, whenever he opens his mouth, they’re immediately charging the matador’s cape with their eyes closed, and consequently are missing their target completely.

The PolitiFact argument in a nutshell: According to the Tax Policy Center (an organization that claims to be nonpartisan but is generally thought to have a liberal bias – especially by the WSJ https://www.wsj.com/articles/tax-policy-center-propaganda-1506889612 ) only 5,460 estates will likely have to pay estate taxes in 2017. And of those only 80 or so could be considered small businesses or farmers. Eighty small businesses and farmers is quite a ways from the millions that President Trump claimed he was protecting. Therefore, according to PolitiFact, President Trump’s statement is ridiculous and deserves a pants on fire ruling.

I’m sorry PolitiFact: despite your facts, which I have no reason to dispute, ending the estate tax really does protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer. And I’m surprised you don’t see it.

Let’s supposes that instead of talking about the estate tax, President Trump had been talking about toughening up the gun laws in Chicago, a city with a population of 2.7 million. If President Trump had said that toughening the gun laws would protect millions of people in Chicago, would PolitiFact have disagreed? Would PolitiFact argue that since only 762 people were killed by guns in Chicago in 2016, it is ridiculous to claim millions would be protected by the new law in 2017?

Or perhaps, if after the new law was passed and gun deaths dropped to, let’s say, 700, would PolitiFact then claim that only 62 people had been protected? I assume so. Because this is essentially the argument PolitiFact is using against President Trump on the estate tax. PolitiFact would have said that President Trump was an audacious liar and only 62 people had actually been protected by the new gun laws, just as only 80 small businesses and farmers are being ‘protected’ by the repeal of the estate tax.

Why is it that I can clearly see President Trump’s point and PolitiFact can’t? President Trump is saying that there are millions of small businesses and American farmers who now will forever be protected from the estate tax. Is it salesmanship? Yes. Is it putting the best window dressing on a bad law? Yes. Is it a lie? No. I’m not even sure it qualifies as an exaggeration.

True, most small businesses or farmers will never be big enough to qualify for the estate tax. But they’ll all wish they were. I suspect the vast majority of small businesses are earnestly striving to be worth the $5.49 million required to be subject to the estate tax. But, most will never make it. But, nevertheless, with the tax eliminated, they will forever be protected from ever having that problem.

President Trump’s wording of his message is called putting the best spin on a situation. This is hardly a reason to call him a liar.

My ruling: I used to have a professor in college (Boise State University – Rulon Hurt’s alma mater! Go Broncos!) who was fond of saying, “Every way of seeing the world is a way of not seeing the world.” In this case, PolitiFact seems to have a blindspot about President Trump, and neither PolitiFact’s principles, review committee, or followers seem able to open their eyes to that fact. Unfortunately, this blindspot is not serving PolitiFact well if they want to be known as an objective, reasonable, and nonpartisan purveyor of truth.

For this ‘pants on fire’ claim about President Trump, PolitiFact earns the “Mr. Magoo” award.

For those not familiar with Mr. Magoo, Wikipedia states: Quincy Magoo (or simply Mr. Magoo) is a cartoon character created at the UPA animation studio in 1949. Voiced by Jim Backus, Quincy Magoo is a wealthy, short-statured retiree who gets into a series of comical situations as a result of his extreme near-sightedness, compounded by his stubborn refusal to admit the problem.

In my next post, I’ll tackle the third pants-on-fire statement PolitiFact attributes to President Trump:

Donald Trump

White nationalist protesters in Charlottesville “had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.”

— PolitiFact National on Thursday, August 17th, 2017

 

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PolitiFact Wins the “Artful Dodger” Award

There are so many conflicting stories and opinions in the press these days. And so many persuasive speakers and writers whose motives and honesty we have almost no way of judging. For this reason, I finally decided to personally investigate some of the claims made about President Trump in the press. In other words, I’ve decided to fact-check and logic-check the Fact Checkers.

Over the years, an organization called PolitiFact, a non-profit opinion arm of the Tampa Bay Times, http://www.politifact.com/ has hammered President Trump relentlessly over the veracity of his statements. I decided I would start with them.

PolitiFact’s mission is to ‘fact check’ statements by politicians and other public figures and to issue a “ruling” over whether the statement is true or not.

PolitiFact gives only the clearest and most egregious of lies its PANTS ON FIRE ruling, defined by PolitiFact as: The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim. PolitiFact pants on fire definition

In today’s post, I examine the first of twenty-one President Trump “Pants-on-Fire” statements as determined by PolitiFact. I did not cherry-pick these statements. This list was emailed to me by a good friend who endorses PolitiFact. I’m addressing the statements in the order they were sent.

Is President Trump a compulsive liar, as several of my friends have suggested? Or has the press been giving him a bum deal? By the time I’ve checked all twenty-one ‘pants-on-fire’ claims, I should know.

Below is the link to the PolitiFact website with its argument that President Trump egregiously lied when he said that Chicago had the strongest gun laws in the nation. Did he? PolitiFact is adamant he did.

Donald Trump: Chicago is “the city with the strongest gun laws in our Nation.” November 7th, 2017

          I’ve read PolitiFact’s argument and below is my opinion

In the end, while attempting to drive home its point, PolitiFact only succeeded in trivializing the entire issue of guns laws and gun violence.

Does anyone doubt that Chicago has tough gun laws? Does anyone doubt that Chicago’s gun laws are up there with the toughest in the country? Even PolitiFact doesn’t dispute that. And yet, PolitiFact chooses instead to get bogged down in a discussion on whether Chicago has the toughest or second toughest, or third toughest laws in the country.

In fact, there are considerable differences in opinion as to where Chicago ranks in the list of toughest cities on gun crime. A person’s opinion on the point seems to rest on what weight they give the various laws. For this reason, it seemed even stranger to me that PolitiFact would waste its time on this.

This even appears to be a violation of PolitiFact’s own charter.
PolitiFact states on its website: “Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.” truth-o-meter/principles

PolitiFact also states: “To assess the truth for a numbers claim, the biggest factor is the underlying message.” truth-o-meter/article

Here again, PolitiFact violated one of its own principles. President Trump’s underlying message is that Chicago has really tough gun laws and still has a rising murder rate. Is President Trump’s point not still valid even if Chicago doesn’t have the absolute #1 toughest laws in the country?

Still, PolitiFact rates President Trump’s statement to be inaccurate, ridiculous, and deserving of their most caustic, pants-on-fire rating.

Well, I’ve already made my point about this PolitiFact argument, but, at the risk of being accused of ‘piling on’, here are some additional problems I found – not factual errors, so much as simple errors in logic and generally wide of the mark comments.

Problems with PolitiFact’s reasoning :
1. PolitiFact’s claim against President Trump positively screamed out for a simple answer, i.e., simply tell me the cities you think have stronger gun laws than Chicago, then list and compare the significant laws between them. End of story. Case closed. The fact that PolitiFact couldn’t/wouldn’t do this leaves me gobsmacked as to why they still insisted on calling President Trump a liar over his statement. I mean, if you can’t list the cities with stronger gun laws than Chicago then walk away!
2. In its opening argument, instead of answering the question which cities have stronger gun laws than Chicago, PolitiFact answered the question: Are Chicago’s gun laws today stronger than they were in 2010? Apparently not, but that doesn’t prove Chicago still doesn’t have the toughest gun laws in the nation. This is simple logic.
3. PolitiFact said that it cost ~$200 more to obtain a gun license in NYC than it does in Chicago. This is one of PolitiFact’s key arguments. However, it’s a pretty minor one given that guns themselves can cost $thousands.
4. PolitiFact tried using NYC’s longer gun-license processing period as an argument, however, the NYC processing time appears to be an administrative issue rather than a legal one.
5. PolitiFact argued that New York and six other states have stronger gun laws than Illinois without explaining what effect that had on cities within those states. Again, off the mark. President Trump never claimed that Illinois had the strongest gun laws.
6. PolitiFact stated that judges in Chicago gave felons in possession of a firearm four-year sentences when they could have given ten years, suggesting that Chicago judges were lax on enforcing gun laws. Okay, I have no reason to dispute this, but it is also off the mark. President Trump said that Chicago’s gun laws were the toughest in the nation, not that Chicago’s judges were the toughest in the nation.
7. PolitiFact mentions that New York and Los Angeles run their own concealed-carry permit process while Chicago does not. I checked this: In Chicago, the concealed carry process is handled by the state police. I’m not sure why PolitiFact considers this is a problem. They never say. Gun_laws_in_Illinois
8. I’m seeing a trend here: PolitiFact has the annoying habit of answering every question but the original one they started with.
9. Finally, in its entire argument, PolitiFact never actually names a city in America it believes has overall stronger gun laws than Chicago. I’m not making this up. Read the PolitiFact fact-check yourself.

All in all, PolitiFact didn’t make their case. Didn’t even come close. Which begs the question: who chose this issue? If this is an example of the most egregious lie they can pin on President Trump, PolitiFact is tacitly admitting they don’t have much to choose from.

In conclusion: For this, PolitiFact earns my “Artful Dodger” award. Throughout their response, they managed to dodge the very issue they themselves brought up.

Full disclosure: I’m left of President Trump on the issue of gun control. I believe there is ample room for toughening our nation’s gun laws without violating the Constitution. Here is an excellent article on the subject: reforms-gun-laws-actually-make-difference

In my next post, I will tackle the PolitiFact claim that President Trump lied when he said that repealing the estate tax would protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer.

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