Wednesday, December 13, 2017
News Roundup

PolitiFact's Top 5 fact-checks of 2015

From the presidential election to gun violence to federal spending, PolitiFact's most popular fact-checks for 2015 reflected some of the biggest issues of the year. Here, we count down the top five fact-checks of the year based on Web traffic.

5. A misleading pie chart of 'federal spending'

A pie chart circulating around social media purported to show federal spending, comparing military spending versus other programs. It claimed that 57 percent of federal spending goes to the military and just 1 percent goes to food and agriculture, including food stamps. But the pie chart cherry-picked just discretionary spending, which represents only about one-third of federal spending. Once you include mandatory spending, the military share plunges from 57 percent to 16 percent, and the categories that include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid collectively account for a majority of federal spending. Spending on food and agriculture is still small, but it does quadruple from 1 percent to 4 percent.

The pie chart offered a deeply distorted picture of federal spending, so we rated it False.

4. Pants on Fire viral image: "Denali" is the Kenyan word for "black power"

President Barack Obama decided to drop President William McKinley as the namesake of America's tallest mountain, a move that some saw as an insult to the former president from Ohio.

Anonymous social media critics pointed to a hidden motive in the mountain's new name, Denali. An image circulating on Facebook accused the president of reaching back to his Kenyan roots for inspiration, claiming that "Denali" is the Kenyan word for "black power."

The meme's claim was ridiculous, though: "Denali" has roots in the word "Deenaalee" in Koyukon, a native language of Alaska. It approximately translates to "the High One" and has been used for countless generations by Alaska natives to describe the mountain. We rated the claim that it means "black power" as Pants on Fire.

3. Obama said we've seen "our deficits cut by two-thirds"

At his annual State of the Union address, Obama said that since he took office, the country's deficits have gone down by two-thirds. The claim is accurate but ignores a stark reality about future deficits. The country's spending is not expected to continue its downward route, according to federal forecasters, for reasons such as increased interest payments on the debt and the lack of substantial policy changes for the biggest programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

Further, the deficits have largely come down as a result of the improved economy for which Obama cannot assume full credit. We rated his claim Mostly True.

2. Obama exaggerates: "This type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency"

After a gunman shot and killed nine worshipers at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., in June, Obama pushed for more gun control. He said, "This type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

The data show that it clearly happens in other advanced countries, and in at least three of them — Norway, Finland and Switzerland — there's evidence that the rate of killings in mass-shooting events occurred at a higher per-capita rate than in the United States between 2000 and 2014. The partial support for Obama's claim is that the per-capita gun-incident fatality rate in the United States does rank in the top one-third of the list of 11 countries studied. On balance, we rated the claim Mostly False.

1. Trump wrongly said "thousands and thousands of people" in New Jersey cheered as the World Trade Center collapsed

The top spot goes to none other than Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who said he saw "thousands and thousands of people" cheering in New Jersey on 9/11.

All we found were a few news articles that described rumors of celebrations that were either debunked or unproven. What's more, there is no video or visual evidence to support Trump's point. We suspect Trump may be confusing footage of people who were overseas and cheered the attacks. There's nothing to support the notion that "thousands" in the United States cheered. We rated Trump's claim Pants on Fire.

Times staff writers Louis Jacobson and Katie Sanders contributed to this report.

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