TV news fact-checked: Trump, Pruitt, Gore, and Handel

By Katie Dahl

In this week’s roundup of fact-checked TV news, the term “travel ban” gets a final word from the president, new coal mining jobs numbers are questioned, Gore and Pruitt give competing claims about Paris Agreement target requirements, Trump supporters are polled for their approval of the Paris Agreement, two elements of the Iran Deal are clarified, and one of Trump’s arguments for privatizing the FAA gets a context check.

Claim: executive order is a “travel ban” (the president says it is)

In a tweet on June 5, President Donald Trump wrote: “People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!”

According to Miriam Valverde at PolitiFact, this statement ran counter to what “his spokesman, administration officials, lawyers, courts and others call it.” Among many examples collected by Valverde are three instances (1, 2, 3) of Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly calling it a “travel pause” and twice saying the executive order “is not a travel ban.” The most recent interview was May 28. PolitiFact’s conclusion: “It’s a travel ban.”

Claim: we’ve added 50,000 coal mining jobs since last quarter, 7,000 since May (misleading spin)

In three TV interviews (1, 2, 3) with major networks on Sunday, June 4, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt made this claim: “We’ve had over 50,000 jobs since last quarter, coal jobs, mining jobs, created in this country. We had almost 7,000 mining and coal jobs created in the month of May alone.”

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, gave Pruitt a “four Pinocchio” rating for this claim, writing “the biggest problem with Pruitt’s statistic is that most of the gain in ‘mining’ jobs has nothing to do with coal. Most of the new jobs were in a subcategory called ‘support activities for mining,’ which accounted for more than 40,000 of the new jobs since October and more than 30,000 of the jobs since January.” For FactCheck.org, Eugene Kiely reported the same information and further that “BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] could not tell us how many of those jobs were related to coal mining, as opposed to gas, oil, metal ores and nonmetallic minerals. We do know, however, that most of those jobs support the gas and oil industries.”

Claim: US could change emissions targets under Paris Agreement without pulling out of it (Gore was right)

In dueling Sunday political talk show interviews, former Vice President Al Gore said of the Paris Agreement, “the requirements were voluntary. He [Trump] could have changed the requirements,” while EPA Administrator Pruitt, on another show, said “No, no, no. No, not under the agreement. Not under the agreement… You’re wrong” to Jake Tapper of CNN’s statement: “You can change those targets.” Pruitt went on to claim that the targets “can only be ratcheted up.”

For their SciCheck project, FactCheck.org’s Vanessa Schipani reported, “The Paris Agreement is voluntary. Countries aren’t penalized for failing to adhere to their proposed emissions cuts. So President Donald Trump could have ignored or changed the U.S. pledged emissions targets without withdrawing from the agreement.”

Claim: most Trump supporters wanted the US to stay in the Paris Agreement (mostly false)

In another interview on Sunday, Gore said, “A majority of President Trump’s supporters and voters wanted to stay in” the Paris Agreement.

For PolitiFact, John Kruzel reported that on “Gore’s central point, the poll [Yale-George Mason poll] found that among Trump voters, 47 percent wanted to participate in the Paris Agreement, compared to 28 percent who supported opting out, with a quarter expressing no opinion.

So, 47 percent support among Trump voters amounts to a plurality — not a majority, as Gore said.”

Claim: US flew $2 billion to Iran and Obama administration said it was used for terrorism (half true)

In a debate between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel leading up to a special election for Georgia’s sixth congressional district later this month — the election resulted from Tom Price being tapped by the Trump administration to lead the Department of Health and Human Services — Handel made this claim. “Nearly $2 billion in cash was flown over to Iran, money that the Obama administration has admitted is being used for terrorists and to support further activities there.”

According to Jon Greenberg of PolitiFact, “The Iran deal focused on reducing Iran’s stockpiles of nuclear-grade material, but a key provision unlocked Iranian assets that had been frozen for decades. How much money was there is a matter of debate.” He went on to report that John Kerry, then Secretary of State in the Obama administration, appeared on TV and said “‘I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) or of other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists,’ Kerry said. ‘To some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.'”

Claim: the Obama administration spent over $7 billion on the aviation system and failed (two Pinocchios)

In comments announcing a plan to privatize part of the federal air traffic control apparatus, President Trump said “the previous administration spent over $7 billion trying to upgrade the system and totally failed. Honestly, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing.”

Michelle Ye Hee Lee reported for the Washington Post’s Fact Checker that “Trump characterizes this program as an Obama-era error, but the planning for the massive overhaul began in 2000. Congress authorized the FAA to tackle these changes in 2003, and the Department of Transportation launched the NextGen program in January 2004… There have been delays and changes in the project, but high-priority projects have made progress.” She gave this claim “two Pinocchios.”

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About Nancy Watzman

Nancy Watzman is Managing Editor, Television Archive.
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