Category Archives: Claim Check

Claim Check: Elizabeth Esty Takes on Roberti’s Connections

by Categorized: Claim Check, Finance, Politics Date:

For the past decade, candidates for federal office have been required by law to take personal responsibility for their political ads, which now often close with cheery proclamations that “I approved this message.” The rule was put in place partly in an effort to rein in the vitriol in attack ads, figuring candidates might think twice about running negative spots that would end with their personal endorsement of the nasty message.

So was that the demise of negative advertising? Of course not. Instead, campaigns about to launch an attack have simply moved the candidate’s personal disclosure to the beginning of the ad, where it’s less likely to resonate once the guns start blazing. That is the case with a new spot from Democrat Elizabeth Esty, taking aim at the well-financed candidacy of Dan Roberti, one of Esty’s two opponents in the Democratic primary race for the fifth Congressional District seat. The ad, titled “It’s a Mess,” takes generic swipes at Roberti, saying he would make Washington worse and is already part of what’s wrong with national politics.

Those are statements of opinion and not subject to fact-checking. But the spot also makes four specific assertions about Roberti and his campaign. It claims that Roberti has no work history in Connecticut, that he is the co-owner of a “powerful Washington special-interest lobbying firm,” that clients of that firm are “bankrolling” his campaign, and that those same lobbyist clients have funded a Super PAC supporting his campaign. There is at least a partial factual foundation for all of those claims. But the ad stretches the typical definition of “bankrolling” to the point that it could mislead viewers, and there is a potentially important element left out of the assertion on the Super PAC. Combined, those issues keep the ad from earning a higher rating.

Let’s take the claims one-by-one. Continue reading

Claim Check: Dan Roberti on Donovan’s Campaign Cash

by Categorized: Claim Check, Law Enforcement, Politics Date:

When sitting legislators run for office, it’s always fair game for their opponents to point out the conflict of interest between a politician’s thirst for campaign cash and his or her role in passing or blocking legislation. But there is a difference between highlighting potential conflicts and declaring that a legislator actively intervened on behalf of a contributor. Make that latter charge without the goods to back it up, and you’re going to have some trouble with the Claim Check needle. Continue reading

Claim Check: Chris Murphy’s Buy-American Initiatives

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Finance, Politics Date:

Since heading to Washington 5 1/2 years ago, U.S. Rep Chris Murphy has made a name for himself trying to strengthen laws favoring U.S. manufacturers over foreign competitors in federal procurement decisions. “Buy American” is frequently described as Murphy’s signature issue – and, not surprisingly, it has featured prominently in his political campaigns, showing up in ads for his 2010 re-election bid, and more recently in his quest to step up to the U.S. Senate.

But persistence  is not the same as tangible, on-the-books success, and Murphy’s latest ad, while technically accurate, sidesteps the fact that his buy-American efforts have yet to yield concrete changes in federal rules on purchasing decisions. Continue reading

Claim Check: Linda McMahon and the $6,000 Tax Savings

by Categorized: Claim Check, Data, Finance, Media, Politics Date:

UPDATE: McMahon campaign economist responds to Claim Check analysis.

Each election season, politicians of all stripes engage in hard-core courting of the middle class — that vast swath of the American electorate capable of swinging a vote any which way. That love fest is fully evident in a pair of ads from Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign that mention the middle class six times in 60 seconds.

“Middle class families are really struggling right now,” Brandi, from Naugatuck, says in both ads, one of which also features cable-news clips of dismal unemployment figures. “If the middle class gets back on its feet, then you’re going to see we’re going to have a very strong economy.”

Both spots hit their mark in portraying McMahon as focused on job creation and cutting taxes for the middle class. But the ads’ one specific assertion — that McMahon’s tax plan “would save the average Connecticut family $500 a month” — fails under scrutiny. The problem is in the campaign’s definition of “savings” and its definition of the average Connecticut family, one of which is misleading and the other incorrect. Continue reading

Claim Check: Pornography, TV Ratings, and the WWE’s Curious Campaign

by Categorized: Claim Check, First Amendment, Legal Affairs, Media, Politics Date:

I’m beginning to think Brian Flinn, the freshly hired marketing whiz at World Wrestling Entertainment, is involved in a supremely crafty publicity game with his unrelenting campaign against pundits and politicians who dare suggest that WWE’s TV fare is anything but wholesome entertainment.

His protestations, principally to Chris Powell, the feisty managing editor of the Journal-Inquirer of Manchester, are not likely to prompt any editorial revisions, nor to make criticism of the faux-wrestling empire off-limits in the Senate race involving former CEO Linda McMahon.

But Flinn’s thin-as-air threat of legal action has succeeded in generating hundreds of mentions on news websites, blogs and other Internet spots – all repeating his insistence that not only is WWE neither pornographic nor violent, but that anyone who offers an opinion to the contrary is breaking the law.

Is it all a publicity stunt? Or is it possible CEO Vince McMahon secretly doesn’t want his wife trotting off to Washington, D.C.?

Whatever the motivation, Flinn could use a refresher course in pornography, libel law and television ratings.

The current dust-up was prompted by a Powell column shortly after the Republican nominating convention, opining that McMahon’s qualification for office “did not extend beyond her fantastic wealth, and that wealth derived from the business of violence, pornography, and general raunch.”

That put Flinn’s keyboard on overdrive, and prompted an angry letter stating that Powell’s assertion was objectively and maliciously false. Flinn demanded a retraction, and floated the possibility of a libel suit if one weren’t forthcoming. The letter, of course, made Powell’s day.

WWE’s performances are choreographed, Flinn explained, so they’re not really violent. (By that logic, Flinn would presumably consider it a lawsuit-worthy fib to describe Natural Born Killers as a violent movie.) Most of Flinn’s irritation, however, is aimed at claims that WWE is, or ever was, in the business of pornography. But in making his case, he misstates the relevance of WWE’s TV ratings, and confuses reasonably well-defined obscenity laws with thoroughly undefined notions of what can be described as pornographic.

“Since 2008, all WWE broadcast programming has been rated TV-PG and prior to that some of our programming had a rating of TV-14,” Flinn wrote in a statement issued Wednesday. “According to the TV Parental Guidelines established by the television industry and adopted by the Federal Communications Commission, neither TV-PG nor TV-14 content would be considered pornography or anything close to it. In addition, the FCC would not permit our content to air on network or basic cable television if it were pornographic.”

Well, that’s not quite true. In fact, under the formal FCC-approved guidelines, “sexual situations” are permissible in both TV-PG and TV-14 programming. (Even “intense sexual situations” for TV-14). Intense sexual situations in the absence of actual nudity might reasonably fall outside Flinn’s definition of pornography. And they might fit within Chris Powell’s. The WWE photo above of Trish Stratus — who famously stripped and barked like a dog during a 2001 WWE television show – might fit one person’s definition of soft-core pornography and not another’s.

Courts have tried to develop a meaningful legal definition of “obscenity” – to cover material so offensive and so lacking in artistic merit that it can be banned from the airwaves. That’s not the issue here. Instead, Powell’s assertion that WWE’s programming fits his definition of pornography is clearly an opinion. And as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1974 case (before Trish Stratus was even born): “Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas.”

Translation: Write a letter to the editor, Brian.

Flinn surely knows he cannot sustain a libel or defamation suit, and he is sorely and naively mistaken if he thinks someone like Chris Powell would ever be spooked by a heap of legalese.

But if it’s all just a stunt to keep WWE’s name in the media – Brilliant.

Claim Check: “Drinking Beer Makes You Smarter”

by Categorized: Claim Check, Education, Health, Media, Science Date:

“Beer makes men smarter: study” – NY Daily News

Here’s a near-guarantee: Do serious research on the intersection of drunkenness and cognitive abilities, and our soundbite society will mangle your findings to fit into irresistible headlines.

That, anyway, is the fate of three researchers at the University of Illinois, who set out to explore the link between inebriation and creativity – a link widely assumed since at least the days when Beethoven was throwing back bottles of wine with every meal.

The result: An interesting preliminary suggestion that intoxication may weaken “working memory control,” and that the resulting loss of focus and attention can permit the right hemisphere of the brain to elbow its way in with more diffuse and remote associations, which in turn can improve creative, but not analytical, problem solving.

The media’s take on that finding: “Beer makes you smarter.”

No matter that the study didn’t even involve beer. Continue reading

A Week Later, Little Evidence that Facebook Snooping by Bosses is a Trend

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Media Date:

Last week, I wrote a Claim Check feature on this blog challenging the assertion that a significant or growing number of employers were demanding that job applicants turn over their social-media passwords. The post was particularly critical of the media echo chamber that turned a small number of anecdotes in an Associated Press story into a trend – and then a growing trend – with reports that “more and more” employers were Facebook snooping.

If the phenomenon was as widespread as some headline writers made it out to be, I wrote, surely the crowd-sourcing power of the Internet would promptly out the offending businesses.

A week later, I’m still waiting. Continue reading

Claim Check: Employers Asking for Facebook Passwords

by Categorized: Claim Check, Media Date:

“More often, employers asking job seekers for Facebook passwords” – Austin American-Statesman

A week ago, the Associated Press created Internet pandemonium with a report that companies were asking prospective employees to fork over their Facebook passwords as part of the job application process. The story, repeated by countless news outlets and splashed on thousands of websites, brought swift and harsh reaction. Job seekers flocked to the Internet to proclaim the unprintable response they would provide to such a request. Facebook hinted at legal action. The ACLU chimed in. State legislators raced to draft bills banning the practice. And U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., joined his New York colleague Charles Schumer in asking the Department of Justice to investigate.

“It is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers,” Schumer declared.

But how real is the phenomenon? Continue reading

Claim Check: Connecticut’s Murder Rate Exceeds Rate of Teacher Firings

by Categorized: Claim Check, Data, Education Date:

“Ct Murder Rate Three Times Higher Than Ct Teacher Fire Rate”

Zachary Janowski, needler-in-chief at the Raising Hale blog (check out his post pointing out that half the legislature has a “leadership” title) weighs in on the raging teacher-tenure debate in a post with some odd statistics attached to it.

Janowski reports on the relatively small number of teachers bounced out of Connecticut classrooms each year, and reaches the conclusion that an average American worker is 17 times more likely to be laid off than a state teacher. Layoff statistics are difficult to wrangle, with industries like construction that might have workers experiencing multiple separations and hirings in a single year, but Janowski’s calculation is plausible.

But the post takes a strange turn as reprinted in George Gombossy’s CTWatchdog site. There, the headline is: “Ct Murder Rate Three Times Higher Than Ct Teacher Fire Rate,” and the following copy is added: “According to FBI crime statistics, each year in Connecticut there are more murder victims than fired teachers. There is a murder every three days. A certified teacher is fired every nine.”

That’s intriguing copy. But that’s not how statistics work. Continue reading

Claim Check: “Twitter is More Addictive Than Alcohol”

by Categorized: Claim Check, Science Date:

“Facebook and Twitter are more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, study finds” – Fox News

The Twitterati are agog over a new study purportedly showing that human beings find the lure of scanning updates on Facebook or announcing through Twitter that they had Thai food for lunch is a more powerful compulsion than the addiction to tobacco or alcohol.

It’s an irresistible tale for headline writers and page-view desperados. But it’s not what the study found.

Continue reading