The Lies Heard Round the World
The Lies Heard Round the World
by Bill Adair and Maxime Fischer-Zernin
illustrations by Mike McQuade
Lying may be an age-old part of politics, but it’s becoming easier to spot the fibs, fictions and falsehoods. A growing army of fact-checkers around the world is busy debunking falsehoods from presidents, prime ministers and pundits — and if their results are indicative, 2014 was a banner year. Some of the claims were so absurd that fact-checking groups honored them with awards, like Australia’s Golden Zombie and Italy’s Insane Whopper of the Year.
Such lies are fun to read, but identifying them is serious business: Misinformation, unchecked, can turn elections, undermine public health efforts and even lead countries into war.
“Nigeria, you can read about it on Wikipedia: 60 percent of its territory is controlled by Boko Haram, the remaining part is Ebola.”
This ridiculous claim, made by Alessandro Di Battista, vice president of the Committee on Foreign Relations in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies and a rising star in the Five Star Movement party, won the Insane Whopper of the Year award from the website Pagella Politica. Fact-checkers found that while the terrorist group Boko Haram has spread, it does not control a single Nigerian state, let alone 60 percent of the entire nation. And the number of Ebola cases in the country was tiny — just 20.
“The E.U. wants to ban double-slot toasters.”
This claim about the overreach of the European Union came from newspapers in Italy and Britain. The Daily Express said: “The British way of life is under fresh threat from the E.U. as it targets the nation’s kettles, toasters and even lawn mowers.” FactCheckEU, a watchdog group, dug into the details and found no plans to ban toasters, only to improve their energy efficiency. It rated the claim “Rather Daft.”
Ebola is cured by eating kola nuts or bathing in warm, salty water.
The fact-checking group AfricaCheck included several claims about Ebola cures and other quackery in its “2014 in Review” compilation. Blogs and text messages in Nigeria had spread claims that a warm, salty bath would cure Ebola, while a newspaper spread rumors that eating kola nuts would stop the disease. AfricaCheck said, “The cures being touted online and in newspapers are little more than cruel and unethical hoaxes.”
“Over six years, Labor ran up a $667 billion debt.”
This statement won ABC Fact Check’s Golden Zombie, which the Australian Broadcasting Corporation gives to the year’s most persistent falsehood that, “despite being killed off by fact-checkers, lurches back to life.” The claim was made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who accused the previous ruling party of leaving the country drowning in red ink. But the fact-checking group found that that statement relied on some misleading math: It is a 10-year projection from 2013 that even includes debt already on the books when Labor took over.
Exaggerations about Ebola
Rather than name a single falsehood, PolitiFact (which one of us, Bill Adair, founded) honored the many falsehoods and exaggerations about Ebola, including the claim by the columnist George F. Will that the disease can be spread by sneezing or coughing (false), the claim by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, that Ebola is “incredibly contagious” (mostly false), and a Georgia congressman’s statement that there were reports of people carrying Ebola across the southern border of the United States (so ridiculously wrong we rated it “Pants on Fire” — not remotely true).
That Evan Jenkins, a Republican running for a House seat in West Virginia, vowed to repeal black lung benefits.
FactCheck.org said this claim, from a liberal super PAC, was a common tactic used by Democrats in congressional campaigns — asserting that a Republican’s support for repealing the Affordable Care Act meant that he also opposed every provision of the law.
In this case, the repeal of the act would not “repeal black lung benefits.” It would have changed the eligibility requirements for people suffering from black lung disease, not ended the program. In fact, Mr. Jenkins said he supported those benefits.
“Today Uruguay is the first country in Latin America without overcrowding in prisons.”
The readers of the website UYCheck chose this claim by Lucía Topolansky, a senator and the wife of President José Mujica, as its lie of the year.
UYCheck found that there had been some reduction of prison populations, but that the country had a long way to go before it could eliminate “overcrowding.”
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, “did meet with ISIS, and had his picture taken, and didn’t know it was happening at the time.”
Senator Paul, a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, repeated this Internet rumor during a September interview with The Daily Beast. But the photo actually showed Mr. McCain with members of the Free Syrian Army, an enemy of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Glenn Kessler, who writes The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, gave the claim four Pinocchios, his worst rating.
“Argentina has practically eradicated indigence.”
Readers of the fact-checking site Chequeado chose this claim by Jorge Capitanich, the chief of the Cabinet of Ministers, as the biggest falsehood of the year.
While poverty has declined, it is still a nationwide problem.
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