Column: Fact-Checking Tennessee Congressmen

    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 11: U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) confers with an aide during a House Oversight And Reform Committee hearing concerning government preparedness and response to the coronavirus, in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Since December 2019, coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected more than 109,000 people and killed more than 3,800 people in 105 countries. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 11: U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) confers with an aide during a House Oversight And Reform Committee hearing concerning government preparedness and response to the coronavirus, in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Since December 2019, coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected more than 109,000 people and killed more than 3,800 people in 105 countries. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

    As the election heats up, we should remember three good fact-checking sites: factcheck.org, politifact.com, and snopes.com. Fact Check is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.  Pulitzer-Prize-winning Politifact started in 2007 with a Florida newspaper and now is operated by the Poynter Institute.  Snopes began in 1994 by investigating urban legends, hoaxes, and folklore; it now has political fact checking.

    I searched these sites for references to Tennessee’s nine U.S. House members.

    Mark Green was representative-elect in December 2018 when he took an audience question and repeated conspiratorial bunk.  Regarding autism, Green said he would “stand on the CDC’s desk and get the real data on vaccines.  Because there is some concern that the rise in autism is the result of the preservatives that are in our vaccines.”  Green bloviated, “So as a physician, I can make that argument and I can look at it academically and make the case against the CDC…it appears some of that data has been, honestly, maybe fraudulently managed.”

    Fact Check exhaustively reviewed the academic research that overwhelmingly shows no connection between vaccination (or vaccine preservatives) and autism. Fact Check also reviewed Green’s data mismanagement claims and found they did not stand up to scrutiny.  Green since has clarified he supports childhood vaccination, but one does wonder about the quality of his information checking given his recent anti-mask comments in relation to COVID-19.

    Less than two years ago, U.S. Rep. Mark Green, a physician, said “there is some concern that the rise in autism is the result of the preservatives that are in our vaccines.” Fact Check calls him out.

    Fact Check and Snopes debunked a claim circulated by both Green and Rep. Tim Burchett.  The two took exception to a September 2019 vote when House Democrats approved an electronic record system for immigrants on the southern border.  Green took to the House floor to blurt, “If you vote against this motion to recommit, you are giving an electronic medical health record [system] to illegal aliens, before our veterans.”   Burchett tweeted “Amendment to give VETERANS same healthcare as ILLEGALS fails.  Are you kidding me?  We are so out of wack.”  He also shared a video of himself lamenting the same, saying “it ticks me off.”

    Snopes rated these Republican rants mostly false.  Fact checkers noted “the bill would not provide immigrants specific health benefits or create an EHR [Electronic Health Records] system that does not already exist in relation to U. S. military veterans, since the Veterans Affairs Administration has had an EHR system for years.  Democrats did not reject a Republican proposal to give veterans the same EHR being proposed for immigrants, because such a system already exists and anyway, that’s not what the Republican proposal called for.”

    Politifact has a deep archive of its fact checks.  One can find a false claim in a 2012 letter from soon-to-retire Phil Roe.  Politifact faulted the East Tennessee Republican, rating false his claim the Consumer Product Safety Commission acted “without consultation or input from the company” to stop the sale of powerful magnets called Buckyballs.  Politifact also rated false Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s 2012 post on his campaign website that President Obama declared the “small businesses succeed because of government.”

    Statements Snopes rated true do not reflect well on Rep. Scott DesJarlais.  Transcripts from his testimony in 2001 divorce proceedings reveal that Dr. DesJarlais slept with two patients, brandished a gun in an angry dispute with his then wife, and the anti-abortion congressman encouraged some partners to get abortions. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg)

    Republicans David Kustoff and John Rose, sworn into office in 2017 and 2019 respectively, did not pop up in my searches.  Democrat and Nashville area congressman Jim Cooper fared well.  Politifact rated true his observation in a 2012 op-ed that “Congress as a whole is less popular than it’s been since polling was invented.”

    Politifact has mixed analyses regarding Memphis Democratic congressman Steve Cohen.  It rated true his 2012 comment that Delta Airlines had “once again broken a promise they made to me and to the people of Memphis.”  Also true was his 2011 statement that the United States no longer topped the globe on infrastructure.  Politifact called half-true Cohen’s 2010 claim that the past year had more tax cuts than almost any time in U. S. history, quibbling about how to classify refundable tax credits and projected future taxes associated with health care expansion.

    The site also blasted Cohen for stating in 2011 on MSNBC’s “Up with Chris Hayes” that, “The Republicans have never done anything really to balance the budget.”  Politifact zeroed in on the word never, citing some Republican votes in the 1990s.  Cohen sticks by his claim, but perhaps the wording should be something like “Republicans talk a good game on balancing budgets, but in this century it’s a lot of talk and almost no responsible actions.”

    The Cohen editing/rewrite aside, Tennessee Democrats overall fare far better than GOP incumbents in these non-partisan fact checks.  The sites will continue to be useful; let’s hope voters take advantage of them.