Fact-checkers look at Bill O’Reilly, Tavis Smiley, Tucker Carlson

How does PolitiFact Georgia’s Truth-O-Meter work?

Our goal is to help you find the truth in American politics. Reporters from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution fact-check statements by local, state and national political leaders, including lobbyists and interest groups. We then rate them on the AJC Truth-O-Meter.

To fact-check a claim, reporters first contact the speaker to verify the statement. Next, the research begins. Reporters consult a variety of sources, including industry and academic experts. This research can take hours or a few days or even longer, depending on the claim. Reporters then compile the research into story form and include a recommended Truth-O-Meter ruling.

The fact check then moves on to a panel of veteran editors who debate the statement and the reporter’s recommended Truth-O-Meter ruling. The panel votes on a final ruling; majority prevails.

Truth-O-Meter rulings

The goal of the Truth-O-Meter is to reflect the relative accuracy of a statement.

The meter has six ratings, in decreasing level of truthfulness:

TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.

MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

PolitiFact Georgia took a break from fact-checking the state candidates last week as the mid-term elections came and went.

The Truth-O-Meter was still at work, however. We focused on what the pundits were saying: Does an appearance by Bill O’Reilly really boost Letterman’s ratings? Is it fact or fiction that Democrats ever used Newport cigarettes to entice the homeless to vote?

And lastly, is the current Ebola scare as bad as the SARS outbreak of 2003?

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Abbreviated versions of our fact checks are below.

Full versions can be found at www.politifact.com/georgia/.

Bill O’Reilly on Sunday, October 12th, 2014 in an interview with Howard Kurtz

“When I go on Letterman” the “ratings go up.”

Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News personality, is currently promoting his new book, “Killing Patton, ” the fourth installment in his nonfiction “Killing” series.

Speaking on Fox News’ “Media Buzz, ” O’Reilly crowed about his ability to

draw large television audiences.

“When I go on Letterman or I go on the morning shows, their ratings go up. That’s why they have me on,” he said.

We found 15 O’Reilly “Late Show” appearances since 2001 using the Internet

Movie Database (IMDB) and searching transcripts. We then pulled data for the

number of estimated viewers for those shows from Nielsen Media Research, a

company that tracks consumers’ patterns and TV viewership.

Using available data, we found O’Reilly beat the average ratings

for the comparable day of the week and calendar year 10 or 11 times out of 14

show appearances with data.

In this specific case, booking O’Reilly isn’t a sure bet for better ratings.

But it’s a pretty safe one.

We rated O’Reilly’s claim Mostly True.

Tavis Smiley on Sunday, October 19th, 2014 in comments on ABC’s “This Week”

“This (Ebola) is not as bad as SARS was in 2003.”

On ABC’s This Week Oct. 19, talk show host Tavis Smiley said that those who think President Barack Obama’s response to Ebola is too soft are blowing the situation out of proportion. For context, they should remember the outbreak of SARS — sudden acute respiratory syndrome — 10 years ago.

Talking to Republican strategist Mary Matalin, Smiley said, “This is not as bad as SARS was in 2003, and everybody wants to pile on, Mary, like you did on all the things Obama has done wrong. I’ve been a critic on certain issues, but this is not the president’s fault.”

Is Smiley right that SARS in 2003 was worse than today’s Ebola crisis?

Here’s some World Health Organization data comparing the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the current Ebola outbreak as of Oct. 17. The number of countries affected: SARS 2003 - 25 plus; Ebola 2014 - 7; number of cases globally: SARS 2003 - 8,096; Ebola - 9,216; and number of deaths globally: SARS 2003 - 774; Ebola - 4,555.

Both diseases are serious and have harmed communities. SARS spread to more countries and is easier to transmit than Ebola. But Ebola has had more cases and higher death toll, and those numbers continue to rise. SARS may have had more of a presence in the United States, but Ebola is poised to be a larger humanitarian crisis globally.

We rated Smiley’s claim Mostly False.

Tucker Carlson on Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 in a broadcast of Fox News' "Outnumbered"

Democrats give “Newports to the homeless to get them to the polls.”

Lost in the spectacular turmoil over who took Florida in the 2000 presidential election was a kerfuffle in Milwaukee, Wis., over 10 packs of cigarettes and some homeless voters.

Though it was never proven, the story goes that a few days before the polls opened, a New York Democratic activist gave men from the Milwaukee Rescue Mission cigarettes in exchange for their votes.

Conservative pundit Tucker Carlson alluded to this episode during the banter on Fox News’ noontime show Outnumbered Oct. 2.

“I don’t think as a general matter you should be encouraging people who don’t know anything about what they’re voting for to vote,” Carlson said. “That’s what the Democrats do, giving Newports to the homeless to get them to the polls. That’s literally true. Republicans shouldn’t follow suit on that. You shouldn’t pander to people.”

A reader asked us to check whether there was any substance to Carlson’s dig at Democrats.

Based on the evidence, Carlson is citing an isolated case where authorities were unable to prove that votes were traded for cigarettes, or that the cigarettes were an enticement.

On one occasion in Milwaukee, as many as three Democrats gave rides to homeless men to City Hall to cast absentee ballots. At some point, they gave some of the men cigarettes. There is no evidence that the cigarettes were Newports, and investigators did not find that the cigarettes were offered as an inducement to vote.

Carlson emphasized that his account was “literally true,” but by that standard, it is inaccurate on several points.

We rated Carlson’s claim Half True.

Cory Gardner on Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 in a debate

The CDC is “spending money on things like jazzercise, urban gardening and massage therapy” that could be redirected to Ebola.

As fears over Ebola reached a crescendo, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., took a shot at the federal government’s handling of the disease during a debate with Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.

Gardner went on to win the closely watched Colorado Senate race, one of many nationwide in which Ebola became an issue.

Gardner, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “Perhaps the CDC should quit spending money on things like jazzercise, urban gardening and massage therapy and direct that money to where it’s appropriate in protecting the health of the American people.”

We wondered if it was true that the government is spending money on jazzercise, urban gardening and the like at the expense of funding for Ebola.

Neither Gardner’s staff nor the CDC got back to us with evidence either way.

But we determined the claim refers to a fund established with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) in 2010. The purpose of the fund is “to provide expanded and sustained national investments in prevention and public health, to improve health outcomes, and to enhance healthcare quality.” In practice, CDC provides grants to local governments and nonprofits than then decide how to spend the money to meet public health goals.

Here’s a flavor of how the CDC plan to spend money from the Prevention and Public Health Fund in fiscal year 2014: immunization - $160 million; smoking prevention - $105 million; cancer prevention and control -$104 million; heart disease and stroke prevention - $77 million; - diabetes prevention: $73 million; racial and ethnic approaches to community health - $30 million; and workplace wellness - $10 million.

We weren’t able to document expenditures such as jazzercise and urban gardening, but given the agency’s spending parameters, it’s certainly possible they’ve been made. However, by cherry-picking chuckle- (or outrage-) inducing spending items, Gardner presents a misleading description of what the fund does.

The claim contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

We rated Gardner’s claim Mostly False.