A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Fake News, Real Fact-Checking


"Daily Show" anchor Jon Stewart has an uneven record of fact-checking political figures. In September 2008, we called him out for getting his gun facts wrong — he called Joe Biden "crazy reckless" and wrong when he referred to his Beretta shotgun, claiming that Beretta "is a handgun." In fact, Beretta is famous for its shotguns, as well as the handguns mentioned in James Bond novels. And he could have done better when Betsy McCaughey, who referred to us as "spot-check dot org" on his program, claimed we were mistaken when we said she was wrong to say that health care legislation required the elderly to get mandatory counseling on euthanasia.

But this time we can give him credit. When guest Newt Gingrich called "shoe bomber" Richard Reid "an American citizen," Stewart corrected the mistake during the same program. After the interview, Stewart said: "I remember thinking at the time, like, that doesn’t sound right. And then, funny thing, it wasn’t. It’s not right. He’s a British citizen."

Stewart’s staff is quick, and correct — Richard Reid is British.

We’ve also received some questions about Gingrich’s claim, in the same interview, about the 1942 case in which German saboteurs were denied habeas corpus. Gingrich got the number wrong — he said there were 14 saboteurs when there were eight. But he correctly characterized President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proclamation, which said that any member of a nation at war with the United States who was charged with "committing or attempting or preparing to commit sabotage, espionage, hostile or warlike acts, or violations of the law of war" should not have access to the courts. (Whether that was a justifiable decision, and whether it’s relevant to the current "war on terror," which is not with a nation, is a trickier legal question that’s disputed.) The eight were tried by a military tribunal convened by FDR. We didn’t find a quote from Roosevelt saying he "expected" the men to be executed, but six of them were.