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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

Immigration and the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico crowded out most other subjects on the May 2 Sunday talk shows, and we found trampled facts in both areas.

 Immigration Face-Off on ‘Face the Nation’

Arizona’s tough new immigration law sparked a heated exchange between Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth on CBS’ "Face the Nation." Hayworth, who is hoping to defeat Sen. John McCain in Arizona’s GOP Senate primary, claimed his state had seen an uptick in crime, implying that illegal immigrants were to blame, while Gutierrez said that wasn’t the case:

Hayworth, May 2: Immigration policy, border security and national security are synonymous. Crime is on the increase. Arizonans have had enough. And interestingly, a majority of Hispanics agree that this law should be enforced here in Arizona.


Host Harry Smith: J.D., hang on. Luis, I’m going to give you the final word.

Gutierrez: Thank you. The Cato Institute, not conservative, libertarian, says crime is down, statistically.

We put this one in Gutierrez’s column. The Cato Institute relies on numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics at the Department of Justice. The violent crime rate for Arizona was 447.0 per 100,000 population in 2008, the lowest since 1971. The property crime rate for Arizona was 4,291.0 per 100,000 in 2008, the lowest since 1966.

We can’t say Hayworth is completely wrong. His spokesman pointed us to the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report for the first six months of 2009, which shows that the number (not rate) of certain types of crime in some Arizona cities was up from the first six months of 2008. For instance, in the city of Mesa, there were more burglaries (one kind of property crime) from January through June 2009 than there were in the comparable period a year earlier. We don’t know if the same trend will be evident once figures for the whole of 2009 are available.

However, these are pretty thin reeds on which to build an argument. Of the eight Arizona metropolitan areas listed in the FBI preliminary report, only one (Tempe) had an increase in the number of violent crimes from the first half of 2008 to the first half of 2009, and only one (Chandler) had an increase in the number of property crimes.

Gutierrez, though, was slightly off when he claimed that "[t]here are 4 million American citizen children whose parents have either been deported or are under threat of deportation." According to "A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States," a study issued last year by the Pew Hispanic Center, "The number of U.S.-born children in mixed-status families (unauthorized immigrant parents and citizen children) has expanded rapidly in recent years, to 4 million in 2008 from 2.7 million in 2003." The study, which drew from U.S. Census Bureau data, doesn’t say whether the parents had been deported, although loosely speaking any illegal immigrant is "under threat" of deportation.

Dreams of Brazil’s Ethanol

On ABC’s "This Week," liberal guest commentator Bill Maher made the claim that Brazil had gotten "off oil" over the past 30 years by shifting to sugarcane-based ethanol. But when challenged, he wondered aloud if he had "dreamed that" and called for fact-checkers to look into his claim. Yes, Bill, you were dreaming.

Maher: I could certainly criticize oil companies, and I could criticize America in general for not attacking this problem in the ’70s. I mean, Brazil got off oil in the last 30 years. We certainly could have. …

Conservative commentator George Will: Could you just explain to me in what sense Brazil got off oil?

Maher: I believe they did. I believe they, in the ’70s, they had a program to use sugarcane ethanol. And I believe that is what fuels their country. … And could we have judges fact-check this on Brazil? I don’t know (inaudible) dreamed that about Brazil.

It’s true that Brazil is one of the largest producers of ethanol in the world, and that its government-controlled oil company Petrobras says that ethanol accounts for more than half of all light vehicle fuel. But it also has a large deposit of oil — the second largest in South America after Venezuela, in fact. And it is the seventh largest consumer of oil among all nations. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Brazil consumes more oil than Canada, Mexico, France, or the United Kingdom, just to pick a few that rank lower.

BP’s Safety Spin

On the same program, a top BP executive tried to put positive spin on a 2009 letter from the company opposing proposed new safety regulation of offshore drilling rigs, like the one that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico and caused a giant oil slick. Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP America, said most of the letter "actually recommends improvements," when in fact it recommended deletions of proposed new rules.

ABC’s Jake Tapper: Just a few months ago, a BP executive protested proposed new safety regulations for oil rigs, writing to the government that quote, "while BP is supportive of companies having a system in place to reduce risks, accidents, injuries and spills, we are not supportive of extensive proscriptive regulations." . . .

BP’s Lamar McKay: The rest of the letter actually recommends improvements and specific recommendations around safety regulations should they choose to change them. So we’re not fighting anything about safety. Safety is the number one priority. We’re going to figure out what happened here, and that is going to help the MMS and help ourselves and help the industry get safer, so we’re not fighting anything about safety.

Tapper accurately quoted the Sept. 14, 2009, letter from BP’s Richard Morrison, which went on to say that “voluntary programs … have been and continue to be very successful.” But McKay’s idea of "improvements" were in some cases actually recommended deletions. For example, the letter says “BP recommends deleting the Contractor Selection ‘element’ ” because “[t]here is no need for additional documentation of contractor competency.” (BP now constantly stresses that the rig that blew up was owned by one of its contractors, not by BP.) The letter also recommended deleting any “prescribed schedule” for auditing the company’s safety measures and leaving the timing to the discretion of the companies based on “performance and risk.” And it recommended deleting a provision requiring companies to notify the federal Minerals Management Service prior to conducting a safety audit.

Stimulus Spin

On NBC’s "Meet the Press," Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana made a misleading statement about the stimulus plan:

Pence: The so-called stimulus bill that has taken us from 7.5 percent employment [sic] to nearly 10 percent unemployment nationwide …

It’s true that the unemployment rate is now 9.7 percent, and it was 7.7 percent in January 2009, before the stimulus bill was signed into law by President Obama. But the stimulus was designed to lessen the impact of the recession — not erase it altogether — and many economists agree that it has done that. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that without the stimulus, unemployment would be higher yet. The CBO said that for the fourth quarter of 2009 (when unemployment was 10 percent), the rate would have been between 0.5 percentage points and 1.1 percentage points higher without the stimulus plan.

Bird Killers

We also looked into a claim by "This Week" conservative commentator George Will, who said "wind farms kill a lot more birds daily than are probably going to be killed in this oil spill." That might be true. The American Bird Conservancy says that wind farms kill a lot of birds. The group estimates “that between 10,000 and 40,000 birds may be killed each year at wind farms across the country — about 80% of which are songbirds, and 10% may be birds of prey." Supporters of wind energy claim that many more birds die from other causes; for example, a 1997 Wisconsin study estimated that free-ranging cats kill 39 million birds each year in that state alone.