Analysis: Fact Checking GACC’s Library Display

The original display; the sign on the bricks has since been removed Photo courtesy of Jamie Welch

The original display in Musselman Library. All photos courtesy of Jamie Welch

Editorial Column

By Benjamin Pontz ’20, Staff Writer

In the last week, members of the Gettysburg Anti-Capitalist Collective (GACC) have developed a display in Musselman Library that, as of the evening of February 18, features eight vignettes of controversial events from Donald Trump’s first month in office. Ms. Robin Wagner, Dean of the Library, told The Gettysburgian that these vignettes are to present only “strictly factual information” on “Executive Orders and Actions, January 2017-present.”

I conducted a fact check of each of the eight vignettes that were present as of Saturday evening, and the results appear below. The main conclusion is that most of the statements made in the vignettes are true, but in several cases, the vignettes editorialize the Trump administration’s actions, omit relevant details, or conflate unrelated controversies. The results of this case-by-case analysis are below.

Jeff Sessions Confirmed Attorney General

Fact Check: True, though unbalanced

From GACC's exhibit in Musselman Library

From GACC’s exhibit in Musselman Library

While it is true that Sessions was confirmed as attorney general, it should be noted that this was an action of the Senate, not the White House. Also, his statement about the KKK, which he has never confirmed, appears to have been an off-hand comment or joke made in the early 1980s, which is not noted in the vignette. (It is debatable whether the timing or intention of the statement is relevant, but if the interest of the display is to paint a complete picture, such information probably should be included.) Overall, the statements in the description seem cherry picked to paint Sessions in a negative light; his nomination was supported by many prominent law enforcement groups, who have praised Sessions for his willingness to, as he repeatedly stated in his confirmation hearing, “follow the law.

Betsy DeVos Confirmed Education Secretary

Fact Check: Mostly true, though misleading and unbalanced

From GACC’s exhibit in Musselman Library

The display accurately states that it was the first time a sitting vice president was called to break a tie, and it is true that DeVos has donated significant sums to Republicans over the years. A more accurate statement, however, might be that DeVos has little experience in public education. She has led various reform efforts over the years respecting private and charter schools. The closing paragraph about vote scheduling is misleading; Luther Strange was sworn in as Alabama’s new senator the same day Jeff Sessions took office as attorney general (just two days after Sessions’ confirmation), and it was clear the governor of Alabama had no intention of leaving the seat open for any protracted period of time. Saying the vote was “conveniently” scheduled to allow Sessions to vote is thus misleading, as there is no indication Strange would have voted differently.

“Muslim Ban”

Fact Check: True, but somewhat unbalanced

From GACC's exhibit in Musselman Library

From GACC’s exhibit in Musselman Library

For a display that, ostensibly, is not a political statement, using the headline “Muslim Ban” obfuscates and editorializes the truth, which is that the Trump administration, as the poster accurately states, imposed a 90-day suspension on entry to the United States by passport holders of seven countries, halted the refugee program for 120 days to review vetting procedures, and capped refugee admissions at 50,000 once the program is resumed. Rudy Giuliani did state that Trump asked how to do a “Muslim Ban” legally, and several federal rulings have halted implementation of the ban.

US Military Raid in Yemen

Fact Check: Somewhat true, but misleading

From GACC's exhibit in Musselman Library

From GACC’s exhibit in Musselman Library

Donald Trump did approve a military raid in Yemen that killed an American soldier as well as many civilians, although the exact number has been disputed. What the vignette implies, however, is that Trump has changed America’s posture in the country,, which is untrue. The Obama administration’s aggressive utilization of unmanned drone strikes has occurred throughout the Middle East, including in Yemen. Also, Trump has not changed America’s relationship with the Saudi Arabian government, as the final sentence implies given that this is an exhibit on executive actions of the Trump administration. That said, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Steve Bannon on NSC

Fact Check: Mostly true, but somewhat unbalanced

From GACC's exhibit in Musselman Library

From GACC’s exhibit in Musselman Library

This vignette accurately quotes the executive order and surrounding media coverage to the extent that Steve Bannon, a senior advisor to the president, has been added to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council while the Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have ostensibly seen their roles reduced. However, comments about Bannon’s alleged anti-Semitism and Islamophobia conflates a separate issue. Although the claims in the vignette are rooted in his past statements, they do not necessarily relate to his appointment to the NSC. A more balanced approach may have been to quote former members of the NSC who have expressed concerns about political considerations playing a role in the White House Situation Room with the addition of a political advisor.

Crime Reduction

Fact Check: True

From GACC's exhibit in Musselman Library

From GACC’s exhibit in Musselman Library

The Brennan Center for Justice did release a report in September 2016 stating that crime in America is, overall, at an “all-time low.” Additionally, violent crime has steadily declined since the 1990s, a slight uptick in 2016 notwithstanding.

Tom Price Confirmed Health Secretary

Fact Check: True, but unbalanced

From GACC's exhibit in Musselman Library

From GACC’s exhibit in Musselman Library

It’s worth noting (again) that Senate confirmation of a Cabinet nominee is not an executive action, but in large part, this vignette is accurate. The comment about trading stocks that would benefit his portfolio has been alleged, and although there is significant evidence to support that conclusion, he disputes that he traded the stocks knowing they would increase in value based on the testimony that was to be given in his committee. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal did run a story stating that he traded more than $300,000 in healthcare stocks while promoting legislation that would benefit him. Finally, for balanced presentation, it is worth noting that the American Medical Association, the largest conglomerate of physicians in the country, “strongly supported” his nomination though many other doctors have opposed it.

Dakota Access Pipeline

Fact Check: Partially true, Partially false

From GACC's Exhibit in Musselman Library

From GACC’s Exhibit in Musselman Library

The vignette gets the crux of the executive order correct. The Acting Secretary of the Army did authorize the Corps of Engineers to grant the easement that will permit construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. However, the statement that “it remains unclear” whether Trump has divested from Energy Transfer Partners is untrue. The Washington Post, CNBC, and Politifact have each reported that Trump did divest from Energy Transfer Partners in December of 2016. There is ambiguity as to whether he retains a nominal interest in another company, Phillips 66, that is reported to have an ownership stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 serves as editor-in-chief of The Gettysburgian. Previously, he served as a staff writer, event coverage coordinator, news editor, and managing news editor. During his tenure, he has written more than 120 articles, and he led the team that won first place in the 2017 Keystone Press Awards for ongoing news coverage of Robert Spencer's visit to Gettysburg College. Ben is a political science and public policy double major with a minor in music, and he reads up to seven newspapers daily. Follow him on Twitter @benpontz.

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