The fact checkers:
Becky Bowers: writer, researcher
Amy Hollyfield: editor
Sometimes PolitiFact fact checks a strange fact. Other times PolitiFact checks a fact strangely. This item falls in the latter category.
On Oct. 24, 2010, in their fifth debate of the campaign, Crist strove to paint Rubio as a rigid idealogue who wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade and didn’t support stem cell research. Then he turned it up a notch, saying Rubio had said that folks who didn’t agree with him ought to leave the country.The quotation features editorial helps (parenthetical material) prominently. What were Crist's words in context?
"You know, these are extreme views that I am not comfortable with," Crist said. "(Rubio) took it to a point so much so that (he) said that, you know, people who essentially don't agree with him, ought to leave the country, like Keith Olbermann."
Crist's statement is a tad on the vague side. He goes from two concrete examples of supposedly "extreme views" to saying that Rubio "took it to a point so much ... that people who essentially don't agree with him, ought to leave the country ..." Took what to that point? The two concrete examples? Or extremism generally, so that we should understand the latter as just another example of Rubio's supposed extremism?MEEK: Let me just say this. Let me just say this. All right, we know why the governor is running as an independent, because he couldn't beat Marco Rubio. OK? Let's just put it that way.
MEEK: No, that's OK. No, no, no, no, no, wait a minute.
CROWLEY: One second, let me just ask the audience--
MEEK: Let me finish.
CROWLEY: You're going to cut into our time and they want to talk. So--
MEEK: Let me finish -- let me--
CRIST: I want to speak for myself on this point, if I can.
MEEK: You just spoke, Governor. Wait a minute.
CROWLEY: Why don't you go ahead and finish your time. I promise you--
CRIST: The reason I'm running as an independent is because it's what the people want and it's what's right with my own heart. I have got to be honest with myself. The Republican Party and the right wing of that party went so far right, it's exactly why Marco Rubio stayed there, it's exactly the same reason that I left. He wants to overturn -- listen to me, women watching -- overturn Roe versus Wade. He does not support stem cell research. You know, these are extreme views that I am not comfortable with. He took it to a point so much so that said that, you know, people who essentially don't agree with him, ought to leave the country, like Keith Olbermann.(CNN)
PolitiFact gives no attention to the details. After quoting Crist author Bowers simply asks "Could it be true?" and passes on the justification provided by the Crist campaign:
At first blush, this glove doesn't fit. It is unlikely that a trade could be arranged where millions of people are traded for other millions. This suggests the possibility that Rubio was making a joke. Even a joke can have an underlying argument, of course. But is it reasonable to suggest that the underlying argument is that those who don't agree with Rubio ought to leave the country?Then, he closed the speech with a thought he said originated from Glenn Beck, FOX News' popular conservative talk show host,.
"There are millions of people in America that hate our country, so why can't we just do a trade?" Rubio said. "We'll send you Sean Penn, Janeane Garofalo and Keith Olbermann, and you can send us people that actually love this country and want to help us build it."(The Palm Beach Post)
This reed is a bit too thin to support the argument, and Bowers came up with little else:
Spokesman Alex Burgos offered this quick response from his BlackBerry after the debate: "It's true what Marco said, and we appreciate the governor bringing it up."
Given that Rubio's statement was about making a trade based on love of country rather than a deportation program based on agreement with Rubio, Burgos' response makes little sense.
Hoping to make some sense of Burgos' message, I asked PolitiFact writer Becky Bowers about it. Bowers promptly responded to my email message and said she sent Burgos Crist's statement along with material from the Post and asked for the campaign's response.
That didn't do much to help me understand the reply from Burgos. It was enough for Bowers, however:
Given the evidence, and both sides’ endorsement of it, we rate Crist’s statement True.The evidence doesn't do much at all to support Crist's presentation, for the reasons noted above. And the endorsement of both sides is effectively irrelevant. If A says X is black and white and then A and B agree that A said X is not black and white it remains true that A said X is black and white. A and B are thus incorrect in the later reports.
Bowers appears to have placed the opinions of Crist and Burgos over the facts, and Bowers did precious little to check facts other than to seek Burgos' opinion. Minus a complete account of Rubio's speech, there was too much doubt about his message, based on the words he used, to judge Crist's version "True." A tape of the speech would likely have helped demonstrate that Rubio spoke in jest about the proposed trade.
Becky Bowers: F
Amy Hollyfield: F
Failure to note the incongruity between the Crist claim and the Crist campaign's supposed supporting evidence results in the failing grade. This was a fact check without any real fact checking. Doing a little research isn't always enough to support a determination, and in this case the PolitiFact team was obliged to largely ignore what primary source evidence there was in making the ruling.
I still don't know what Alex Burgos was thinking when he gave the campaign's response to this issue. Did he really believe that Rubio was saying that those who disagree with him ought to leave the country? That seems doubtful, and if we were to suppose it true then it requires some explanation beyond the facts at hand.
Perhaps Burgos meant merely to affirm Rubio's message as, roughly: "America: Love it or leave it." If that's what he meant then his attempt to express it pretty much counts as incompetent.