The Most Notorious Fact Checks of 2013 - Voice of San Diego

Fact Check UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

The Most Notorious Fact Checks of 2013

We review our craziest fact checks of the past year.

Forget those best-of-2013 lists.

Let’s take a look at the lowest of the low: our most notorious fact checks of 2013.

We’ve covered lots of ground this year. We’ve checked dozens of statements about everything from the percentage of female employees who work for the city to the fencing along the city’s border with Mexico.

I reviewed all those fact checks and selected the most wild and crazy claims, including one that turned out to be true.

Here are our picks for the top fact checks of 2013.

The Biggest Whopper

It was an interview like no other.

Former San Diego Unified CFO Stan “Data” Dobbs sat down with former Voice of San Diego reporter Will Carless for a Q-and-A shortly after he was hired, and instigated plenty of controversy.

Dobbs made a series of bold statements about teacher salaries and overstaffing at the district, and even made an explosive claim about one of the education world’s sacred cows: “People have this belief that if you increase class sizes, it has a negative impact on student learning. That is not documented, proven anywhere. Actually, there’s not one piece of literature published to prove that. As a matter of fact, just the opposite.”

That’s right, Dobbs claimed there’s not a single piece of research that proves larger class sizes deter performance. He was wrong.  For example, an often-cited 1980s study at nearly 80 Tennessee schools found first-grade students in the smaller classes scored significantly higher on math and reading tests.

Dobbs, who is now superintendent of the Hayward school district, earned a huckster propaganda rating for his mischaracterization of a body of research about class sizes.

The Quirkiest Claim

Former Mayor Bob Filner was one of the city’s biggest advocates of a 24-hour camera that records La Jolla’s harbor seals and he suggested a surprising reason for using city funds to support it at a May budget meeting.

“We’ve become an internationally known center for seal research now because of (seal cam),” Filner claimed.

But I couldn’t find a single seal expert who agreed with him so I gave Filner a huckster propaganda rating.

Most Shockingly True

San Diegans learned a lot more about their city’s complex recall process this summer in the midst of efforts to oust Filner.

In July, attorneys James P. Lough and Kenneth H. Lounsbery formally requested the San Diego County Grand Jury investigate Filner and consider booting him from office in light of this claim: “No city in the state of California has a higher barrier” (to recall an official than San Diego).”

The subsequent fact check revealed that San Diego’s requirements to get a recall on the ballot were indeed more stringent than most other major California cities. San Diego recall organizers have far fewer days to collect signatures than all their big city counterparts and must collect them from at least 15 percent of registered voters, a steeper percentage than all but one other large city in California.

In the end, the lawyers earned a mostly true rating because not all of California’s more than 480 cities post recall policies online but San Diego has a higher barrier to recall than each of the state’s most populous cities.

The Dirtiest Declarations

The spring race to replace former City Councilman Tony Young got especially nasty.

Supporters of now-District 4 Councilwoman Myrtle Cole and second-place finisher Dwayne Crenshaw made a series of below-the-belt accusations in political mailers.

One claimed Cole was culpable for ethics fines, a statement we dubbed huckster propaganda. Another said Crenshaw was fired from a local nonprofit after mismanaging money. That one earned a misleading rating.

The worst of the worst didn’t get the straightforward fact check treatment but deserves a mention here.

Days before the special election, Cole’s campaign bankrolled a mailer that falsely accused Crenshaw of being involved in a drug deal more than 20 years ago. That claim was discredited in a 2002 U-T San Diego story and again in a post by VOSD’s Liam Dillon.

The Most Repeated Lie

They said it couldn’t happen but the former mayor wasn’t having it.

For months, Filner spoke in soaring terms about plans to put together the first-ever binational Summer Olympics bid from San Diego and Tijuana.

Then, this spring, the U.S. Olympic Committee rejected the pitch and the local exploratory committee seeking to draw the Olympics to the region in 2024 opted to focus its bid on San Diego.

That didn’t stop Filner from continuing to talk about the binational Olympics bid, a concept we dubbed huckster propaganda in August.

He bragged about it at numerous city meetings and even mentioned it during his infamous resignation speech.

Totally Far Out False

San Diego: urban tree capital of the nation?

A March ABC 10 News story kicked off with the declaration that San Diego has more trees than any other city in nation.

But it turned out San Diego’s tree population isn’t so impressive.

A 2002 study found just 7 percent of the city is covered by trees. That’s pretty unsubstantial considering a 2010 U.S. Forest Service report that said the nation’s most tree-populous cities have as much as 80 percent tree cover.

We had no choice but to dub the No. 1 tree city claim false.

 

Show Comments
Loading

We’re striving for the best possible discussion and may delete comments using our editorial judgment. All comments containing links will be reviewed by VOSD staff before they are published.
Read our full comment policy.
For longer comments, consider submitting an op-ed to Voice of San Diego.
Read the guidelines here.

We have recently updated our commenting system. If you are unable to submit a comment, please clear the cache and cookies in your browser, or use a private browsing window. Click here for detailed instructions.