PolitiFact is a project run by the Tampa Bay Times in which journalists from that newspaper and affiliated media fact-check claims and statements made by politicians and political media. It is generally viewed as independent, although it has detractors on both the left and right. The right, of course, is more critical because PolitiFact often finds the claims of right-wing media to be misleading or false. What else is new? Those in right-wing media have long believed they are entitled to their own set of “facts.” PolitiFact won the Pulitzer Prize, the highest award in journalism, in 2009 for its coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign. I’ll trust its judgment.
So it’s notable if PolitiFact delves into a story and tries to ascertain whether it is, by its scale of judgment, “misleading,” “false” or “pants on fire” inaccurate.
PolitiFact has looked into a story perpetuated by right-wing media in North Dakota — and by that we mean TV host Chris Berg, radio host Scott Hennen and blogger/radio host Rob Port (employed by Forum Communications) — and found it to be false. Whether or not it matters at this point is debatable, because the talking point is showing up regularly now on social media and in letters to the editor, and that is often all that matters in today’s fractured media landscape. It’s hard to pull back a lie that has spread on the Internet.
The story involves Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, long a target of the North Dakota Republican Party and its media lackeys. The Senate voted Jan. 29 on a bill to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — a symbolic political stunt that forced vulnerable red-state Democrats like Heitkamp to take a stand on a controversial topic. It was a nothing bill that had no chance of passing the 60-vote threshold required to make it filibuster proof, and it indeed failed on a 51-46 mostly party line vote.
There was a moment in the midst of the floor vote, however, that put the Republican machine in motion. Heitkamp, seen in the video talking with Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.), was approached by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Moments after Heitkamp voted against the bill, she and Schumer clasped hands in a sort of awkward handshake/greeting. The clasping was done above shoulder height … and this set right-wingers into spreading a story that Heitkamp “high-fived” Schumer in celebration of the vote.
The video clip, generated off C-Span and used on Facebook by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell, shows Heitkamp and Schumer engaging in a gesture that by no objective standard can be called a celebratory high-five, even by the definition of the awkward Tiger Woods/Steve Williams high-fives back when the golfing great and his caddy were doing badly timed hand-slapping celebrations. There is a wave, a clasping of Heitkamp’s left hand and Schumer’s right, a pause and they drop hands.
PolitiFact looked specifically at Port’s SayAnything Blog post relating to Heitkamp and Schumer. The blog is hosted by Forum Communications.
PolitiFact pursued comments from a Heitkamp spokesperson, Schumer’s press secretary and Port.
“They were greeting each other to say hello, as senators often do during votes,” said Abigail McDonough, Heitkamp’s communications director.
Justin Goodman, Schumer’s press secretary, confirmed the senators did not speak about the vote when they greeted each other.
The vote was held on a Monday night, so it was the first time a lot of the senators would have seen each other since the previous week.
Rob Port, the editor of the blog, did not provide any evidence that the hand-gesture was about the vote.
“Looked like a high five to me, but the video speaks for itself I think,” Port said.
In its “ruling” on the matter, PolitiFact disputes the blog version of events and calls it conclusion “false.”
A SayAnythingBlog.com headline said, “Heitkamp High-Fives Schumer After Voting Against 20-Week Abortion Ban.”
The headline suggests the celebration of a pro-abortion victory, but that’s not what the footage shows.
The video shows an awkward hand waving-turned-holding between Schumer and Heitkamp on a Monday night. Both senators said they did not mention the vote on the floor, and that they were simply greeting each other. Port provided no evidence that the two were celebrating the vote.
We rate this statement False.
North Dakota Republicans are trying to make hay of the Heitkamp-Schumer wave/hand-clasp/greeting — and are probably succeeding among their strident supporters — to the point that state party chairman Kelly Armstrong put out a press release blasting PolitiFact for calling Port’s blog false.
“It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad that Senator Heitkamp’s supporters in the media have been reduced to analyzing what constitutes a high five,” Armstrong was quoted as saying in the release. “The bottom line is that celebrating this vote was unwarranted and voters won’t forget it.”
What’s funny, actually, is that North Dakota Republicans are so desperate to hit Heitkamp that they are manufacturing high-five controversies out of thin air and using their bobos to perpetuate fake news. What’s even funnier is that NDGOP leadership, like Armstrong, did such a poor job in the past six years of recruiting candidates to run against Heitkamp that it is left with milquetoast lightweights like Campbell and Gary Emineth to try and take a seat from a Democrat in deeply red state.
Now THAT is funny.