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Fact-check: Is Trust in the Media Lower than Trust in Congress?

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The U.S. Capitol. Photo: chucka_nc/Creative Commons

How low is public approval of the media today? West Virginia University President Gordon Gee raised the topic during a Sept. 17 meeting with the staff of the West Virginia University student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum.

Gee was expanding upon a statement he had made on Aug. 27, 2018, during Gov. Jim Justice’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education. At the commission meeting, Gee discussed some unflattering news reports about actions he had taken within the organization. “You’ve learned the common truth of public life, which is don’t believe what you read in the newspaper,” he said.

Three days later, the Athenaeum published a front-page editorial pushing back on Gee’s remark. “Such a comment feeds into a narrative that diminishes truth, dubbing accurate news as ‘fake news’ and honest journalists as ‘enemies of the American people,’” the editors wrote.

When Gee held a meeting with the newspaper staff about a month later, he said that his original statement was taken out of context and sought to affirm his faith in the press. Encouraging the student paper to pursue greater diligence in their reporting, Gee said that “the press is rated right now below that of Congress, and that is very low; it’s in the single digits.”

Neither the press nor Congress is held in particularly high regard today, but we wondered: Is public trust in the press really lower than that of Congress? PolitiFact checked a similar statement by President Donald Trump in February 2017. We reviewed the data we found then and updated it with data that’s been produced since.

Rating Congress

As we noted in early 2017, Gallup has been asking people how much confidence they have in various institutions since 1973. Here’s a look at the run of historical data.

In a Gallup poll conducted in September 2018, 19 percent of respondents reported that they approved of the work Congress is doing in Washington, while 76 percent said that they disapproved. The remaining 5 percent reported that they had no opinion.

Rating the Media

As for the media, Gallup has asked the question a few different ways.

In September 2018, the most recent poll specifically regarding media trust that Gallup published, asked the question, “In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media such as newspapers, TV and radio — when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly? A great deal, a fair amount, not very much or none at all?”

The survey found that 54 percent of individuals had “not very much” in the mass media or “none at all.” But 45 percent responded that they had either a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust.

In what may be Gallup’s most direct recent comparison of the press and Congress, a survey conducted in June 2018 asked about trust in various major institutions. In this survey, 58 percent of respondents said they had either a “great deal/quite a lot” of trust or “some” trust in newspapers, while 54 percent reported the same for television news. In the same poll, 50 percent of respondents said they had a “great deal/quite a lot” or “some” confidence in Congress, while 48 percent to say they had “very little” or “none.”

Looking just at the numbers for “great deal/quite a lot,” Congress was the lowest at 11 percent, with both types of news media in the low 20s.

John Bolt, WVU’s senior executive director for the office of communications, responded to an email inquiry about the claim by citing several polls from NPR and Gallup. However, none of these polls supported Gee’s statement, either.

The joint poll from NPR, PBS Newshour and Marist found that 25 percent of respondents had either “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress, while 71 percent had “not very much” or none. In the same poll, 30 percent reported they had either “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the media, while 68 percent reported they had “not very much” or none.

A poll from Gallup asked respondents how they “would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields — very high, high, average, low, or very low?” 11 percent rated members of Congress very high or high, while 60 percent rated them very low or low. In the same poll, 25 percent rated the media very high or high, while 35 percent rated them very low or low.

Gee would have been closer to the mark if he had referred to Republican views of the media.

For instance, a survey by the Pew Research Center in February and March of 2018 measured partisan differences in attitudes towards the media. The lowest number is the 11 percent of Republicans who said that the “national news media do very well at keeping them informed.” Meanwhile, 27 percent of Democrats responded said they believed that same statement.

Bottom line: The levels of trust in the media are higher than Gee had indicated, and trust in the media are higher than they are for Congress.

Our ruling

Gee said that in public approval, “the press is rated right now below that of Congress, and that is very low; it’s in the single digits.”

Levels of trust for both institutions are low, but Gee’s claims are wrong on two counts. First, trust in Congress is consistently lower than trust in the media. And second, we couldn’t find a poll in which the press’s approval ratings were in the single digits.

We rate the statement False.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Can Cell Phones, Bluetooth Defeat Credit Card Skimmers?

A researcher holds a magnetic credit card "read head" that is used to read information from cards during retail transactions. Photo: AP

Should you be worried about credit card fraud when you pull up to the gas pump? A post circulating recently on social media says you can deploy your cell phone to stay safe.

An April 14, 2019, post on a Facebook page called “Local Jackson County News WV” told readers they can use their cell phones at gas stations to determine whether a pump has a credit card skimmer — a device that can steal credit card numbers.

The post said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Can Bluetooth sensors always determine if there are credit card skimmers in gas pumps? We took a closer look.

How skimmers work

First, some basics: Credit card skimmers are real, and they’re illegal.

When installed in gas pumps, skimmers listen for the data traffic from the credit card reader, record it to memory and pass that data onto the pump controller.

Skimmer technology has become so advanced that thieves do not have to return to the pump to retrieve the stolen information. Perpetrators can simply sit in their cars and download credit card information to a laptop.

A special agent with the U.S. Secret Service told NBCNews last year that the agency recovers 20 to 30 skimmers a week, with an average skimmer holding information from 80 credit cards.

Can Bluetooth sensors stop skimmers?

Bluetooth can be a useful tool for consumers who want to protect their information, but they are far from foolproof.

Paige Anderson, the director of government relations with the National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group representing gas stations and convenience stores, told PolitiFact that there are too many kinds of credit card skimmers to rely on a phone to detect them.

“Some use Bluetooth technology, some use cell service and some skimming devices store the data themselves,” Anderson said.

Vassil Roussev, a computer scientist and director of the University of New Orleans Cyber Center, said that a “hit” on Bluetooth “could very well be an indicator of compromise by a skimmer, but it could also be any number of other devices within 30 feet or so, such as devices in other cars. More importantly, not finding one does not mean the pump is safe.”

The skimmer need not be detectable by Bluetooth, he said, or it could be programmed to send signals only at certain times.

“Overall, I would say that this tip offers a low level of protection,” Roussev said.

Anderson added that checking for skimmers is something gas station owners and workers need to do on a daily basis.

Retailers should conduct daily internal and external checks and take other measures to foil data thieves, she said. These practices reduce the risk of potential credit card theft, she said, though they may not eliminate it.

Our ruling

Local Jackson County News WV published a post that said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Checking a Bluetooth sensor in your cell phone before inserting your credit card in a gas pump may be able to determine whether the pump has been compromised. However, skimmer technologies vary, and many types of skimmers won’t be detectable using the Bluetooth method.

We rate the statement Half True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Are 19% of West Virginians on Food Stamps?

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A food drive at Newark Liberty International Airport, on Jan. 23, 2019. Photo: AP, Julio Cortez

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., recently took to Twitter to criticize a Trump administration proposal on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes known as food stamps.

Manchin wrote: “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed. I’m urging @USDA Sec Sonny Perdue to withdraw the proposal.”

The tweet linked to a press release from Manchin explaining his position on the proposal, which would give states less flexibility on enforcing work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries. Manchin and several dozen senators from both parties expressed opposition to the proposal.

We won’t address the pros and cons of the Trump administration proposal here, but we did wonder if almost one of every five people in West Virginia rely on SNAP.

We checked with experts and looked at the data, and it turns out that Manchin was pretty close to the mark.

In February 2019, the most recent month for which full data is available, West Virginia had 314,042 SNAP beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the state’s estimated population for 2018, according to the Census Bureau, was 1,805,832.

That works out to 17.4 percent of state residents, or a bit lower than the 19 percent figure Manchin cited.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed.”

The percentage Manchin cited is a little high, but it’s close. We rate his statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-checking Median Pay for Black, Hispanic, Native American Women

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A rally on National Equal Pay Day in Montpelier, Vt. Photo: AP

In a tweet timed for Equal Pay Day, the West Virginia Democratic Party sought to spotlight differences in pay between women of color and men.

The April 2 tweet said, “Black women make only around 63 cents while Native American women earn 58 cents, and Hispanic women make just 54 cents in comparison to every dollar a man makes. Today we not only acknowledge the pay gap, we recommit to closing it. #EqualPayDay2019.”

Is this correct? After looking at the underlying data, we found that it’s not far off.

When we contacted the party, they pointed us to a report produced by the National Partnership of Women and Families in April 2019.

The report said that “among women who hold full-time, year-round jobs in the United States, Black women are typically paid 61 cents, Native American women 58 cents and Latinas just 53 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.”

Those aren’t exactly the same numbers that the party offered, but they match the previous year’s version of the partnership’s report. So the data is slightly out of date.

In addition, we should note that the state party left out part of the description. The National Partnership of Women and Families was comparing women who hold full-time, year-round jobs, not just women who are working any amount of time. And they were also comparing those figures to white, non-Hispanic men, not to men more generally.

Potentially, this could make a difference. So we decided to look at the underlying Census Bureau data for the comparison the tweet actually made — earnings by Black, Native American and Hispanic women compared to all men.

Overall, according to the Census data, the median earnings for all male workers was $44,408. For Black women, it was $29,708, and for Hispanic women, it was $24,245.

That means that African-American women earned 67 cents for every dollar a man made, while Hispanic women earned 55 cents.

The data for Native American women was harder to locate. The National Partnership of Women and Families pointed us to a different data set from the Census Bureau.

According to that data set, men earned a median of $39,819, while Native American women earned $23,214. That works out to 58 cents on the dollar, as the tweet said.

All told, the tweet’s figure for African Americans was off by four cents, the figure for Hispanics was off by one cent, and the figure was accurate for Native Americans.

So, two of the tweet’s figures are off the mark, but not by much.

A final note: as we’ve written previously, this figure refers to the general disparity between what men and women earn, and does not compare cases of apples to apples.

These comparisons do not adjust for such factors as the degrees and jobs women pursue, the time they take off to care for children or the years of experience they’ve had.

Other studies have shown a closer match for men and women holding the same jobs.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Democratic Party tweeted, “Black women make only around 63 cents while Native American women earn 58 cents and Hispanic women make just 54 cents in comparison to every dollar a man makes.”

The tweet is right for Native American women, but the figures for black women and Hispanic women are 67 cents and 55 cents, respectively. That’s not exactly what the tweet said, but it’s not far off.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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