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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: How Many Oil and Gas Jobs Are There in West Virginia?

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Moundsville, W.Va., hopes to reap some of the benefits of a proposed project to turn a byproduct of natural gas drilling into the raw material used to produce plastic products. Photo: AP

West Virginia Del. Joshua Higginbotham, a Republican, touted the number of jobs created by the gas and oil industry in West Virginia during a Jan. 23 interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“Tens of thousands of jobs (are) created in West Virginia by the natural gas and oil industries,” Higginbotham said.

West Virginia Del. Joshua Higginbotham

Have that many jobs been created by the industry within West Virginia? The answer is more complicated than we initially expected — so much so that we’re not providing a Truth-O-Meter rating for his statement. Instead, we’ll look at a few different ways of measuring this statistic, each of which have their own benefits and drawbacks.

The American Petroleum Institute study

We did not hear back Higginbotham’s office for this article, but we did receive a response from Jennifer Cox, the manager of member services at West Virginia’s Oil and Natural Gas Association.

Cox referred us to data from “Impacts of the Oil and Natural Gas Industry on the US Economy in 2015,” a 2017 report published by the American Petroleum Institute, a national trade group.

According to this report, West Virginia had 70,874 total jobs in the natural gas and oil industry in 2015.

The figure in the report includes three classes of jobs. The state had 38,211 direct jobs in the oil and natural gas industry. These jobs are “primarily engaged in the drilling, well servicing, exploration, production, gathering, processing, marketing, transportation, storage of distribution of oil and/or natural gas,” Cox said.

In addition, the state had 9,309 indirect jobs, which helped provide needed goods or services to the industry.

Finally, the industry induced another 23,353 jobs, which were supported by expenditures by people employed within the oil and natural gas industries.

It’s important note that this data comes from the industry itself, rather than an independent arbiter.

It’s also important to note that this data is a few years old. In an industry that’s subject to expansions and contractions based on the state of the international energy market, a data lag that long can make a difference. For instance, a different American Petroleum Institute report for West Virginia published two years earlier than the report referenced above found a larger number for oil and gas jobs in West Virginia — 80,400 direct, indirect and induced jobs.

Even if you limit the number to direct jobs, the most recent API report bolsters Higginbotham’s description of “tens of thousands of jobs,” since it cites 38,211 direct jobs.

However, Brian Lego, an assistant researcher professor at West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, told PolitiFact West Virginia that it’s possible the numbers could turn out differently if the methodology was changed.

So we kept looking. And it turns out that Lego was right.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data

We turned next to the federal government’s official employment database, collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This showed a vastly smaller pool of oil and gas employment in West Virginia.

The category of oil and gas extraction had 2,238 employees in West Virginia in September 2018, the most recent month available. There were an additional 2,786 employees in support activities for oil and gas operations.

The total for these two categories works out to about 5,000 — which is a whole lot less than what API found. What gives?

Talking to experts in employment data, we found a couple of explanations for the difference.

One big one, said API spokeswoman Sabrina Fang, is that the BLS data excludes contractors and sole proprietorships and partnerships. Such arrangements are “an especially large factor in the oil and gas extraction sector,” she said. (Other economists agreed.)

Experts also said that professional services — such as lawyers reviewing lease agreements for drilling — wouldn’t necessarily be captured in the BLS data.

The support categories BLS tracks “combine employment from multiple extraction industries, and there’s no way to know how much of that bucket to allocate to coal, oil and gas, or other industries,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist with the jobs site Indeed.com.

A third difference is that API’s study included several industry sectors that are outside of the pure oil and gas extraction activities captured in the BLS data. The report lists such categories as oil and gas pipeline construction, petroleum refining, various types of asphalt manufacturing, and gas stations.

The inclusion of gas stations may go the furthest to explain the divergence between API’s data and BLS’s.

The API report didn’t specify how many of the oil and gas jobs in West Virginia come from gas stations, but in the report’s nationwide data, gas stations accounted for about one-third of all the jobs API tallied in the oil and gas sector. So including gas station jobs helps explain why the API number is so much larger.

The U.S. Energy and Employment Report

There’s a third study we can look at, and its figures rest somewhere in the middle of what BLS and API found.

It’s the U.S. Energy and Employment Report, which was published most recently in 2019 by the Energy Futures Initiative, a “clean energy” think tank led by former Obama administration Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, along with the nonpartisan National Association of State Energy Officials.

This study is both three years more recent than the API study and also uses survey methods to get the closest approximation of the number of contractors working for the oil and gas sector, as well as how much time they spend working on oil and gas efforts compared to work for other sectors.

This report found 4,647 jobs in West Virginia in the oil sector and another 5,816 in the natural gas sector. David Foster, who helped prepare the report for the group, told PolitiFact West Virginia that he would recommend adding in roughly another 5,000 jobs in pipeline distribution in the state to measure the oil and gas sector most accurately.

This adds up to more than 15,000 jobs — more than BLS found, but less than API. This figure does not include some of the sectors API included, such as asphalt operations and gas stations. Foster said he doesn’t object to API including gas stations in its total, but his group didn’t dig up that data.

So, using the U.S. Energy and Employment report‘s total as a middle ground, and adding gas station employment to it, gets the total up to about 20,000 oil and gas jobs in West Virginia — the minimum necessary for Higginbotham’s “tens of thousands of jobs” to be accurate.

Still, the specialists we interviewed were reluctant to choose a single best number for West Virginia employment in oil and gas, suggesting that a range is probably more appropriate.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Have West Virginia Test Scores Tended to Drop After 4th Grade?

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Students Toni Campbell, left, and Rashawn Brooks discuss a student mentoring program at Mount View High School in Welch, W.Va., in 2015. (AP)

The president of the West Virginia state Senate, Mitch Carmichael, recently said that students in the state consistently rank well below students elsewhere when comparing test scores.

Carmichael made the comments in an interview with Hoppy Kercheval of WV MetroNews Talkline on Feb. 14, 2019. He was discussing the then-current Senate Bill 451 and what the bill could offer both teachers and students. At one point he called improving the state’s education system a moral imperative.

In West Virginia, he said, “our students enter in at fourth grade the first time they’re tested, 37th or 38th in the nation—which is not good, but it’s not horrible. By the time they’re in the 8th grade, they’re 46th or 47th, and then upon 11th grade testing they’re near last.”

Is that correct? We took a closer look. (We reached out to Carmichael, but he did not respond.)

We turned to the Nation’s Report Card, an archive of National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores. NAEP was first administered in 1969 and is the largest continuing, nationally representative assessment of student achievement in such subjects as math, reading, science, and writing.

The Nation’s Report Card allows users to compare specific states to the nation as a whole in a variety of subjects. This is the main interactive page for West Virginia’s state comparisons.

The Nation’s Report Card looks at math and reading scores and organizes states into three categories: “higher” than the target state, “not significantly different” than the target state, and “lower” than the target state. Here’s a chart showing West Virginia’s ranking for fourth graders. The figure shown is the number of states ranked “higher” than West Virginia in the year noted.

By this data, Carmichael is generally in the right ballpark, though scores in recent years have had a wider range than he suggested — from 30 to 41, rather than 37 or 38.

Here’s the chart for eighth graders:

For eighth grade, the rankings aren’t quite as low as Carmichael had indicated, but he does have the general trend line correct: In most cases, West Virginia’s ranking dropped in math and reading between fourth and eighth grade.

What about testing near the end of high school? The data that’s available makes it difficult to say.

There are only two years for which data is available at all — and for those years, not every state took part.

So while it looks like West Virginia improved dramatically by the end of high school, there were actually so few states participating that each of these rankings represents a last-place slot for that year.

Superficially, this supports Carmichael’s assertion — that by the end of high school West Virginia students are “near last.” But since about two-thirds of the states didn’t participate, we really don’t know for sure how well or poorly West Virginia ranked among all 50 states.

Our ruling

Carmichael said that in West Virginia, “our students enter in at fourth grade the first time they’re tested, 37th or 38th in the nation—which is not good, but it’s not horrible. By the time they’re in the 8th grade, they’re 46th or 47th, and then upon 11th grade testing they’re near last.”

Judging by the past six years of NAEP rankings, Carmichael’s specific figures are slightly off for fourth and eighth grades, but the trend he points out — a decline for West Virginia between fourth and eighth grades — is accurate and consistent.

As for the end of high school, however, while West Virginia does drop to last among participating states, that finding is undercut by the reality that most states did not take part in the testing. That makes it difficult to know how well West Virginia fared nationally.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-checking a GOP Talking Point on Walls and Border Apprehensions

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Cars and trucks line up to enter Mexico from the U.S. at a border crossing in El Paso, Texas, on March 29, 2019. Photo: AP

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., took to Twitter earlier this year to discuss the debate over erecting a wall on the U.S-Mexico border. She said that previous barriers built on the southern border have been successful.

In the tweet, Capito said, “Beginning in the early 1990s, we built barriers in 4 sectors at our southern border. Since each was built, those sectors have seen massive drops in apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally. Let’s admit that physical barriers need to be a part of the solution.”

A graphic attached to the tweet said there had been decreases of 90 percent in the Tucson sector, 95 percent in the Yuma sector, 95 percent in the San Diego sector, and 95 percent in the El Paso sector.

Did the barriers in four sectors of the southwestern border result in massive drops in apprehensions? We took a closer look.

Capito’s evidence

Tyler Hernandez, Capito’s communication director, pointed to a “Border Security Metrics Report” released by the Department of Homeland Security dated May 1, 2018. This report included data back to 2006 but we were able to find additional data going further back at the Customs and Border Protection website. (Meanwhile, the fact-checking site Snopes.com noted that the statistic originated with the Republican National Committee.)

Here’s a chart showing the trend lines for border apprehensions — the typical way to measure illegal immigration into the United States from the southern border — going back to 1990, the period Capito referenced in her tweet.

Broadly speaking, the chart shows a downward trend for apprehensions at the various sectors, interrupted by a spike around 2004 and 2006. This means that for roughly the last 20 years, there has been a downward movement in migrant flows across the border.

Tucson fell by 92 percent from its peak in 2000, Yuma fell by 70 percent from its peak in 2005, San Diego fell by 93 percent from ts peak in 1992, and El Paso fell by 89 percent from its peak in 1993.

That said, these large declines started between 1992 and 2005 — before passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The law, which was signed by President George W. Bush, authorized about 700 miles of fencing along certain parts of the southern border. That fencing was built over the course of several years after passage of the law, depending on the sector.

If you measure the declines between the law took effect in 2006 and 2018, they are still substantial, but not as large as the declines from the pre-2006 peaks. El Paso fell by 74 percent, San Diego by 73 percent, Tucson by 87 percent, and Yuma by 78 percent. Those percentages are all smaller than what Capito tweeted out.

It’s also important to note that some border crossings may have shifted from urban areas, where fences were erected, to more rural areas, said Tony Payan, a fellow for Mexico Studies at Rice University.

“Some barriers did go up, primarily along urban areas, like San Diego and El Paso,” he said. “But these barriers did not stop undocumented migration at all. They simply funneled it to areas further out from the urban areas.”

In fact, the overall apprehension statistics in the southwest border fell less than the statistics for some of the relatively urban sectors Capito cited. Overall, apprehensions at the southwestern border, including areas that Capito didn’t highlight, fell by 76 percent from their peak in 2000 to 2018, and by 63 percent between 2006 and 2018.

That’s a less dramatic decline than those seen specifically in El Paso, San Diego and Tucson that Capito cited. So Capito’s chosen sectors are somewhat cherry-picked.

Finally, immigration experts say that security measures do not account for all — or necessarily even most — of the decline in border-crossing.

Douglas Massey, a professor at Princeton University’s Office of Population Research who has studied border migration for decades, has previously told PolitiFact that he considers the economy the primary factor. The Great Recession, he said, had an immense impact in slowing border crossing. In particular, dwindling prospects of finding a job in sectors such as construction, which traditionally attract a disproportionate number of Latinos, dampened the urge for potential Mexican migrants to undertake a difficult journey.

Payan agreed that barriers would not have been the only factor.

“Although tougher enforcement and barriers did help,” Payan said, “other factors played a role, including Mexico’s changing demographics, and rising middle class, and U.S. deployment of tougher checks, such as E-Verify,” an electronic employment verification system.

“Everything helps, but it is absolutely misleading to attribute the decrease in undocumented crossings to barriers, particularly that early,” Payan said.

Capito’s office reiterated to PolitiFact that her tweet said that “physical barriers need to be a part of the solution,” rather than the only part.

Our ruling

Capito said, “Beginning in the early 1990s, we built barriers in 4 sectors at our southern border. Since each was built, those sectors have seen massive drops in apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally,” including 90 percent to 95 percent decreases in the Tucson, Yuma, San Diego and El Paso sectors. 

The four sectors she cited fell substantially after hitting peaks in the 1990s and the early 2000s, but not quite as much as she indicated. And the rest of her assertion is questionable.

Border apprehension declines started prior to passage of the 2006 law that authorized border fencing. Moreover, while such barriers may have had an impact, other factors, notably the troubled economy after the Great Recession, are often credited with playing a key role in the decline of border apprehensions.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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