Facts Matter: Thousands did die from Puerto Rican hurricanes; Obama threatened press

  • Former President Barack Obama spoke on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana on Friday, Sept. 7.

    Former President Barack Obama spoke on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana on Friday, Sept. 7. Associated Press

  • Customed-painted "burned" Nikes had nothing to do with the controversy over the company's ad campaign, Snopes.com says.

    Customed-painted "burned" Nikes had nothing to do with the controversy over the company's ad campaign, Snopes.com says. Snopes.com

Updated 9/15/2018 5:15 PM

President Donald Trump's claim that 3,000 people did not die last year as a result of two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico is false, even by the most conservative estimates of the death toll, according to The Washington Post.

Trump said Thursday on Twitter that after his Oct. 3, 2017, visit to the island, two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, there were "anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths." But later that day the total rose to 34 dead and eventually 64, the Post said. Hurricane Irma struck Puerto Rico just ahead of Maria.


Officials had failed to properly document deaths related to the natural disasters and were criticized for a too-low figure, according to the Post. So the Puerto Rico government enlisted George Washington University's Milken Institute to examine the data.

The study, released last month, estimated the number of deaths resulting from the storms was between 2,658 and 3,290, with a midpoint of 2,975, the Puerto Rico government's official count, the Post said. The report compared the number of actual deaths to the typical death rate, while adjusting for many variables, such as the mass exodus from the island after the storm.

Most other studies are consistent with the George Washington University figures, the Post said, and even the most conservative estimate has the death toll at 1,000, far exceeding the president's claim.

Obama's effort to block the press

While on the campaign trail supporting fellow Democrats, former President Barack Obama during a rally last week in Champaign said, "You never heard me threaten to shut (Fox News) down or call them enemies of the people."

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But Obama used extraordinary actions to block the flow of information to the public and "arguably went farther" than President Trump's attempts to undermine trust in the press, according to The Associated Press.

The Obama administration in 2013 seized records of Associated Press phone lines and reporters' phone numbers, without notice, as part of an investigation of disclosed information concerning a foiled al-Qaida terrorist plot, the AP said.

The administration also obtained phone records and recorded the movements of Fox News journalist James Rosen, naming him as a possible criminal conspirator in the investigation of a news leak, the AP said.

A New York Times editorial at the time said the Obama administration "has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news," according to the AP.


Nike didn't issue burned shoes

A pair of custom-designed Nikes, created months ago, were used in a post falsely claiming the shoe company issued them earlier this month to push back at protesters.

Artist Kelsey Amy gave the Nike Monarchs a burned look when she hand-painted them for two clients requesting grilling-inspired sneakers, according to Snopes.com.

A false post of the custom kicks said Nike "clapped back at 'em" in response to recent backlash.

Nike's decision to use former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in ads resulted in some social media protests with users burning Nike gear. Kaepernick caused controversy by kneeling during the national anthem before football games to bring attention to racial injustice and police brutality.

Amy said in an Instagram post she created the burnt-look shoes, nicknamed "Burnt Ends," for an event in early June. Those, and other one-of-a-kind artworks by Amy, are not an official product offered by Nike, Snopes said.

In-N-Out Burger photo resurfaces

A reporter's photo of a crowd attending the opening of a fast-food restaurant seven years ago in Texas was reused with a recent post claiming the gathering was the result of a politician's call for a boycott.

"Fake news wasn't even part of the political lexicon when I took (the) picture May 11, 2011, outside the new In-N-Out Burger on Preston Road in Frisco," Dallas Morning News staff writer Valerie Wigglesworth said in a story about the recent post and the use of her photo. Wigglesworth was covering the event as the food chain opened its first site in Texas.

California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman called for a boycott of In-N-Out Burger earlier this month after reports of the fast-food chain's donation to the GOP, according to the Morning News. Days later Bauman changed course and said, "There is not boycott."

That didn't stop social media posts, showing Wigglesworth's 2011 photo of a large crowd outside the restaurant with accompanying claims the recent calls for a boycott backfired, resulting in "record business," the Morning News said.

The post has taken on "a life of its own," Wigglesworth writes, engaging nearly a million people and generating small donations for Democrats.

The photo has been used by several people to make a point, she said, with one site crediting the image to someone else.

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at boboswald33@gmail.com.

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