Facts Matter: Quote long attributed to George H.W. Bush is fake

  • Former Presidents George W. Bush, left, and George H.W. Bush walk together in 2008 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

    Former Presidents George W. Bush, left, and George H.W. Bush walk together in 2008 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Associated Press

Updated 12/8/2018 5:37 PM

Among the recollections and tributes following the death of George H.W. Bush on Nov. 30 was the reemergence of a quote falsely attributed to the 41st U.S. president.

Commentary on Bush included his pardoning of former members of Ronald Reagan's administration involved in the Iran-Contra Affair, according to Snopes.com. Recent memes shared on social media claimed Bush, in response to the affair, said, "If the people were to ever find out what we have done, we would be chased down the streets and lynched."


Attributing the statement to Bush began in the mid-1990s, Snopes said, but there is no evidence he actually said it.

The claim is that Bush made the comment during an interview with longtime White House correspondent Sarah McClendon and that it appeared in her newsletter in 1992, with the month variously given as June or December, according to Snopes. But neither the quote nor any similar comments appeared in the five issues of Sarah McClendon's Washington Report from those months that Snopes reviewed, although the publications did include discussion of Bush and Iran-Contra. McClendon died in 2003.

If Bush had made the statement, it would have been followed up by significant press coverage and commentary by mainstream media, Snopes said.

Nativity scene not banned by Obama

The same nativity scene has been on display at the White House during the Christmas season for 51 years. But that doesn't stop social media posts falsely claiming the crèche was banned by President Barack Obama and brought back "thanks to First Lady Melania Trump."

The carved wood and terra cotta figures that make up the nativity scene were donated to the White House by philanthropist Jane Engelhard in 1967, and it has been displayed every Christmas since, according to PolitiFact.com.

The rumor the Obamas were not displaying the scene, which resurfaces every year, began in 2009 during the first Christmas of the administration, PolitiFact said. That year The New York Times reported the president was considering a nonreligious Christmas at the White House, but that tradition won out and the crèche was put on display.

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A 2015 news release from the Obama administration referred to the nativity scene as a "long-standing holiday tradition" and a recent release from the Trump White House said, "for the 51st year, the White House crèche will also be on display" along with this year's decorations, according to PolitiFact.

The fake posts were flagged as part of Facebook's efforts against false news and misinformation, PolitiFact said.

Fuzzy math on Pentagon figures

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly elected Democratic representative from New York, said last week on Twitter that $21 trillion of Pentagon transactions could not be "traced, documented or explained" and the "accounting errors" could fund 66 percent of the cost of Medicare for All, a proposal to create government-funded health care.

The numbers don't add up, according to PolitiFact.

Ocasio-Cortez cited an article in the Nov. 27 edition of the magazine the Nation, PolitiFact said. The Nation report, about accounting discrepancies at the Pentagon, referenced Michigan State University professor of economics Mark Skidmore's research, stating, "in all, at least a mind-boggling $21 trillion of Pentagon financial transactions between 1998 and 2015 could not be traced, documented, or explained."


However, the $21 trillion was a cumulative amount of individual transactions, some double and triple counted, PolitiFact said. It is not a single amount of money that was misspent.

PolitiFact points out actual Pentagon spending from 1998 to 2015 was $8.5 trillion and the $21 trillion Ocasio-Cortez cited was more than the U.S. has spent on national security since 1940.

The $21 trillion figure includes internal transfers in which the same dollar can be part of multiple transactions, PolitiFact said.

"One dollar involved in 10 transactions is not 10 dollars," Taxpayers for Common Sense Vice President Steve Ellis told PolitiFact.

Ocasio-Cortez's post was shared by nearly 25,000 users, according to The Washington Post.

Elvis prescription fake

An image of a prescription made out for Elvis Presley and posted this month on the Pictures in History Facebook page is a forgery, according to Snopes.com.

The fake prescription is dated Aug. 15, 1977, the day before the King of Rock 'n' Roll died at his Graceland estate in Memphis, Tennessee, and carries the signature of Dr. George Nichopolous.

Presley's doctor, referred to as Dr. Nick, spelled his name Nichopoulos, not Nichopolous as it appears on the prescription, Snopes said. The ZIP code listed at the top is 34108 but the actual ZIP code for the Memphis address is 38104. And Nichopoulos' signature on the prescription doesn't match a known signature from that time period.

The fake document does list a variety of drugs -- Dilaudid, Percodan, Amytal, Quaalude, Dexedrine and Biphetamine -- that Nichopoulos prescribed for Presley, Snopes said.

Following the singer's death, Nichopoulos was indicted on charges of overprescribing drugs for Presley and others but was acquitted on all counts in 1981, according to Snopes. He died in 2016 at age 88.

Many of the users who commented on the Pictures in History Facebook page expressed outrage that a doctor would be allowed to write that kind of a prescription.

• 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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