Facts Matter: Russian role in 2016 more than 'a couple of Facebook ads'

President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner claimed the special counsel investigation has been more harmful to the country than interference by Russia.

"The whole thing is just a big distraction for the country," Kushner said during an event last week. "You look at what Russia did - buying some Facebook ads to try and sow dissent. And it's a terrible thing, but I think the investigation and all the speculation that's happened over the past two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads."

But Kushner's statement largely mischaracterizes the effort put forth by Russian intelligence to help Trump and hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, according to

A U.S. intelligence community assessment in January 2017 determined the Russian government preferred Trump over Clinton in the election, PolitiFact said. The recent special counsel's report supported the assessment, stating, "the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome."

The Russia-backed social media campaign purchased more than 3,500 Facebook ads while controlling multiple Facebook and Instagram accounts with hundreds of thousands of U.S. participants, PolitiFact said. The campaign also controlled more than 3,800 Twitter accounts that likely reached 1.5 million users.

Facebook estimated the Russian group reached 126 million people through it's social media accounts, according to PolitiFact.

Additionally, Russian intelligence stole and released emails aimed at hurting the Clinton campaign.

Two dumps of the documents through WikiLeaks occurred at pivotal moments of the Democrat's campaign, PolitiFact said. The first was just days before Clinton was to be nominated at the Democratic National Convention. The second dump of Democratic emails was less than an hour after a 2005 Access Hollywood tape embarrassing to Trump was made public.

Harris' employment statement false

Democratic presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris, during a recent CNN town hall, said, "the majority of women are minimum wage workers."

Not so, according to

According to 2017 Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited by PolitiFact, 1,824,000 U.S. workers were paid minimum wage or less. Of that group, 678,000 were men and 1,146,000 were women. During that period, 72 million women were employed, meaning 1.6% of all female workers were at or below minimum wage.

Harris campaign spokesman Ian Sams told PolitiFact Harris's statement was a "slip of the tongue on live TV."

Sams said the senator meant to say a majority of workers making minimum wage are women.

That statement would be accurate, PolitiFact said.

Man charged in attack born in Chicago

A man charged with throwing a boy over a balcony at the Mall of America April 12 has been the subject of false social media posts claiming he is a Somali immigrant, according to The Associated Press.

Emmanuel Aranda, 24, charged with attempted premeditated first-degree murder, was born in Chicago at the University of Illinois Hospital, AP said, citing Cook County birth records.

Aranda has two prior convictions for assaults at the Minneapolis mall, AP said. That area has one of the country's largest population of Somali immigrants, including many Muslims, and the false posts were an attempt to portray the immigrants in a negative light, AP said.

Aranda admitted to the attack and told police he was at the mall a day earlier seeking to kill someone, AP said.

The 5-year-old boy suffered head trauma and broken bones after being thrown nearly 40-feet, AP said. His family said he is showing signs of recovery but remains in intensive care.

Update on Notre Dame photo

An item in my April 21 column quoted PolitiFact as saying a photo of two smiling men in front of the burning Notre Dame Cathedral was a composite.

Sputnik, a news site run by the Russian government that published the photo, protested that the photo was not doctored, leading PolitiFact and others to take another look.

According to PolitiFact, two fact-checking sites, Nieuwscheckers, based in the Netherlands, and Lead Stories, a U.S. fact-checker, believe the image is authentic.

Catalin Grigoras, director of the National Center for Media Forensics at University Colorado Denver, believes it is fake.

In either case, the characterization on social media sites that the laughing men are Muslim, fueling claims of terrorism, is "highly misleading," PolitiFact said.

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

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