Factcheck.org: Sliming Pelosi

Pelosi has taken her place with Obama and Palin as a favorite target of false claims in chain e-mails, judging by the examples our readers send us.

Here's the truth about some of the bunk being thrown at her by anonymous Internet rumormongers:

Her husband does not own a $17 million stake in the parent of a company whose American Samoa plant she tried to exempt from minimum wage laws. That claim stems from a Wikipedia hoax.

She does not routinely fly about in a 757-size jet that she demanded from the Air Force. She normally flies on the same type of executive jet as her Republican predecessor.

It's untrue that she's calling for a 100 percent "windfall" profits tax on stock profits or retirement savings. That malicious hoax has been going around for at least two years but has recently been revived in a slightly different form.

And it's not true that she couldn't figure out that the voyage on which Captain Cook died was his last. That one – the most recent example – tries to pass off a joke lifted from a 48-year-old gag book as a true story about Pelosi.

The anti-Pelosi attacks increased after Democrats won a bigger majority in the House in last year's election. In earlier articles, we debunked waves of anonymous Internet misinformation about the Democratic presidential contender and the Republican vice presidential pick. Now, it is the speaker's turn.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi has been a target of Internet bunk ever since Democrats seized control of the House from Republicans and first made the San Francisco congresswoman speaker two years ago. The attacks on her were eclipsed for a while by other false Internet rumors being spread about Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, after he became a presidential candidate (see "Sliming Obama" Jan. 10, 2008). Then came a sudden wave of mistaken and made-up claims about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, after she burst on the national scene as the Republicans' choice for vice president. (See "Sliming Palin," Sept. 8, 2008.) Lately, however, we've seen a new wave of bogus attacks on Pelosi.

A Cooked-Up Story
Bogus e-mail circulating about Nancy Pelosi

The latest nonsense, which we've reprinted at left, contains a number of warning signs that should alert the wary recipient to the fact that it's not true:

It makes lavish use of exclamation points and capital letters, as though shouting could make a dubious story believable.

It describes an "academic function" for which no date or place is given and a "psychiatrist guest" who is not identified by name. Omissions like these commonly make a story impossible to confirm.

The author of the story is anonymous and says nothing about where or how the story was obtained, also typical of made-up tales.

And, from a conservative's point of view, the story is too good to be true. Pelosi supposedly proves her own "mental deficiency" by being stumped when the "psychiatrist" asks, "Captain Cook made three trips around the world and died during one of them. Which one?'' She supposedly replies, "I don't know much about history."

If the story sounds like an old joke, that's because it is. Barbara Mikkelson of Snopes.com found and reprinted a version of the story that was published in 1962. In that version, the butt of the joke is an unnamed dinner-party hostess. Mikkelson says other versions appear in even older humor books dating back to the 1950s. So the gag has been around at least a couple of decades longer than Pelosi has been in Congress.

Furthermore, Mikkelson says that for the past several years the same story has been told in other chain e-mails variously targeting non-political figures including "redheads, blondes, Valley Girls and Scientologists." Only recently has some hoaxster grafted Pelosi's name into the tale.

Other claims now circulating about Pelosi may seem more plausible, and are more pernicious, but are hardly more true.

An old falsehood going around in a new version has Pelosi advocating a "windfall tax" on all stock market profits, including those in tax-deferred 401(k) retirement accounts. We debunked an earlier version of this one more than a year ago, in one of our very first "Ask FactCheck" items. Back then, we called it "a fraud" and "a malicious fabrication." But it has lived on, and still remains on our Hot Topics list of things we're asked about most frequently.

In the most recent version, an anonymous author adds some editorial comments and extra exclamation points: "This is sickening!" and "This woman is a nut case!" and "This Democrat is a Socialist thief. ...!" But the substance of the claim remains as false as ever.

Pelosi has never proposed anything close to a 100 percent tax on stock profits, and there is no evidence that she has ever uttered the words this bogus message attributes to her.

To be sure, Democrats generally favor an increase in the top tax rate on capital gains – which are the profits from the sale of stocks, bonds, real estate or other assets that have risen in value. The top rate is currently 15 percent for assets held for a full year before sale, down from 20 percent before President Bush's tax cuts. Pelosi has generally called for repeal of Bush's tax cuts, but not for anything approaching the 100 percent "Windfall Tax" described in this message. Furthermore, we know of no proposal to tax any profits in 401(k) accounts or other tax-deferred retirement vehicles, as this message claims.

A Jet-Propelled Whopper
A third false rumor flying about is that Pelosi ordered up a 200-seat Air Force jet for her personal use and that she jets around in it routinely, while other Democrats scold Detroit auto makers for flying in their own private jets.

That one has at least a mote of truth to it. Pelosi has used the Air Force equivalent of a Boeing 757 to fly between Washington, D.C., and her San Francisco district. But she has done so exactly once, when no smaller aircraft was available, according to Air Force spokesman Eric Sharman. At other times she flies in a much smaller, 12-seat executive jet, the same type used by her Republican predecessor, Dennis Hastert.

As we pointed out in an Ask FactCheck item on Dec. 12, Hastert was given use of an Air Force C-20B for security reasons following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The speaker of the house is next in line after the vice president for presidential succession.

When Pelosi became speaker, House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood (who was appointed by a Republican-led House) proposed using a larger jet that could make the transcontinental flight to her San Francisco district without refueling. This led to claims that Pelosi was demanding use of the Air Force C-32, normally used by the vice president and first lady. It is fitted out with a fully enclosed stateroom that includes a private lavatory, separate entertainment system and a convertible divan that seats three and folds out to a bed – a "flying Lincoln bedroom," in the words of Republican House Whip Roy Blunt.

But the Pentagon told Pelosi that – while it would make "every effort ... to provide non-stop shuttle support" – it could not guarantee it. As things have worked out, both Pelosi's spokesman and the Air Force say the only time she's flown in the C-32 was when no smaller aircraft was available. She also uses commercial airlines when not traveling on official business, according to her spokesman Brendan Daly.

Samoan Nonsense
Yet another widely circulated bit of Pelosi-bashing claims that she secured wage breaks and tax credits for the American Samoan operations of StarKist Tuna while her husband owned $17 million worth of stock in the company's parent, Del Monte. This is simply untrue, as we explained at length in an Ask FactCheck item Nov. 26.

It's not clear whether or not Pelosi backed an unsuccessful 2007 effort to secure lower federal minimum-wage standards for the StarKist operations of Del Monte. But it's simply not true that her husband, Paul Pelosi, has a $17 million stake in Del Monte. That's a hoax perpetrated by an anonymous person who inserted the false claim in an article about Del Monte in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The claim was quickly flagged by alert editors as "not verified" and "unsourced" and then swiftly deleted after appearing on the site for only six hours. In fact, Nancy Pelosi's 2007 financial disclosure statement lists plenty of other stocks owned by her husband, but none for Del Monte, or StarKist, for that matter. The same is true of her 2006 and 2005 reports. But that hasn't stopped conservative bloggers and anonymous e-mail rumormongers from claiming repeatedly that Pelosi acted "corruptly" to aid Del Monte.

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