NBA vs. NFL? Or the Congress? The answer to the Facebook meme is none of the above

Which pants are the hottest: NBA, NFL, Congress or Facebook memes?

Several readers have sent us Facebook messages this week asking for a even appearing on their news feed. It’s a list of statistics on crime, corruption, and bad behavior in general, and it asks the viewer to guess whether the list describes NBA or NFL players. Surprise! He says he’s actually describing Congress.

The meme looked suspicious to us from the start.

He says, of the 535 members of Congress:

  • 36 were charged with domestic violence
  • 7 were arrested for fraud
  • 19 were accused of writing bad checks
  • 117 have directly or indirectly filed for bankruptcy at least 2 companies
  • 3 made time for aggression
  • 71 can’t get credit card due to bad credit
  • 14 were arrested on drug-related charges
  • 8 were arrested for shoplifting
  • 21 are currently indicted in legal proceedings
  • 84 were arrested for drunk driving last year

Wowza. A version on Facebook was released on September 18 and already has over 328,000 shares, the meme has appeared on Reddit a few times this week too.

Our friends at Snopes and FactCheck.org debunked the claims of this image years ago. But with the current NFL scandal over domestic and child abuse, it makes sense that this meme is circulating again.

So we are going to demystify it again.

We do not dispute that some lawmakers are involved in harmful activities. Take, for example, former Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., Who resigned earlier this year after being caught buying cocaine from a federal agent.

There isn’t a comprehensive database of all Congressional crimes and generally unsavory behavior, so we can’t find the actual numbers on our own. But we know enough about the origin of the meme to say that these stats can’t be trusted.

We looked for the news, Congressional Quarterly profiles of members and other sources and could not find anywhere near 84 arrests for drunk driving, 14 arrests for drug-related charges, 36 charges of domestic violence or any of these other charges. We don’t even know how you would measure things like indirect business bankruptcy or someone’s bad credit.

The meme does not give any information about the author or the source. However, Snopes reviewed an almost identical 2012 version that references a Series of articles from 1999 through Capitol Hill Blue, an online political publication. (Capitol Hill Blue has had several Questions with credibility in the past.)

Keep in mind that if these statistics were true – and we are reasonably certain that they are not – they are 15 years old. Only 100 members of the current Congress were in office in 1999, when Capitol Hill Blue published the articles.

The Capitol Hill Blue articles indicate that the authors’ research revealed each of the statistics listed above, albeit sometimes with slightly different wording. (With one exception: the article says 29 members were charged with domestic violence, rather than 36.)

The authors cite “public records, previous newspaper articles, civil cases and criminal records”, but do not cite specific documents. They also say clearly about some of their sources: “We spoke with former associates and business partners who were left behind by people they thought were friends.” So these sources may have had a schedule to speak to Capitol Hill Blue.

We can’t even verify which members of Congress Capitol Hill Blue is talking about. The article says, “We will not publish lists of all members who wrote a bad check, hit someone or accused of slapping a spouse.”

All of this makes it difficult to take these allegations seriously.

Even further, the series was deleted on the Capitol Hill Blue website. It is only accessible by the Internet Archive Return Machine, which periodically logs web pages. As far as we can tell, it was deleted in mid 2013. (In the last registered version, the editors had removed the article’s stats altogether.)

We reached out to Capitol Hill Blue for comment, but had no response.

Our decision

A Facebook meme says Congress includes 36 people charged with domestic violence, 84 arrested for drunk driving in the past year, 71 with terrible credit and more.

These accusations seem to be fabricated. The statistics come from an article written 15 years ago, and the original source, Capitol Hill Blue, removed the original article from its website. Congress’ record is by no means free from flaws, but these statistics have no factual basis. We rate this Pants on Fire meme!

About Andrew Miller

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