PolitiFact Slaps False Label On Johnson's Criticism Of Columbia

April 30th, 2024 1:17 PM

Amid the encampment at Columbia University, PolitiFact slapped the “false” label on Speaker Mike Johnson on Monday for declaring that the school advised Jewish students to stay away from campus. The only problem is that Johnson never explicitly claimed that they did, but rather that was the unstated implication of their hybrid learning plan.

Louis Jacobson writes, “Later, during an April 24 CNN interview that aired after his Columbia visit, Johnson said he was standing up for "Jewish students who are in fear of their lives, who were cowering in their apartments right now, who are not coming to class. In fact, the administration recognized the threat was so great, they canceled classes. Now they've come out with this hybrid idea. ‘Well, if you're Jewish, maybe you do want to stay at home. Maybe you'd be better off for you.’”

The NewsBusters write-up of that CNN interview can be found here. As for Jacobson, he continues, “Johnson called this attitude ‘so discriminatory. It's so wrong in every way. The responsibility of a university administrator is to keep peace on campus and ensure the safety of students — job No. 1.’"

He also writes, “Johnson’s comment prompted an April 25 post from a new account on X from the Columbia Journalism School devoted to fact-checking statements about the Columbia protests” and “The post quoted Columbia University's provost’s office, saying, "The university administration has not issued any directives or specific instructions to Jewish students about avoiding campus or taking classes remotely." Jacobson goes on to cite President Minouche Shafik stating her preference was for students who live off-campus to stay home.

As for that CJS account, they have managed to fact-check one Israeli professor and counter-protestor, Shai Davidai, for saying the protests prove Hamas is on campus claiming "There is currently no evidence of any member of Hamas on Columbia's campus" as if Hamas's ideology is absent or that no member of the faculty has ever praised Hamas. They also shamed Punchbowl/NBC's Jake Sherman for claiming that an anti-Semite was at Columbia when he was, in reality, just down the street. They can't be bothered to check any of the protestors incendiary claims about genocide, however. Still, there is also a significant discrepancy in Jacobson’s article versus the CJS. The CJS account claimed Johnson “suggests” the Columbia administration advised Jewish students to stay home, whereas Jacobson used the more definitive “said.” 

It is common for people to paraphrase others when they believe that they are trying to get away with saying something odorous in a polite way. Columbia explicitly advising Jewish students to stay home would be a P.R. disaster, meaning Johnson’s paraphrase was his way of citing what he thought the administration was really saying by their refusal to end the encampments against Israel and Zionists, which is just anyone who thinks Israel should exist.

Jacobson conceded that there was a Columbia-affiliated rabbi who urged Jewish students to stay home, making it possible that Johnson simply confused the rabbi with the administration. If that is true, then Jacobson should’ve written another one of PolitiFact’s explainer articles that do not feature the truth-o-meter. Speaking of the truth-o-meter-free explainer articles, Joe Biden has explicitly compared Republicans to Jim Crow, which Republicans, of course, deny. However, Jacobson couldn’t be bothered to pull out the truth-o-meter for that Biden claim, instead writing, “Some historians say Biden’s rhetorical point was justified as a way of highlighting the dangers of backsliding from hard-won voting rights.”