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White House gets fact-checked on ISIS 'JV team' spin

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White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest speaks about Syria during a press briefing at the White House in Washington August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was awarded “Four Pinocchios” by The Washington Post for a whopper he told last week, when he attempted to distance President Barack Obama from the claim that he referred to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as the “JV team.”

That is according to Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post fact-checker who uses the “Pinocchio” system to gauge the truthfulness of political statements. Four Pinocchios is the scale’s maximum, and classifies Earnest’s spin as a “whopper.”

At a White House press briefing last week, Earnest was asked whether Obama underestimated ISIS when, in a Jan. 7 interview with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, he said “I think the analogy we use around here sometimes and I think is accurate is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”

Prepared for the question, Earnest pulled out a transcript of Obama’s remarks which, after the “JV” quip, continued, ”I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

The confusion over Obama’s intention stems from there being no clear mention of ISIS. But Remnick’s question was a clear reference to the barbaric jihadist group, Kessler determined.

“But the context of Remnick’s question makes it clear that he was asking about ISIS, as the president acknowledged,” wrote Kessler, citing a Washington Post article from four days before about an “al-Qaida-affiliated force” recapturing Fallujah in Iraq.

That force was ISIS.

Comparing the group to a “JV” team, which Remick called “an uncharacteristicly flip analogy,” has come back to bite Obama as ISIS has grown much stronger over the past eight months. The blood-thirsty terrorists have not only attacked parts of Syria and Iraq, attacking Christians and religious minorities along they way, but they have beheaded two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“Perhaps, at the time, the president viewed it as a local matter between jihadists, but now, eight months later, the United States is striking Islamic State targets in an effort to turn back its advance across Iraqi territory,” continued Kessler.

Obama recently ordered air strikes against ISIS units in Iraq, but has not committed to action in Syria, where the group is based.

“With the passage of eight months, the president’s ‘JV’ comment looks increasingly untenable, so we can understand why the White House spokesman would try to suggest that what is now known as the Islamic State was not the subject of the conversation,” Kessler wrote.

“But in quoting from the transcript, Earnest provided a selective reading of the discussion. In particular, he failed to provide the context in which Obama made his remarks — the takeover of Fallujah by ISIS. That’s fairly misleading. The interviewer was certainly asking about ISIS when Obama answered with his ‘JV’ remarks.”

This is not the first time a prominent fact-checker has slammed the Obama administration for distorting the truth. Obama himself was awarded PolitiFact’s 2013 “Lie of the Year” for the claim that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

Millions of Americans saw their health insurance plans cancelled after Obamacare went into effect.

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