PolitiFact Fact-Checks Murphy's 'Wishful' Claim That It Had Debunked Attacks Against Him

Patrick Murphy
Patrick Murphy / AP
October 28, 2016

Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy (D.) claimed PolitiFact had debunked every attack thrown against him during his senatorial debate Wednesday with Sen. Marco Rubio (R.), but the same fact-checking website penned an article the following day rejecting that notion.

Murphy remarked he was grateful for PolitiFact and said Rubio's "lies" about his background had "all been debunked by PolitiFact." The site called such a claim a "wishful reading" of its reports.

Among the fact-checked embellishments of Murphy's background were his being a CPA licensed in Florida, his claim to have dual degrees from the University of Miami, and describing himself as a "small business owner."

"You've described yourself as a small business owner, but your company is a subsidiary of a billion-dollar construction firm founded by your father. You call yourself a Certified Public Accountant, but you have not been a CPA in the state of Florida. And for more than a year, your website said that you had two degrees from the University of Miami, when in fact you only had one."

"Absolutely not," Murphy responded, "and I am glad you asked this question, and it's important that you all hear it from me. You see, PolitiFact, an independent fact-checking agency has already debunked these accusations."

No, we have not.

Words matter, and here's why.

While PolitiFact explained it once called a Republican ad against Murphy "mostly false" because it appeared to paint Murphy as never being a CPA or small business owner at all, it backed up Rubio for noting Murphy did not hold dual degrees from the University of Miami and called his small business claim "complicated."

Murphy's claim of being a small business owner is complicated.

Murphy's business, Coastal Environmental Services, was owned by multiple people and stemmed from a business his father owned, Coastal Construction. Annual reports show Murphy was a director in 2011 and 2012, though he remained an owner and not a director since winning election to Congress in 2012.

Unlike the slippery TV ad, [ABC's Jonathan] Karl didn't say Murphy was never a small business owner; he started his question by noting his father's connection to the business Murphy claimed. Still, Murphy said PolitiFact had debunked the accusation.

PolitiFact Florida also did not rate Rubio's statement about Murphy's company not having a contract to clean up the Gulf oil spill. We visited the issue in this this explainer to attacks against Murphy, laying out that Murphy's Coastal Environmental Services did not get the contracts itself but worked with and then bought another company with existing contracts. Murphy's actual work in the Gulf was short-lived–just a matter of months.

Finally, we did not debunk an attack from Rubio about Murphy's degrees from the University of Miami–we actually backed it up. When Rubio's campaign released an ad claiming "Murphy embellished, according to reports, his University of Miami academic achievement," we rated that Mostly True.

Murphy's campaign websites for U.S. House and Senate used to say he had "dual degrees" from Miami, but what he really had was a single bachelor's degree with a double major in accounting and finance. Murphy's campaign has since fixed the error.

There's a lot of blame going around, but here are the facts: Murphy puffed up his qualifications. Republican attack groups exaggerated the scope of the issue.

But Murphy's claim that we debunked every attack leveled against him?

That's also exaggerated.

A new University of North Florida poll shows Rubio leading Murphy by six points, despite Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton by four in the same survey.