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Fact Check Trifecta Calls Out Obama, Josh Earnest on 'JV Team' Explanation

"He cannot say that he 'wasn’t specifically referring to ISIL."

(AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

A jury of fact checkers seems unanimous in faulting President Barack Obama and White House press secretary Josh Earnest for mischaracterizing what Obama meant about the Islamic State in January when he asserted, “if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”

The dismissive comment gained much attention after the Sunni militant group launched destructive terrorist attacks throughout Iraq and Syria and beheaded two American journalists. But Obama and Earnest maintain the comment wasn't really about the Islamic State.

The three main fact checkers – FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and the Washington Post's Fact Checker – have all said the White House clarification is wrong.

During Obama's Meet the Press interview Sunday with new host Chuck Todd, the president essentially gave the same explanation Earnest previously gave about the JV remark published in the New Yorker in January.

“Keep in mind I wasn’t specifically referring to (Islamic State). I've said that, regionally, there were a whole series of organizations that were focused primarily locally, weren’t focused on homeland, because I think a lot of us, when we think about terrorism, the model is Osama bin Laden and 9/11,” Obama told Todd.

FactCheck.org issued a verdict Monday afternoon that like others was based on the transcript from New Yorker reporter Davide Remnick's interview with Obama.

“The president can make the case that he wasn’t referring only to ISIS when he made his remark about a junior varsity team. But he cannot say that he 'wasn’t specifically referring to ISIL,' because The New Yorker article and the transcript of the interview make it clear that the context of the president’s remark included ISIS,” FactCheck.org says.

The interview transcript reads Remnick saying, “You know where this is going, though. Even in the period that you’ve been on vacation in the last couple of weeks, in Iraq, in Syria, of course, in Africa, al-Qaeda is resurgent."

Obama responded to Remnick, "Yes, but, David, 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. 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."

Remnick replied, "But that JV team just took over Fallujah."

Also on Monday, PolitiFact ranked Obama's Meet the Press statement as “false.” That's slightly better than the worst ranking the site can give: “pants on fire.”

"He was not specifically asked about Islamic State, but it’s pretty clear this is the group that was being referenced in the conversation. The transcript backs this up, as do news events from the time of the discussion," the site writes.

Last week, the Washington Post Fact Checker gave Earnest its worst ranking of in a Sept. 3 piece. Factcheck.org also criticized Earnest Monday.

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