Fact-checking political rhetoric has lately become something of a cottage industry in America. Getting into that line of work seems to require a cutesy visual rating system involving wooden noses, flaming trousers, or some such. But with such a sweet target of opportunity, who can resist? After all, this may be the first time that space imagery has debunked a political claim.

Hey, maybe VERTIC could set up a program.

Our story begins in South Korea, where President Lee Myung-bak of the Saenuri party is reaching the end of his single term. Best known in the West for his resemblance to Pee-wee Herman and for having been the object of a North Korean campaign of vilification that was extreme even by Pyongyang standards, Lee is thinking of his legacy and pulling for Saenuri candidate Park Geun-hye, daughter of late dictator Park Chung-hee.

Just last month, he visited Yeonpyeong Island. That’s where, to the shock of South Koreans two years ago, a North Korean artillery raid killed two ROK marines and two civilians. According to an article last week in the Joongang Ilbo, Lee actually took the occasion of his visit to declare the incident a victory. Really?

Before going further, just so there’s no confusion, let it be known that I don’t have a preferred candidate in this race. (I was about to write “a dog in this fight,” but, well. Yeah. I’m more of a bulgogi type anyway.) Also, in no way do I wish to make light of the Yeonpyeong-do incident.

Let’s continue.

Joongang’s correspondents wrote:

According to the [ROK Defense] ministry, on Nov. 23, 2010, the South Korean military had conducted its regular firing exercise and was performing maintenance on its K-9 self-propelled artillery.

It was then that North Korea attacked the island by firing 170 artillery shells and rockets. In response, the South Korean military returned artillery fire using 80 K-9 self-propelled artillery shells against Mu Island, where the North Korean artillery unit was located, 13 minutes after the North attacked.

According to unconfirmed reports, 10 North Korean soldiers were killed and 30 were injured.

Industry insiders note that one of the reasons why the Defense Ministry decided to define the battle a success after almost two years came after President Lee Myung-bak’s recent visit to Yeonpyeong Island.

After being briefed about the skirmish, President Lee is known to have told military officers that “Being here in person, I come to think that we [South Korea] counteracted well [against the North].”

He also said, “It’s our victory, [and the military should review and redefine] the Marine Corps’ reaction [to the attack].”

In other words, first impressions can mislead:

Unconfirmed reports? Surely someone can confirm them.

Turns out, someone has.  DigitalGlobe released an imagery product showing the aftermath of the shelling. It’s at the NKEconWatch website. (Thanks to a very good friend for the tip.)

The presentation is gob-smacking, showing three images of three batteries of North Korean MLRS launchers in position and camouflaged prior to the attack.  (I am not sure about the dates shown in the presentation).  Here is one such image:

It also includes this stunning view, taken later, of craters from the ROK Marines’ counter-battery fire at 37° 47′ 14″ N, 125° 35′ 25″ E, all in the general vicinity of now vacant firing positions. (You can find the same view using the historical imagery feature at Google Earth.)

Ahem. Judging by where the craters are, all of the shots missed.  And now, to deliver the verdict, Walter Sobchak: