Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Mailbag: “PolitiFact Florida has finally lost all credibility."

This is not Trayvon Martin. It is the rapper Game.
This is not Trayvon Martin. It is the rapper Game.

Our PolitiFact Florida mailbox is overflowing with mail, Facebook comments and Twitter replies reacting to some of our fact-checks from the legislative session and beyond.

We love hearing from readers and encourage you to email us at florida@politifact.com, tweet us @PolitiFactFL or check out the PolitiFact Florida Facebook page.

Letters are edited for style and length.

A real photo of Trayvon Martin?

A reader thought we went too far in setting a chain email’s Pants on Fire for purporting to have the "real" photo of Trayvon Martin. Really, the photo was of the rapper Game.

"While there is no doubt that the photo in the email is not, in fact, Trayvon Martin, your ‘Pants on Fire’ rating is inappropriate. The email reasonably criticizes the media’s prejudicial display of a photo of a twelve-year old to depict the much larger and stronger young man who allegedly committed a violent assault that resulted in his death. And while you admit in passing some of the media’s misdeeds, your rating downplays the misleading, ill-informed and inflammatory media actions in the immediate aftermath of the Sanford Police response. After all, most media outlets never corrected their initial, inaccurate reports and continued to inflame racial tensions by describing Zimmerman as a "white" Hispanic. I haven’t researched your rating system enough to make a specific recommendation, but the "Pants on Fire!" rating leaves readers with the incorrect impression that the entire email is false.  Preserving your credibility demands better, regardless of your opinion regarding culpability in the matter, and I urge you to reconsider the rating."

Community cats

We missed "the very clear difference" between cat hoarding and community cat colonies, wrote a cat expert in response to a fact-check that analyzed whether a bill would "would authorize the public hoarding of cats by feral cat activists."

"I read with interest your opinion piece in The Buzz and would love the opportunity to explain the very clear difference between cat hoarding and community cat colonies. For one thing cat hoarders have animals imprisoned in homes or other buildings. Community cat colonies by their definition means the animals are not confined and there are many well-managed colonies that volunteers take care of across the country."

Average in-state tuition and cellphones

Some readers found our Mostly True rating for Speaker Will Weatherford too generous. Weatherford, who supports modest increases in undergraduate tuition, equated the average cost of tuition for an in-state student with the monthly cost of a cell phone.

"PolitiFact Florida has finally lost all credibility. The way the Tampa Bay Times fact checker distorts their analysis is unbelievable. In the recent probe into Weatherford’s comparison of tuition costs with cellphone bills, PolitiFact Florida carefully chose which data to include to arrive at the answer they wanted. First, Weatherford’s statement addressed "The average student in Florida..." and PolitiFact Florida decided to do the analysis on in-state students only. Next they supplied a table from Weatherford’s spokesman and the Board of Governor’s which apparently was taken at face value. No matter how you add, multiple, or average the numbers you won’t get the same totals that are listed. Also, reading the table and the average net tuition and fees, one would garner that 34% of students actually receive$2,888 for just attending the Florida’s universities. We know that’s not true. Another item that was just discounted was the money that parents paid in through the Florida Prepaid college savings program. Doesn’t that count as tuition? Whether it’s contorting facts to make everything Jeb Bush says true or mostly true or someone like Will Weatherford’s off the wall falsehoods believable, PolitiFact Florida is just more politics and less facts."

"I believe Monday’s PolitiFact column should be re-examined. House Speaker Bill Weatherford claimed that "the average (Florida) student" pays (for out of pocket college tuition) "less than what they spend on cell phones," but instead your analysis compared average prices and costs for all cell phone users, which has two problems.  One is that average cell phone costs include many higher end customers who can afford more expensive phone services than what the average student can afford.  The other problem is simply that not all students have a cell phone, and these students were not included in the analysis.  In fact, how would anyone know what students pay for cell phones?  Without a survey of some kind, there is no way to know.

Having said that, I have attended two Florida universities, have a degree from one, and have long felt that our tuition rates have been too low.  It’s a hard sell, but those rates really should go up a little."

Pasco County’s homeless problem

A homeless advocate received a Mostly True for saying Pasco County had the state’s second highest homeless population. A reader said the state’s homeless issue is also pronounced in neighboring Pinellas County.

"I have been a homeowner in the unincorporated area in Tarpon Springs for two years. I love living in my house and this area but that all changed three months ago when I discovered two homeless men living in a tent in a wooded area less than one hundred feet from my driveway. I am in my late sixties and live alone so this became a source of fear and anxiety for my safety. I have had the sheriff here twice but nothing has changed. The tent is still there and occupied during the night. It seems the two warnings by the officers has not helped. This a major problem in Pinellas County and there must be a solution for homeowners like me and the plight of the homeless. I strongly feel an ordinance prohibiting any homeless person from living near a home in an  established community  like mine should be in place. There are several large stretches of open land that could be used temporarily until a longterm solutions is found. All homeowners have a right to expect safety and sanitation from their local elected officials. We pay our taxes and take pride in our homes and  that has to count for something."

The pension system

In pressing the need for reforming the state’s pension fund, House Speaker Will Weatherford said Florida would spend $500 million "for the next 28 years to keep our so called ‘great pension system’ afloat." We rated his claim Half True. A reader deemed his statement "real baloney."

"All the statements that his pension system will save so much money, make employees better off, that the system is not stable, I don't see it will save money unless government quits contributing. I know it would have been better funded except for such savvy buys as the private school company during Bush years. Apparently Weatherford believes people will work for low paying state if no benefits, low pay, no stability (which is reason so many people have joined the 401 program now) no stability in job, may get laid off anytime. Also little mention made of eliminating disability coverage. Heard some legislator claiming the pension was like the Titanic, going down. As far as I can see, real baloney."

Internet censorship versus access in China

Back at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rubio said the Chinese government provides its people with no access to the Internet. We rated that Mostly False because even though the government censors the Web there, the Chinese access the Internet more than any other nation.

"Whatever China did to block Google didn't last long. By the time I got there in January, there was no problem with G-mail or googling. Facebook was blocked, though. My son did complain about G-mail being blocked a few months earlier. Wifi access was never a problem anywhere I was during a month there."

On a lighter note, Rubio addressed the American Society of Newspapers and Editors on June 25, mostly to talk about immigration reform. He gave us a shout-out at one point, saying PolitiFact would likely fact-check whether he was really a "standout" high school football player.

He’ll be relieved to know we have other priorities in the queue, so we won’t tackle that one for now.

Have something on your mind that needs fact-checking? Want to comment on one of our recent reports? Send us an email at florida@politifact.com.