Mailbag: 'How can this FALSE claim be Mostly True?'

An adult alligator swims through the Everglades with a hatchling on its back. (University of Florida)
An adult alligator swims through the Everglades with a hatchling on its back. (University of Florida)

March was a hot political month in Florida starting in the first week when the state Legislature kicked off it's 60-day session during which it has already tackled subjects such as guns and school testing.

Here’s a sample of the feedback we heard from readers from our fact-checks:

Bush compares ‘religious freedom’ laws in Florida and Indiana

Likely presidential candidates reacted to Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act as Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, defended the law against those who say it discriminates against gays and lesbians.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush sided with Pence in a radio interview: "Florida has a law like (Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act)."

Florida passed such a law in 1998 mirrored after a federal law. But the Florida law and the 2015 Indiana law differ in the text and context for their passage. Indiana’s law says government doesn’t have to be a party to the case, and it extends protections to corporations, and that’s different from Florida’s law. We rated that claim Half True.

A read took issue with our rating:

"Bush could have said ‘Florida has a law like (Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act) but it doesn't have that provision.’ But he didn't. ... And then you labeled Bush's lie Half True.

Here is a saying you might want to print out, frame, hang on the wall and look at every time you rate something Half True: "A half truth is the most cowardly of lies" - Mark Twain."

Gators vs. guns

As the Florida Legislature considers allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry their guns on college campuses, we fact-checked this claim by Florida Students for Concealed Carry: "According to the state of Florida, you are almost twice as likely to be attacked by an alligator than by someone who happens to carry a conceal-and-carry permit."

The gun data is based on an approximation using permit revocations that may or may not accurately reflect the number of "attacks." Also, the data is 10 years old. That said, these statistics, imperfect as they are, do support the notion that both kinds of attacks are uncommon. We rated that claim Mostly False.

"That reporting indicated that gator bites (which are not necessarily all gator ‘attacks,’ as a gator could very well chase or take a snap at someone and miss or be eluded) happen more often than pistol-permit revocations (which could include more kinds of infractions than just ‘attacks’ by permit-holders). You rightly pointed out that the comparison is at best imprecise. So basically the data you uncovered is not completely conclusive in determining the ultimate truth or falsity of the claim, but to the extent that it might be relevant, it tends more to support the claim than to refute it. Why then the conclusion that the statement is Mostly False? Not Half True, or, more to the point, ‘not enough information to say,’ but Mostly False. ... If you are essentially going to label someone a liar, shouldn't you do so on the basis of information that specifically refutes the claim/statement you are checking, and not on the fact that there really isn't sufficient specifically-applicable information to make a conclusive determination?"

And from another reader:

"The statement made by (the group’s president, Erek) Culbreath, by your own admission, is true. Is it a mathematically rigorous comparison? No, nor was it meant to be, nor could it ever be. It was a political statement designed to expose the hysteria of anti gun folks. Maybe folks like you?"

School tests

Parents and teachers -- and now legislators -- are pushing back against Florida’s high stakes testing program for K-12.

We fact-checked a claim by the Florida Badass Teachers Association that Florida students take "an array of standardized high stakes tests which eat up as much as 45 school days per year."

Test days do appear to have risen in recent years, and students are not only affected by the tests they take themselves, but also by the impact of other students in their school taking tests. Pinpointing the number of days that students take standardized tests is difficult because it varies widely depending by grade, school, district and other factors. We rated the claim False.

Several readers took issue with our rating, including an employee in the Hillsborough schools: "You did not take into consideration the fact that each state mandated test has a practice training test that takes up a large chunk of time. Also, most counties have monitoring tests two to four times per year in some form or another to gather data for the state tests. For high school students, this generally means they are missing time in classes learning to take these tests and practice tests and monitoring tests."

A parent said this:

"It's true -- the tests do not take the entire six-hour school day. Technically speaking, your article is correct," she wrote. However, "because of scheduling,etc, when one of the tests are given, that is just about it for that day. Students spend the rest of the day either doing review work or watching movies or other such things. .... So, while you are technically right that tests do not take up 45 six-hour days, tests do kill any teaching on that same day and nothing else is done."

Jolly on immigration

In February, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, said that a federal judge said President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration is "unconstitutional." We rated that claim Mostly True.

"Jolly’s words "‘ federal judge has said it's unconstitutional.’ Your analysis demonstrated clearly that the judge NEVER said that. How can his FALSE claim be Mostly True?"

As we explained, a reasonable person may think Jolly meant a judge ruled the action violated the Constitution, but that isn’t accurate. A federal judge in Texas said the government was acting outside its authority by issuing the order. But the actual ruling said the state of Texas had a chance to win a case based on a procedural misstep, not the action’s constitutionality. Another federal judge in Pennsylvania really did call the action unconstitutional, but that was an opinion in a ruling on a deportation case in which the action didn’t apply.

Prayer rugs

Bloggers said: "Students In Fla. High School Forced To Recite Islamic Prayer, Make Prayer Rugs." This makes it sound as if students were being indoctrinated into a religion, and that’s not the case. Instead, students were studying the religion of Islam as part of a world history class. According to a district investigation, pupils were assigned to make prayer rugs as an art assignment. We rated this claim Mostly False.

A parent took issue with our fact-check:

"If you really want to report on ‘facts’ why don't you get testimony of the parent and other child? More children can attest to what happened in this class. They were forced to design prayer rugs to receive a grade. .... I do not feel you gave a fair and balanced report , as you are getting all your conclusions from a flawed investigation from a school district that has been grossly incompetent from the very beginning."

And we will end with some praise:

"Love what you guys are doing. We desperately needed the Truth-O-Meter. I'm not sure who came up with the concept, but Politifact=Brilliant."