Monday, October 20th, 2014

Readers chew over ruling on Clinton's vegan diet

Readers of our PETA fact-check felt we didn't show proper respect for shrimp and other sea creatures.
Readers of our PETA fact-check felt we didn't show proper respect for shrimp and other sea creatures.

We’ve received lots of e-mails criticizing PolitiFact Georgia’s recent fact-check of the claim from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that by becoming a vegan, former President Bill Clinton "has spared the lives of nearly 200 animals a year."

To determine the number, PETA’s counted every chicken, cow, pig, fish and duck -- and shrimp, clam, lobster, oyster and scallop. By including bivalves and other creatures, PolitiFact Georgia concluded that PETA’s statement was technically accurate but left out important details. That convinced them to rate the statement Half True.

That didn't sit well with some of our animal-loving readers.

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"When I tell people I don't eat meat, they too often ask, ‘Do you eat fish?’ No, I don't eat fish. Fish are animals. Meat. So are shrimp, clams, oysters, and snails. And ants. You rated PETA's 200 animals estimate a half-truth because, apparently, you don't really think sea creatures should count as animals. Your rating is simply ridiculous, probably the most specious argument I've seen yet on PolitiFact.com."

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"I'm actually not a very big fan of PETA, but for the life of me I can not understand why you gave them a Half True rating. No part, much less half, of their statement was untrue. Why is it PETA's responsibility to make clear that their definition of the word ‘animals’ is no different than Webster's dictionary? They are not ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of FARM Animals.’ They did not create a poster with their quote superimposed over ‘cute cows, adorable baby chickens and Wilbur-like pigs.’ You made that association, not them. They made a very simple, context-free statement of fact based on research that you do not dispute. Your job was to determine whether or not that statement is true.

"I love Politifact and the good work you do, but I am very disappointed that you would imply that someone was less than honest because of a context that you created, but which did not, in fact, exist."

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"You completely missed the mark on this one. While you are correct about the shellfish, no farm-raised animals would be spared. At best they would never be born. Comercial farms do not spare any of the animals they have raised because somebody is a vegan. They only produce what will be consumeed as the marekt demands. It’s not as if a bunch of chickens and cows were freed because Bill Clinton stopped eating meat. Therefore, your explanation, and PETA's, is not well founded."

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"You totally flubbed this one. There is a very accepted definition of ‘animal,’ and crustaceans and mollusks are absolutely animals. They may be small, but they are animals, pure and simple. I'm surprised the number is only 200. Why not exclude poultry? Chickens tend to be small and they are not mammals like you and I. Or exclude fish too. They are cold blooded. Sorry, an animal is an animal. I am certainly no fan of PETA, but what they said is completely true and not at all misleading."

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"Guys, I'm not a PETA supporter by any stretch, but shrimp, clams, oysters and other seafood are animals. PETA's count seems pretty accurate to me. I eat mostly fish and chicken. I know I'm responsible for eating at least 200 critters each year. If I eat a fish fillet, regardless whether I have shared that fish, I still killed a fish. If I eat shrimp and grits, and I do quite often, I have killed at least a dozen, not including the by-catch. (Shrimpers kill 20 pounds of other fish for every pound of shrimp they catch.) I worked a shrimper out of St Pete years ago. We killed a lot to bring you that shrimp cocktail. I think you owe this claim a second look.

"Other than that, ya'll rock."

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"I am surprised you rated this half true. Why exclude sea animals? The claim isn't that veganism saves 200 animals that you personally consider cute. The claim isn't that it saves 200 furry animals. Your arbitrary re-definition of "animal" strikes me as a little ‘Pants on Fire.’"

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"First and foremost, thank you for all your hard work. I've been reading and enjoying your site for years. I don't always agree with you, but I always understand your reasoning.

"Or at least, I did before reading the article checking PETA's claim that Clinton's vegan diet saves 200 animals per year. Your reasoning for the claim's half-truth is that while the claim is in fact prima facie true, if one were to cherry-pick what counts as an ‘animal,’ the total would be different. This evaluation seems not only nonsensical to me, it seems to run counter to the very porpoise (sorry!) of the Truth-o-Meter. PolitiFact has, in the past, been keen on using precise definitions and terminology -- for example the difference between ‘federal taxes’ and ‘federal income taxes,’ even if most people might not consider those different at first glance. In all other instances that I remember, PF has sided with claims that employ terminology correctly -- but not in this case. Here, correctly using the term
‘animal’ to include sea creatures is described as ‘misleading.’

"Since the fact-checker noted that farm animals are ‘showcase[d] on [PETA's] website,’ I decided to track down the press release on their site. A link was not provided from the PolitiFact article, but I managed to find it easily enough using Google. I certainly see images of one chicken -- the blog banner -- and one pig, but I also saw that a description of their methodology and a complete breakdown of their count by animal type, including ‘roughly 130 shellfish’ prominently displayed at the top of the list. I'm curious how two images of particular animals could be "misleading" when a clear, bulleted list identifying the count of sea creatures sits just inches away.

"Perhaps the author meant that the peta.org homepage showcases farm animals. Sure enough, I see a cow, three pigs, a chick, and a chicken. But I also see two dogs, a couple of rabbits, a monkey, and a mouse. I think the fact-checker's assertion that PETA showcases farm animals would itself secure a ruling of Half True if evaluated using PF's own standards.

"In short, I simply don't understand how PETA's claim ‘leaves out important details,’ and the article grasps at straws to try to justify its ruling."

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And finally, this one:

"PETA? President Obama's statements over the last year are just waiting for your analysis. Why waste your time over trivial subjects when you can spend all your time analyzing important topics? Let's get back to the reason you started your website, to track Obama and to hold him accountable."