Mailbag: "Are you kidding me?"
By Tim Murphy
Published on Saturday, November 30th, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
It's been a busy few months for PolitiFact Rhode Island, and it's not even an election year.
We’ve checked claims on school test scores, whether the U.S. military prohibits donations to the Tea Party, Obamacare and a host of other topics.
And many of our readers have let us know what they think of our rulings. We thought we’d share some of their comments with you.
Most of the comments we received recently came after we gave a Mostly False ruling to the claim by educator Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, that "Test scores had gone up steadily for 40 years until No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top."
We found that the scores Ravitch was citing had, in most cases, increased over the years, as Ravitch said. But they did not drop after the federal initiatives went into effect, as we believe her statement implied. That’s where many readers disagreed.
"There is no implication [in Ravitch’s statement] that NCLB negatively affected scores," said Cathy Pastore, of North Kingstown. "The increases after 2004 reflect the increases made in the years before, so are they due to NCLB or are they simply continuing the trend of the years before? Her contention is the latter."
John Thompson, of Oklahoma City, had a similar complaint:
"You wrote that the word 'until' implies that progress stopped with NCLB and [Race to the Top]. Where did you get that from? How is that the implication? The reality was that decades of growth 'slowed' after those reforms. Ravitch's statement is also consistent with her carefully worded explanations that the education system, as a whole, has improved after failing poor children. We've had forty years of growth, but progress stagnated after NCLB."
On a separate topic, we checked a claim Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., made during a CNN debate with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, over Obamacare. Whitehouse said that, at the time of the debate, 1,300 applicants had signed up for insurance through HealthSource RI, the state health insurance exchange. Cruz countered by saying, "It was publicly reported there were 580 in Rhode Island."
We ruled Whitehouse’s claim Mostly True and said Cruz’s statement was "clearly false."
Lonnie Barham, of Warwick, thought we should have excused Cruz because he was just saying his lower number had been reported, and didn't claim that his number was up to date.
"Unless you have evidence the number was not publicly reported, the Cruz statement was not proven to be false," he said. "What you should have said in your wrap-up is, 'Cruz's number was clearly wrong...,' not 'Cruz's statement was clearly false… Please make sure you report all the FACTS in the future and avoid writing inaccurately in order to further your liberal positions and those of the liberal politicians you support."
When the Rhode Island Tea Party declared in a tweet that "Soldiers Donating to Tea Party Now Face Punishment Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," we gave it a Pants on Fire because that assertion, by all reputable accounts, ran counter to the code of justice. The origin of the statement was a misleading headline on a blog item, picked up by Fox News, based on what two soldiers said they had been told in a briefing.
The Tea Party responded on its website and in a subsequent Journal commentary, by Tea Party President Susan Wynne.
"PolitiFact’s headline declaring "Rhode Island Tea Party says" suggests we had a role in the story when in fact we had nothing to do with its origin," she wrote. "We didn’t make the assertion and only shared a link on Twitter confirmed by two news outlets."
In fact, neither the original blog item nor the story on the Fox News website confirmed the Tea Party’s tweet. What the Tea Party tweeted -- that soldiers can be punished for donating to their party -- was, and continues to be, wrong.
We gave Ken Block, Republican candidate for governor, a False ruling for saying Rhode Island's unemployment insurance system "is the most expensive such system in the country." While a Tax Foundation report cited by Block rates the system the nation’s worst, neither that report or other studies say it’s the most expensive.
"Are you kidding me?" wrote Jim Baldwin, of Narragansett. "Does the dire situation of [unemployment insurance] in Rhode Island warrant a zero on the meter when it should read at least 46/50 or 92% correct? You and the Rhode Island General Assembly keep Rhode Island down."
But the Truth-O-Meter doesn't work on a numerical score. You can read the definitions of our rulings by going to the bottom of our web page at PolitiFactRI.com.
Block himself acknowledged in a letter to the editor that he didn’t choose his words carefully enough as he was making a broader point.
"Let’s not overlook why we are discussing this in the first place: Rhode Island has a badly broken program that makes our state economically uncompetitive. It is a problem that our next governor needs to address," he wrote.
He concluded: "Rhode Island will benefit from a gubernatorial race that is substantive and policy-driven. PolitiFact will keep us sharp, and for that, I thank it."
Thank you, Mr. Block.
As always, we welcome your feedback and your suggestions for statements to fact check. Email us at email@example.com, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @politifactri.
Researchers: C. Eugene Emery Jr.
We want to hear your suggestions and comments. Email the Rhode Island Truth-O-Meter with feedback and with claims you'd like to see checked. If you send us a comment, we'll assume you don't mind us publishing it unless you tell us otherwise.