Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Kidnappings, Social Security, it's your turn

The mail brings a fresh batch of criticism (and some praise, too!)
The mail brings a fresh batch of criticism (and some praise, too!)

Phoenix is the No. 2 kidnapping capital of the world

Some readers thought we unfairly targeted Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for repeating a provocative claim that he had been “told.”

“Dewhurst said ‘I'm told...’ It may be splitting hairs but what he said was not False as he was ‘told’ that information. He could have probably put it differently. Something like ‘according to the information available from ABC,’ but isn't that really saying the same thing when you boil it all down?”

Another reader wrote: “Friday's PolitiFact Texas is a perfect example of why fewer and fewer people are reading your liberal-bias garbage. David Dewhurst's statement (according to you) is:  ‘Phoenix, Az, I'M TOLD, is now the No. 2 kidnapping capital in the world.’ You then present the numerous media outlets that have stated that as fact! So, therefore, Dewhurst's statement that ‘I'M TOLD......’ is completely accurate! Keep stepping in it... can't wait until you fold...”

A third: “You unfairly put up a picture of Dewhurst when he merely repeated apparently ABC News. You should have put up ABC News' logo instead. Not fair.”

And this too: “I hope you continue with your hair-splitting, inane rationale when it comes to just about every article you post about Republicans. For anyone who has a brain, you appear absolutely silly. I do not have the time to dissect the complete article on David Dewhurst's comment about Phoenix having the second highest kidnapping rate in the world. When you take up enough space for three articles and then declare the statement False, you show the true colors of liberals. You people are total masters at deception and utterly faulty logic.”

It’s true that scores of media outlets have reported, without corroborating data, that Phoenix has the second-most kidnappings in the world. Still, we hold elected officials to a high standard: If you say it, you need to be able to back it up.

Some readers agreed, including this one: “Thanks for ‘shining the light of truth’ on this matter.”

Libertarians on the rise

We got mixed reviews after we rated Half True a claim by the Libertarian Party that its voter registration increased while both the Republican and Democratic parties lost voters.

Based on voter registrations in 29 states that allow voters to declare their party affiliation, we found the statistics cited by the Libertarian Party were correct. But comparing raw numbers and percentages to make a point, as the Libertarians did, can leave a misleading impression: that the major parties are fading as the Libertarians gallop ahead of them. Voter for voter, that’s at least an incomplete characterization.

One reader writes: “Your reporting skills are very poor. This was a very poorly written article.”

Another reader writes: “Thanks for giving a third party some news coverage. In our pseudo-democracy, the two major parties have a monopoly on the political process.”

This week’s superlative: most liberal

We rated as False Republican Donna Campbell’s claim that her opponent, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, is the most liberal man in Congress, because by reputable measures, he isn’t. Campbell told us she overreached. Some readers thought we were being petty.

“Lloyd is totally in the Obama camp along with his Democratic colleagues. Your Truth-O-Meter measuring Lloyd Doggett's level of liberalism is like putting your finger under a burning match or on top of a red hot stove top and asking which is hotter. I have lived in Austin for 68 years and have watched Doggett's liberal style of politics from the days in the Texas State Legislature to current and there is no doubt he is radically liberal.”

Social Security: out of money?

More than a dozen readers objected after we rated False U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s claim that Social Security is now out of money and borrowing from the U.S. Treasury.

We concluded that even though income from this year’s payroll taxes are projected to fall short of what Social Security pays out in 2010 benefits, the Social Security Administration has invested sufficient money in treasury bonds over the years that resulting revenue is projected to cover full Social Security benefits for about 25 years.

“As someone who is familiar with the the U.S. government's finances, I am appalled at your political assessment regarding this matter. The $2.5 trillion balance in the Social Security Trust Fund is not in cash; it’s in the form of an I.O.U. from the U.S. Government — that money has been spent on other government programs — its not in a lock box or checking account. In order to obtain the cash to meet future Social Security obligations that is represented from the $2.5 trillion trust fund balance, the government will have to issue the public more debt — treasury bills. Bachmann was right.”

“I would tend to agree that that exact statement is False as written. Social Security is not borrowing from the general treasury. However, I think that you cherry-picked the statement.  Bachmann's overall point seems to have been that Congress has been using Social Security payroll taxes to subsidize the general fund but now the general fund has to subsidize Social Security. That point (by Bachmann) is not as clear cut.”

“While Rep. Bachmann was incorrect about Social Security borrowing money from the Treasury, your entire article leads the reader to believe that Social Security finances are sound. The treasury issued bonds to Social Security that are starting to be redeemed now that payroll taxes no longer fund benefits. When Social Security redeems a treasury bond, the treasury is forced to borrow the money from somewhere else. Where is the treasury borrowing this money from?”

Media bias

“The Austin American-Statesman sadly has become nothing more than a huge editorial paper espousing and promoting the liberal agenda.”

“Do you think readers are stupid? How many Republicans are featured in a negative way compared to Democrats? Give me the number if you dare.”

As of early June, the last time we checked, we’d rated 23 Republicans and 25 Democrats. Eighteen Republicans and 10 Democrats had received False ratings. Eight Republicans and seven Democrats had found their Pants on Fire. We've been checking more Republicans in the last week in the wake of the GOP convention.

A few words of praise

Remembering mom’s admonition (“If you can’t say something nice . . .”) we’ll close out with some appreciative words about our review of Gov. Rick Perry’s claim that since 2000, the Texas clean air program achieved a 22 percent reduction in ozone and a 46 percent decrease in NOx emissions” -- a statement we rated Half True.

“I wrote in and suggested this topic and wanted to follow up by thanking and complimenting you for a job well done. I had contacted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality myself. Even though I am  scientist by training, I found the task of figuring out who to contact, then getting them to cooperate and finally weaving all the information together to unravel the whole complex picture too daunting. I appreciate the difficulty of the task that you undertook. However, none of that work would have mattered, had you not been able to communicate your findings in a manner that most of your readers could understand.”

Separately: “PolitiFact is a valuable contributor to the body of information that helps citizens know the facts about the world around them.”