Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Mailbag: "You are clearly out of your league."

The latest batch of mail brings both criticism and kudos for our Truth-O-Meter rulings.
The latest batch of mail brings both criticism and kudos for our Truth-O-Meter rulings.

We assume many of you voted Tuesday. We know, though, that some have been casting their "for" and "against" votes for us throughout this election year. The feedback below has been edited for length and style.

Did Bill White pay taxes?

Before he defeated Bill White, Gov. Rick Perry hammered his Democratic challenger for not releasing more income tax returns from the years he served in the Clinton administration and as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Then Perry took it a step further. "Bill White hiding his taxes because he didn't pay them," a September press release declared. "Liberal trial lawyer didn't pay taxes while earning $133,600 annual salary as deputy (U.S.) secretary of energy."

We rated that claim False after confirming that White was paying taxes — income, Medicare and Social Security — that year. However, his losses on a business venture offset the taxes he had already paid through withholding, leaving him with no taxable income.

A reader reacted: "I just dropped my credibility of y'all to Barely True after reading this. What caught my attention was that in '95 White had 'zero taxable income.' To me, that translates to zero tax for the 1995 taxable year. While you assessed the ins and outs of withholding, estimated tax payments and refunds, it appears y'all convinced yourselves that there was a tax paid for that tax year. Did he really pay tax on zero taxable income??? If he's smart I'd hope not... If this happened and you labeled the claim False, then I'd say you very falsely called Perry a liar. Lie, dam lies and then there are statistics. You can make data tell many stories and if (as I now assume) you wish to bend truth to your way of thinking, you've really misrepresented the premise of this feature."

Another reader: "The facts in your column show that Perry's statement is True and that your conclusion is False. You should have an accountant look over financial material. You are clearly out of your league in this area."

Tallying American casualties in Iraq

Several readers said we didn't give U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, enough credit for his criticism of the Iraq War. Paul said that 4,400 Americans are dead, 30,000 "severely wounded" and more than 100,000 suffering from serious health problems related to post-traumatic stress syndrome. We rated that Half True because it's not clear how many people are suffering from PTSD, and while it's true that about 30,000 were wounded, Department of Defense data indicate that more than half weren't "severely" wounded.

"(I) remain a bit confused by how you got to Half True. There are three parts to Paul's statement: number of deaths; number of severely wounded; number of PTSD cases. You give him credit for two out of three of those numbers. You give him partial credit on the third. This would seem to put Paul at at least two-thirds... shouldn't that average out to Mostly True?"

"I just read your review on Ron Paul and for the life of me can't figure out why you would rate it Half True. Which part is not true? The part that said no one can really confirm? I appreciate the time and effort you put into this, especially citing resources and such. But this particular review seems ticky-tacky with your rating and makes me wonder what else you post that I should not take at face value."

Unemployment and employment

Elected officials and candidates overwhelmingly cited statistics about unemplyoment and jobs to make a political point this past election, but those numbers weren't always right. Often, we found, a statement stressed a cherry-picked figure out of context.

In October, we rated Mostly True a claim by the anti-Perry Back to Basics PAC. It said that "the Texas unemployment rate has even grown more than the nation's as a whole." Back to Basics was looking at the unemployment rate in the 18 months following Perry's acceptance of federal stimulus aid for Texas in February 2009. That was correct. Yet we found that swapping in different starting months for the reviewed time period — such as, say, the first month of Perry's current term — led to different results, with the Texas unemployment rate either rising the same as the national rate or more slowly.

One reader thought we were too soft: "A little more effort by PolitiFact would provide its readers with accurate, insightful reporting. Then, maybe folks would take you more seriously. But that doesn't appear to be your M.O. On its face, the ad was correct that the rate of joblessness increased more in Texas during an 18-month period than it did nationally. But how does that reconcile with the fact that during this same 18-month period, Texas actually saw an increase of jobs while the country lost jobs? People are flocking to Texas because of our relatively strong economy."

Also in October, we rated True Perry's claim that "more Texans have new jobs today than the entire population of Fort Worth" (about 850,000 as of June, and 736,200 as of January, respectively).

Readers thought we glossed over crucial details undermining Perry's boast.

"The real questions are: how much of the job growth occurred before the recession started in December 2007 and how much during the recession and how much after; how much job growth, especially prior to the recession, was due to normal economic growth and how much was attributed to Perry; and how much did Perry contribute to job growth during the recession?"

Another reader: "OK gang! This fact that Perry created 850,000 jobs just does not portray an accurate picture. Since he takes credit for the jobs created, how many jobs disappeared while he was in office? What was the net loss/gain under his tenure... He should take credit for losses as well. Signed, Laid-off and upset."

And: "The so-called net gain in jobs does not take into account unemployment figures in Texas. They merely compare the change in employment between point A and point B. It appears that Perry and his camp conveniently excluded Texas unemployment data from their story. If you look at Texas unemployment data, you will not see a pretty picture."

(In March, we rated Mostly True White's claim that "there's almost 1 million Texans who are unemployed and that's an all-time record number in our state." Now there are more.

From our cold, dead hands?

In a TV ad for U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, the narrator says: "When Washington liberals wanted to take away our guns, Chet said no." We rated that False, because while Edwards has steadfastly opposed efforts to impose gun controls, we found no legislation had come before Congress to "take away" anyone's weapons.

Several readers objected, including this one: "When I read your analysis of Chet Edward's statement and your illogical False conclusion, all I could think of was the blind committee examining an elephant. You got a lot of facts right, but your conclusion was missing essential context. Rep. Edward's statement, given the totality of his voting record is absolutely correct. No advocate of gun control is going to launch a frontal assault to have our guns confiscated or regulated out of use in Texas or nationally. They do it in gradual stages. Only by resisting uncalled-for restrictions on an individual's right to keep and carry a gun will we stop the gun control advocates from turning us into a Mexico, Australia or Britain! You did Rep. Edwards a disservice."

"BIAS!"

Readers often accuse of us of having a liberal lean.

We'd rate that claim Pants on Fire, and no, thank you, we don't want to change the name of the Truth-O-Meter, per this reader's suggestion: "I was hoping to find an unbiased place to check facts, but it's clear to me this is not the site. I'm an Independent and KNOW both sides spin the facts but the Truth-O-Meter seems to be just another site that does the same. I will be working to throw all of those who aren't truthful to its citizens out of office. Unless you change your ways, I hope your site will fail as well, unless you want to change your name to Liberal-O-Meter."

Another: "I was under the impression you were all analyzing comments about or by someone then giving us the accurate and honest low-down on the truth of what was said. I have come to the conclusion you are very bias toward one political party and not non-bias like you purport to be."

Then again, another reader thought our reporting favored Republicans. "You asked three Republican lawmakers if the details of (Democrat) Kendra (Yarbrough) Camarena's ad are true? Way to get to to the bottom of the story."

Lastly, kudos

Some readers cast that "for" vote, like this one: "I appreciate all the hard work of you and your colleagues at PolitiFact. Keep it up, and may (somehow) truth prevail!"