Friday, December 19th, 2014

Mailbag: "Would my pants be on fire if..."

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.

What follows is a selection of criticism and praise we received from readers last month, edited for length and style.

Ground control to Mecca

Michael Quinn Sullivan, president and CEO of the conservative-leaning Empower Texans, tweeted "NASA dir says main mission is Muslim outreach." We rated that Half True because Charles Bolden, the NASA director in question, said the president encouraged him to "find a way to reach out to the Muslim world," a goal he described as "perhaps foremost." Yet that was mentioned in the same context as other goals — inspiring kids, expanding international relationships — suggesting Bolden was speaking not about NASA's obvious A-1 scientific purpose, but other activities. The focus on space is clear in the video of an Al Jazeera interview.

One reader thought Sullivan deserved a True: "Mr. Bolden said it and the White House stood by his statement that he said it only that he did not mean it when he said it was a primary statement. It is a proven fact that he said it not once but three times.  He did not say it was his primary objective to outreach to Muslims he said it was Obama"s message to him that is was to be one of his priorities and maybe his most important. To give this a half-true rating means that you are saying he lied about Obama telling him it was a priority."

Is a tax by any other name still a tax?

The Republican Party of Texas said President Barack Obama lied when he said a mandate to obtain health insurance was not a tax. We rated that Mostly True: in its tweet, the Republican Party said the administration now calls the mandate a tax. Our finding: The administration (still) isn't doing that, yet it cites Congress' power to levy taxes as authority for the mandate. Readers thought we were guilty of the double speak that we ding politicians for.

"Why mostly true? We conservatives would call what the administration is doing 'talking out of both sides of their mouth.' I'll bet you liberals would too if it was the Bush administration."

"You rate this item as 'Mostly True.'  In your explanation you use political speak every bit as bad as the politicians. You state: 'From where we sit, Obama was trying to make a political point; the Justice Department, a legal one.' So politically it"s not a tax but legally it is? Give me a break. Your bias is showing. Bias on a blog that is supposed to be a truth tester is worse than the politicians claims because we all know not to believe them. This one should definitely have been rated as TRUE!"

One new job for every deported illegal immigrant?

Job loss abounds, and U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, recently claimed that illegal immigration and unemployment are linked. "There are 15 million unemployed Americans in the United States and 8 million illegal immigrants in the labor force. We could cut unemployment in half simply by reclaiming the jobs taken by illegal workers.

We found that Smith's logic was too simple, and rated the statement False. One reader agreed, en breve: "Yea, bogus."

Another wasn't convinced.

"Ms. O'Rourke's subject analysis would discount Republican Rep. Lamar Smith's statement that reclaiming jobs from illegal workers would reduce unemployment among Americans seeking work. While I doubt that anyone would claim a one-to-one reduction, Ms. O'Rourkes analysis borders on the disingenuous. She supports her contention that Smith's statement is false with no less than twelve references to "studies" and "analyses" that have or have not been made. She seems to believe that truth lies only in such studies. Be advised, O'Rourke (and this comes from a writer with advanced degrees in four disciplines), that such studies invariably demonstrate precisely what the studier sets out to demonstrate. Moreover, no 'studies' are on record which affirms the fact that if you wade in water your feet will get wet. Nonetheless, if you try this, I suggest you bring along dry socks."

Anchor babies

State Rep. Debbie Riddle caused a fuss when she told CNN's Anderson Cooper that pregnant women were entering the country as tourist to give birth to their children "with the nefarious purpose of turning them into little terrorists who will then come back to the U.S. and do us harm." We didn't check whether terror babies is a new trend. But we gauged another statement Riddle made in the interview: "Over 81 percent of the babies that are born at LBJ Hospital right here in Houston are born of women who are not here legally." Turns out it's 63 percent. We rated her statement False.

"If the correct percentage is 60-something percent and not 81 percent, then why is this claim False? Why is it not rated three-quarters true? I think she and Sen. Patrick and Rep. Gohmert are xenophobic demagogues... but three-quarters true is a far cry from False."

As PolitiFact has noted before, numbers matter. Especially with regard to issues as fractious as immigration and so-called "terror babies," politicians have an obligation to be scrupulously accurate.

U.S. health care costs vs. the world

During an editorial board meeting with the Austin American-Statesman, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said "we spend more money on health care per capita in the United States than any other country in the world," Dewhurst said during an Aug. 25 meeting with the Austin American-Statesman editorial board. "Of the 30 developed countries in the world," he said, "we spend 2 1/2 times more than the average. Of the country that spends the second most per capita, Switzerland, we spend 175 percent more." We rated that Half True, because he was correct in saying the United States spends more money on health care per capita than the rest of the world and that we spend two-and-a-half times more than the average cost of all the OECD countries, but he erred in his Switzerland comparison and by what percent we spend more.

Survey says?

"I thoroughly enjoy PolitiFact Texas as a great public service. However, I have a bone to pick about the Dewhurst healthcare cost article of August 31, 2010. You missed an opportunity to state that the private, for profit health insurance industries are a major cause of our health cost compared to other countries. Over 30 percent of America's health care cost is due to those private companies. The majority of other industrialized countries have outlawed for profit entities or severely curtailed them in the belief that health care is for all citizens and is cheaper when there is no middleman." 

Media bias

We can't shake it: readers often write accusing us of leaning liberal or trending right. PolitiFact Texas is a non-partisan fact-checking project in collaboration with PolitiFact.com.

"I am very much in favor of having someone publish a truth-test on statements made by political office seekers. Your thorough research of the facts and figures is commendable. It seems fair to say that every political race is between two candidates, one of whom is cast as the more liberal and the other as the more conservative. What I would like to understand is why the large majority of the reports you publish are about the more conservative of the two candidates in that particular race. Further, it seems to me that when your investigation shows that the canditates' statements are not accurate, the conservative candidate receives more severe ratings than the more liberal candidate receives. Would my pants be on fire if I maintain that your published PolitiFacts columns show a liberal bias?"

"It is widely reported that the Austin American-Statesman is losing more and more readers with each passing year, and when recently offered for sale, there were no buyers. If there is any truth there, your highly slanted and biased PolitiFact Texas column might be indicative of the problem. While I thought that PolitiFact once held some potential, and held some worth in reading.  I was pants-on-fire wrong! It is easy to predict, with no research, exactly how your 'truth meter' will register on each selected statement. If the commenter is liberal, absolute gospel; if the commenter is the least bit conservative, pants on fire. There just must be a better use of your ink and space."
 
Praise

We appreciate your criticism, but we always like to end our retrospect on a nice note or two.

"Enjoy your column — I read it first most days, and loved the entire section in Sunday's paper. This is really good journalism and takes dogged research. Thanks!"

"Thank you for continuing this feature. I wasn't sure if it was of short duration or not, but now I look for it with great appreciation for your research."