Mailbag: “What a complete waste of newsprint.”
Lawmakers have kept the Truth-O-Meter busy, but readers weren’t always keen about how we rated their statements. Here’s a selection of the criticism and praise we received last month, edited for length and style.
Tom DeLay v. Travis County
Appearing on NBC’s Today show in January, Tom DeLay questioned his recent Travis County conviction for laundering corporate money to help GOP Texas House candidates. "I was tried in the most liberal county in the state of Texas, indeed, in the United States." We rated that Pants on Fire: Travis County is liberal — especially by Texas standards — but not the most liberal in the country, by a long shot.
Some readers thought we were wasting our time.
"While Delay was engaging in some hyperbole here, the underlying message was that he was being railroaded by a partisan liberal district attorney in a partisan liberal county. It seems to me that you missed the forest for the trees by nit-picking a small part of the overall message."
"I am no Tom DeLay apologist, and even less supportive of his hyperbole, but I think your estimate of the ‘liberality’ of Travis County based primarily on presidential voting results, and on sample opinion polls, is a little narrow. I have heard there still is only one Republican in the Austin area. How does that compare to the other counties you selected for comparison? Granted, San Francisco would likely still be more liberal or more Democrat if you prefer, but I’d wager Travis would rank higher than with the dated information you have used."
"Austin is liberal!! Who knew??!! Boy, ol' Tom really scooped the news media with this one. The most appropriate reaction to DeLay's claim is a resounding, ‘DUH!!!’"
Chuck Norris Facts
Risking a roundhouse kick, we checked the Walker, Texas Ranger star’s claim that the Mansfield school district 20 miles outside Fort Worth had "joined the feds in seeking to mandate Arabic classes for Texas children." That earned a Barely True: The district is planning to implement an Arabic language program using federal funds — and it was going to introduce elements of Arabic into everyday curriculum, before it backed off that plan. But we found no evidence that students would be required to take Arabic classes.
One reader thought we were too easy on Norris; another thought we were too hard.
"After carefully examining my surroundings to make sure that Chuck Norris cannot hear me, I have to wonder how you gave his recent statement about mandatory Arabic classes a Barely True. I read your justification, ‘Norris' statement contains an element of truth,’ but from everything that you discovered, his statement is False. You have clearly shown that the program was at no time and in no way mandatory. The phrase "President Obama is a Muslim" contains an element of truth as Barack Obama is the president, but that doesn't make it Barely True."
"All students would be required to spend 20 minutes a day learning ‘Arabic language and culture.’ That is quite a bit of time, if you stop and think about it. If students in Mansfield or Waco or Abilene or Brownwood were required to spend 20 minutes a day on the Spanish language and culture, I'll bet they would learn Spanish in a couple years, or German, or French, or Portuguese. Sounds like Norris’ statement was at least Half True."
During an interview on Fox News March 2, Gov. Rick Perry said that neither President Barack Obama nor Mexico President Felipe Calderon "have been on the border to see what’s happening to the citizens of Mexico, and for that matter, the citizens of Texas." We rated that Half True, finding Perry was right about Obama, but wrong about Calderon.
Readers were quick to point out that we had missed an Obama border-stop in our analysis.
"The assessment you provided overlooks President Obama’s visit to El Paso on August 31, 2010. U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, actually traveled with the President on Air Force One and discussed the issue of border violence with him. When they landed in El Paso at Biggs Air Field, the President was greeted by El Paso Mayor John Cook, who presented the President with the key to the city, and was also met by Texas and New Mexico Congressmen Ciro Rodriguez and Harry Teague."
"PolitiFact's analysis of Perry's comments on whether Obama has visited the Texas-Mexico border is wrong. Obama visited El Paso on Sept. 1, 2010 to speak at Fort Bliss. The last time I checked, El Paso is situated on the border with Mexico."
Paul Krugman takes on Texas
Economist Paul Krugman has taken aim at Texan leadership in recent New York Times columns, at one point saying taxes paid by the poorest residents of Texas are above the national average. We rated that True: The poorest 20 percent of Texans and the next-to-poorest 20 percentile paid more incomes to state and local taxes than their counterparts nationally.
Readers weighed in:
"Krugman said poor Texans pay a higher percentage of their income than the national average. The implication is that that is somehow bad. Perhaps there has been a fairer shift of the tax burden. Perhaps the reason for Texas' relatively robust economy is precisely because of such a shifts. And where is any comment about how much tax people pay — the amount not the percentage? It is not your job to settle the issues above, but it would be nice if you acknowledged such issues and at least questioned the implications of true, but possibly misleading statement."
"Krugman is making the claim that Texas' lower 40 percent pay more in state and local tax as a percentage of family income than the national average and he is barely correct there but it is true in a vacuum."
"I wonder what kind of ‘property’ a person could own with an income of $29,223 per year. For those who don't own property, I should go around ranting that they're not paying ‘their fair share’ of property taxes, yet they enjoy all the benefits that those taxes provide."
"PolitiFact serves a valuable purpose in today’s political dialogue filled with inflammatory rhetoric, half-truths and outright lies. But it would be even more valuable if it came without labels, such as "liberal" New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Let the facts speak for themselves and perhaps we can begin to chip away at the polarization that is paralyzing our country."
Sonograms "testify" on the House floor
Debates in the Texas House and Senate about whether to require a woman seeking an abortion to first get a sonogram provided plenty of fodder for the Truth-O-Meter. State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who opposed the legislation, took to the House floor with a vaginal probe in hand. "There are two different kinds of sonograms," she said, adding that women in the eighth to 10th week of pregnancy would have to get a transvaginal one. We rated that True: To produce a viewable ultrasound image, as the House legislation seems to require, doctors must use an internal, transvaginal probe.
Readers were glad we checked her statement.
"I was so glad you tackled Rep. Alvarado's claim, for I'd seen her make it on TV and like all women, reacted, ‘Yikes! Is that the kind of sonogram legislators are talking about? You did a wonderful, thorough job investigating the claim. I just wondered if you asked any of the medical authorities about incidence of transvaginal sonogram-induced miscarriage. It would be ironic if the procedure legislators want to mandate to deter abortions might occasionally cause the loss of the fetus."
"Thank you for covering the issue for all of us. It isn't as simple as the legislators make it seem."
A miscarriage by any other name
Speaking in favor of the sonogram legislation, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said in February that "a miscarriage is considered an abortion." We rated that Half True: A miscarriage is called a spontaneous abortion in medical terms, but Lucio conflated those natural occurrences with elective abortions — medical procedures that terminate a pregnancy.
Readers thought we were too harsh.
"The senator is not off track, you are. I know from personal experience if a pregnancy is not viable, and the body does not spontaneously abort, then that circumstance is medically termed: "missed abortion.’ You owe Sen. Lucio the dignity of a clarification and upgrade. Failure to do so will reveal a lack of character."
"Your reasoning didn't make sense to me. It is still a true statement that, medically speaking, miscarriages are abortions. They are not elective, but that is the correct term."
"Perhaps you and the rest of the staff could come up with something a little more substantive to write about in this oh-so-liberal column that is touted to be ‘nonpartisan.’"
"What a complete waste of newsprint."
"PolitiFact is just another spin machine like most media in America. It has cost most of your creditability and it is losing your paid circulation. Just saying."
"Thank you for continuing to hold the politicians’ feet to the fire."
"I frequently cite, post, and recommend PolitiFact to friends and students attempting to sift through the muck."
"I am an ENORMOUS fan of PolitiFact Texas! While I sometimes disagree with your final call, I always enjoy being able to see your sources and understand how you came to your decision! I think PolitiFact is already making an enormous impact on politics, and for the better!"
"I'm a big fan of PolitiFact and I try to get all my friends to pay attention as well. I'm very independent so I appreciate the fact that you all are nonpartisan."
"I am grateful for your integrity in reporting; it's rare today."