Friday, September 19th, 2014

Mailbag: 'Your PolitiFact is just again laughable!'

The mail's here! And much of it (though not all) is chilly about our items.
The mail's here! And much of it (though not all) is chilly about our items.

What motivates our readers to sit down at their keyboards and send us letters? Disagreement, of course! Our latest mailbag has readers taking us to task for our ratings of Democrats and Republicans alike:

Nancy Pelosi and "Enhanced Interrogation"

We reviewed the evidence on Nancy Pelosi's statement that the Democratic leaders "were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used," and we found much evidence to contradict her, including a CIA-produced timeline released by the Obama administration. It's a complicated issue and we noted that we might revise the item if there are new developments, but ultimately we rated her statement False. We heard from readers who disagreed:

• "I appreciate your comment that PolitiFact usually doesn’t engage in 'he said, she said,' etc. But I wonder how reliable the CIA really is on these dates. Bob Graham told the NPR station in New York, WYNC, that they had all types of dates wrong when he asked them to confirm what these meetings were back in 2002. . . . He can't speak directly to (Pelosi's case), because he wasn’t in the same room with her, but it seems to me that one has to be really careful about believing 'The Company' when it comes to any of this stuff."

• "It's more than a little disingenuous of you to proclaim Nancy Pelosi's statements about not knowing that torture had taken place as false considering that the memos used to reach that conclusion can't be verified as accurate! If no one knows if the memos are accurate then you can't make a finding of false on her statement. Your use of Porter Goss as confirmation is laughable. His word is certainly not reliable."

• "Of course, the director of national intelligence and ex-CIA director appointed by George W. Bush and partisan Republican Porter Goss would never, never, never, cross-their-hearts never tell a lie, or dissemble, or shade the facts, or engage in an 'enhanced' version of truth-telling. ... After all, Goss certainly has no self-interest at stake and nothing to protect. I score this one a huge ZERO for Politi'Fact'.com."

Newt Gingrich and the Democratic Congress

Another reader disliked our rating of Newt Gingrich's statement about the Democratic Congress during the Bush administration . Gingrich said Congress never changed the law to outlaw torture. We found the Congress passed a law to that effect, but it was vetoed by President Bush. We rated Gingrich's statement Barely True.

• "While you are correct that the Democrats did pass legislation making waterboarding illegal, it is clear that the move was strictly a political move in an election year, given that even an ultraliberal like Pelosi accepted its use when absolutely necessary in the past. The Democrats knew full well (and were planning on the fact) that George W. Bush would veto it, because he would never want to restrict the U.S.'s ability to extract information in that manner should it ever be absolutely necessary to do so. What Newt is trying to illustrate is that since President Obama has come to power, the Democrats have not reintroduced this measure for one of two reasons. First, they must know he would not sign it and limit his abilities to protect the American people. Or second, they would not want to put him in the awkward position of either having to sign it, thus removing a last resort method of preventing an impending terrorist attack and failing to protect the American people; or veto it, thus validating that waterboarding is an absolutely necessary last resort to be used to protect the lives of Americans. The latter would inevitably cause him to suffer the backlash of his supporters on the left. I feel the Truth-O-Meter rating should have been Mostly True, given that the move was strictly political, and this is an issue the Democrats really don't want to put to rest for numerous (and unspoken) reasons."

The head of the National Rifle Association on Obama's appointee

We checked out a statement from Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association on Cass Sunstein , an appointee of President Obama to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. LaPierre said that Sunstein "wants to give legal standing to animals so they can sue you for eating meat."  We rated it Half True. One reader said we went too easy on LaPierre.

• "To say that Cass Sunstein 'wants to give legal status to animals so they can sue you for eating meat' should be rated Pants on Fire. Sunstein wants people to be able to sue in cases of animal abuse. This is a perfectly sensible idea and to claim that it meant 'animals could sue you for eating meat' is a totally stupid representation of what was said and completely false. The statement (1) does not give legal standing to animals and (2) does not pertain to eating meat. It's really very unfair."

Joe Biden and President Obama on the swine flu

One reader said we were too hard on Joe Biden for his Pants-on-Fire claim that germs from a sneeze on a plane move through the entire aircraft. Another said we were giving Obama a freebie True rating for his statement that washing your hands can prevent the spread of swine flu.

• "I've always felt that the Pants-on-Fire designation should be reserved for clearly documented historical facts that are being misstated, twisted or fabricated to advance one's agenda. In that vein I have no problem with the Pants-on-Fire designation for the recent statements by Michele Bachman linking President Jimmy Carter with the swine flu outbreak in 1976. I feel the Biden statement should simply be labeled as False. My reasoning is that VP Biden is not a health official and can't be expected to know everything about the transmission of virus. ... I feel it is clear that bad information is out in the public domain. While it is true that the VP should have been briefed on what is correct and should be called out on his error I don't feel it rises to the level of Pants-on-Fire."

• "Giving Obama a True on his 'wash your hands' statement is just so typical of how your bias shows through! It was a totally unnecessary addition to the total of the True, Mostly True, etc., statements that pump the statistics regarding Obama veracity to over 70 percent! Come on ... I would NOT be surprised if you didn't — as the rest of the in-the-tank-press — add his comment about 'this hamburger is really good' to your stacked results! Your PolitiFact is just again laughable!"

The balm of kind words


After reading all those complaints, we were heartened to get a little fan mail:

• "I applaud you PolitiFacts for doing what so few media are willing to do and for doing it WELL. I have read only a couple of the Broken Promises, but I can see from these that you have done your homework and are reporting the performance of the Obama administration in a fact-based, nonpartisan manner. In these days of show-biz journalism, wherein I have given up hope for finding much in the way of journalistically strong articles addressing any issue but especially this one, I am pleasantly surprised to find your Web site."

• "I noticed the recent article you put up about how some people are criticizing you guys. Personally I have never disagreed with a ruling you guys have made on any promise, quote, flop, etc. You guys do an amazing job and always cite your sources (the most important). Keep it up."