Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Mailbag: Readers give thanks, and criticism

Happy Thanksgiving from PolitiFact!
Happy Thanksgiving from PolitiFact!

As usual, the inbox is bursting with strong opinions from our readers. It's been awhile since our last mailbag, so look for a second installment on Sunday.

The House of Representatives' health care bill and abortion

We received a few letters from readers who said we missed the boat with our coverage of health reform legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, particularly when it came to restricting abortion. We explained a new restriction called the Stupak amendment , noting that it did not expressly forbid abortion coverage because it allows coverage to be sold as a separate rider.

"Whatever it is, Stupak is a sneaky move to radically change the current 87 percent coverage for abortion to a radically lower level. This is not understood by all. If it is true, you should be doing more to reveal this impact."

"PolitiFact aims to be a respected arbiter of political claims. Stupak does undeniably and for the first time limit the options of privately-paying women to abortion, and that is one of its intents. Your Truth-O-Meter should reflect this."

Sarah Palin's new book

We received several complaints about factchecking Sarah Palin's book, Going Rogue . Readers accused us of bias for not checking President Obama's books Dreams from my Father and The Audacity of Hope . (FYI, Dreams was published in 1995, and The Audacity of Hope in 2006, both before we started PolitiFact in 2007. However, we did review Dreams from my Father during the campaign in the context of an attack e-mail on the book . We also have not fact-checked any of John McCain's books, which include the memoirs Faith of My Fathers and Worth the Fighting For and three books on his values and political philosophy: Why Courage Matters , Character is Destiny and Hard Call: The Art of Great Decisions . We do not plan to revisit these books, either. However, the coverage we gave Palin's book is very similar to the amount of scrutiny we gave to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore earlier this fall.)

"When you started fact checking Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue were you really unbiased? You and the AP and several other media types are busily examining and reexamining Republican and conservative voices but rarely look at those of a liberal bent. How about going back and fact checking some of the questionable claims in President Barack Obama's books: his autobiography and his Audacity of Hope ???"

"Now that you’ve put Palin's book through the Truth-O-Meter I’m wondering when you’re going to put President Obama's books through the wringer? If a former governor is worthy of truth verification I would assume a current president would be even more so. Or is all of this just based on an agenda?"

And one person thought we were giving her too much attention:

"Why do you provide her so much free publicity? She has never told the truth about anything important, she is parading her nonsense only to generate publicity like you provide, and she is completely irrelevant to anything even remotely newsworthy in the political world. Just because a lot of people talk about her doesn’t make her news – it makes her someone who should be attractive only to the supermarket tabloids – not respected news media."

Another reader disliked our check of a statement from her Facebook page. Palin said that under the House health care bill, the government "will have to penalize citizens if we choose not to buy a plan that will cost a minimum of about $15,000 per family per year ." We rated that Barely True because most people will get help paying for that either from their employers or from a government subsidy.

"Until America realizes they can't have health care for free, until America realizes it's not always someone else's job to pay for health care, we WILL NOT begin to control health care costs. And until we can control health care costs, we will not begin to come close to universal coverage in this country. The annual cost to a family, projected to be $15,000 in 2016 (unbelievable), is costing SOMEBODY!!! The employer example you use is the most clear. If the employer did not provide health insurance for its employees, those employees would be earning higher wages. Of course higher health care costs are costing the employee – and costing the employee the full boat. You are splitting hairs by dividing up who's paying – and in this case, your splitting hairs perpetuates the myth that my health care is free – or partially free. It must, after all, be someoneelse's responsibility."


Lord Monckton and the Copenhagen Treaty

We got a few complaints on our rating of a statement from Christopher Monckton, a British hereditary peer and high-profile skeptic of global warming. We gave him a Pants on Fire for saying that if President Obama signs the Copenhagen climate change treaty, he " will sign your freedom, your democracy, and your prosperity away forever — and neither you nor any subsequent government you may elect would have any power whatsoever to take it back again." A reader disagreed vehemently, and verged on the poetic in describing the state of contemporary journalism.

"You fail your own mission. You promise truth. Like all your media compadres, you use this word to disguise your own lapdog function. You say Lord Monckton is lying because he believes the climate treaty will destroy US sovereignty and freedom. You conclude: 'Freedom will be unscathed....and we can get out of it anyway...' READ THE DOCUMENT-- all 181 pages before you post a response again. Your response is NOT based in fact, just in your dismissive ignorance. If you do not believe that the climate change alarmists are not trying to curb freedom, go try and buy an incandescent light bulb. Congress is tell you what type of light bulbs you can use. What type of toilet you can install. What color your car has to be. Are we truly free if we have to have government permission to use the loo? If you were serious about your self-proclaimed fact checking mission, you would constrain your criticism to simple facts. The fourth estate is dead. Destroyed by the agenda you have all sold your souls to support. Hiding the truth, distorting the facts. You are the same wolf in sheep's clothing as the rest. Perhaps out of the ashes of your once noble profession will arise a new crop of real journalists that know they are responsible for upholding the truth. Some day."

Barely Bipartisan


After the Senate Finance Committee approved a version of health care reform, President Obama hailed its passage, saying "The Senate Finance Committee approved a reform proposal that has both Democratic and Republican support. " We rated that statement Barely True. It got one Republican vote on what was otherwise a party-line 14-9 vote.

"I've complained about your use of Barely True when you mean 'Mostly False' before, so I want to thank you for what I thought was a great application of the label recently (and cut down on your grouchy:non-grouchy mail ratio). When Barack Obama called the Senate Finance Committee's bill bipartisan, his words were barely true - he wasn't lying, but Republican support was quite literally the least it could possibly be (only the most liberal Republican in the Senate voted for the bill in committee). Your nuanced ruling filled in the missing piece in the political discourse: you supplied the full story without unjustly calling the President an outright liar (or a Socialist, a Nazi, or a secretly Muslim Kenyan). Thanks for your work!"

Advice on Bias

A reader offered us some advice on our approach to fact-checking:

"I sense a creeping bias in your work...particularly when you pick and choose how to analyze the issue. Sometimes you rate the comment based on 'precise wording' and at other times you rate the comment 'on balance'...which can give the impression that you may have a preconceived outcome in mind. Friendly advice...keep up the good work."

Praise at Thanksgiving

It feels like we got more praise than usual this month! Thanks everyone, and Happy Thankgiving!

"Cheers to you! Thanks for your research and truth findings. We need you so much at this time since it seems there is so much bending of the truth and outright lying. Would like you to know that I am one that really appreciates you and your team."

"I can't thank you enough for your efforts to cut through all of the babel and get to the truth. Your research has made it possible for me to understand the complexity of the issues before us."

"Thanks again! Keep up the good work. Politifact.com is one of the best ideas the St. Pete Times has ever had."