Mailbag: 'Your Truth-O-Meter needs repair'

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.

Our inbox was so full we're running two installments of mailbag this week! This is the second; read the first batch from Thanksgiving Day .

How many years of natural gas?

We looked at a statement from America's Natural Gas Alliance; they said that the United States has a supply of " more than 100 years of natural gas. " We rated that Half True, primarily because other estimates differed.

"As a petroleum industry professional, I can't help but add some important data to what has been labeled a Half True in the Truth-O-Meter about natural gas supplies in the United States. It is said that those numbers were taken back in June. Since June a prolific discovery/development has occurred in the North-East part of the United States, Pennsylvania and Virginia area. The Marcellus shale was not confidently defined per terms of reserves until later in July, and is quite a stockpile. If you research into those estimated recoverable reserves, you will find that the contribution that play makes solidifies the 100 year claim. Furthermore, the claim by Richard Heinberg about gas needing to be $8/mcf (mcf stands for thousand cubic feet, the volume that gas is sold as a commodity at) is not true. There is a vast amount of gas that is economic to produce at current prices. While deep gas in the Gulf of Mexico and some complicated shale plays require gas to be around $5.50/mcf or higher, commercial, traditional natural gas found in standard sands and limestone reservoirs are economic at much lower prices, and still account for a large amount of the reserves the states have."

Obama's Nobel Prize

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Florida Republican, said that a president must " obtain Congress' consent before formally accepting the Nobel Prize. " We rated that Barely True because the Norwegian parliament, or Storting, nominates the Nobel Peace Prize committee. That's all wrong, one reader said.

"The Storting nominates members of the Peace Prize committee. They nominate former members who then look over the list of nominees. It's not a foreign government, nor an agency of the foreign government, nor a representative of a foreign government, that evaluates nominees for the Peace Prize and awards it. I don't see why this was 'hard' for you, as you claimed in the posting. It's pretty simple. A Nobel prize of any kind is not given by a foreign government. What the Republicans are suggesting is 100 percent false. The more often you give them some credit for being partially right when they are 100 percent wrong hurts our nation and further poisons the discourse. I am greatly disappointed in your behavior on this story and many others. On lots of stories you do a great job, but sometimes the bias you let leak through taints your conclusions."

Paying for the public option

We looked at a statement from Democratic Congresswoman Diane Degette of Colorado, who said  "The public option is not funded with public money. It's funded with private insurance premiums. " We rated her statement Half True, because the government fronts the public option $2 billion in start-up costs under the House bill, on the condition that it be paid back.

"Regarding Diana DeGette's statement about the public option, it surely deserves more than a Half True. It's my understanding that the $2 billion in upfront investment is required to be payed back, making it nothing more than a loan. ... That distinction is very important and the fact that the public plan receives only one start-up loan from the government, while funding their operations with private funds makes it a strictly privately funded venture. ... I'm only writing because this particular issue is extremely important. There are huge misunderstandings out there surrounding the public option and most people (literally I would guess the majority of Americans) are under the false assumption that the public option will receive regular public funding. This is a myth which needs to be dispelled, and I worry that your treatment of this subject hedges more than is necessary and may allow that confusion to continue."

Loving Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck's fans have not suffered in silence when we've given him poor ratings. We rated his statement Barely True that former green jobs czar Van Jones "is a n avowed, self-avowed radical revolutionary communist ."

"Your Truth-O-Meter needs repair. I watch Glenn Beck and he tells the viewers to verify everything he says...and I do. He is 100 percent accurate. You are not paying attention. Van Jones is an admitted Marxist and communist....not WAS. He is at the Center for American Progress with all of the other radicals."

"I find it very hard to believe anything you report. You are just another arm of [left-leaning billionaire] George Soros. This Administration is nothing but a bunch of Radical Socialists and Communists. How about investigating all those Czars and telling us about their ties to Communism. Progressives is another word for Communism, Marxists and Socialists. Don't you people recognize where they are taking this country. What they are doing is not about Health Care, it is about Control. They want to make everyone dependent on Government. They are slowly taking away our Freedom."

(For the record, PolitiFact is operated by the St. Petersburg Times , a Florida newspaper, and has no connection with Soros -- or any other left-leaning billionaires.)

"Why don't you have more of the 'left wing' nut bag pundits on the Truth-O-Meter … Most of these nuts are the 'right wing' nuts….makes me get that nagging feeling that you all are being a bit biased?"

Defending Rachel Maddow

We also got many letters from Rachel Maddow fans after we gave her a False for her statement, "President Bush never did one interview with the New York Times during his entire presidency." Maddow corrected her statement on the air after our report appeared. Readers said that should count for something.

"You should update your story that Ms. Maddow issued a correction and an apology for her mistake on her show last night 10/27/09. Did the other pundits do the same?"

"I think it's important to note this fact on your site because of all the on-air personalities between the various news organizations, Rachel seems to make it a point to correct any facts that she gets wrong on the show."

Numbers and the Congressional Budget Office

When it comes to quantifying the cost of legislation, we tend to rely on numbers from the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, a nonpartisan arm of Congress that analyzes pending legislation. Readers warned us to approach their estimates with skepticism.

"I have found your website to be fairly straightforward and neutral except for one issue. In my opinion, many comments made by conservatives and Republicans tend to overestimate the cost of many of the proposed bills. However, when you take the estimates by the CBO or EPA as fact, I believe you are making a mistake. It appears that the CBO and EPA (and many other government organizations for that matter) tend to leave out the costs associated with their own administrative costs and other costs that are incurred when dealing with government entities. CBO estimates tend to be conservative, and I would challenge you to find a (federal) government program, when up and running at full capacity, actually comes in close to budget. I'm not criticizing your findings exactly, just stating that the data you are using to make those findings, tends to be unreliable at best."

"I do have a problem when you talk about the costs of health care reform bills. The bills all being considered in Congress leave a lot to be desired in terms of defining future costs. There are a lot of items with no costs mentioned, and there are also some critical areas where the bills assume future Congresses will cut costs or raise taxes. Unfortunately, history shows that Congress will often punt on these tough decisions - just look at the 'doctor fix' issue Congress is grappling with now. And history also shows that everyone has always wildly underestimated the costs of entitlement programs (examples - Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security). The CBO may make estimates, but these have to be taken with very large grains of salt. There are so many caveats and unresolved issues that their numbers are close to meaningless. You are doing your readers a disservice by relying on CBO estimates to support or refute cost claims about any of these bills. The truth, IMO, is that no one knows what any of these bills will actually cost, and in all likelihood, all serious claims are likely to understate the costs. In many ways, arguing over the costs of these various plans is similar to the arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At best, you can estimate whether one plan is more expensive than another, or whether a particular feature is likely to increase (or decrease) the cost of a plan."

Fan mail!

We end with a few notes of praise.

"In case no one ever says it, Thank You, Bill – for working so diligently to keep us posted on all the political facts. I always look forward to your e-mails!"

"Way to go, Politifact, it's time for the pundits to be grilled considering how many Americans obtain there news from the cable outlets. I would like to see even more pressure put on them. ... Keep up the good work. I use your site everyday, and always source the site when having a political discussion."

"I love your site and visit it often – I particularly enjoy the fact that you all seem to do actual research without bias – as a member of society who constantly searches for the truth – you are an invaluable resource."