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Where the clicks were: our most-read 2010 fact-checks

By Angie Drobnic Holan
Published on Tuesday, December 28th, 2010 at 8:31 a.m.

One of the advantages of Web journalism is that we know what you like. Every day we get reports on which Truth-O-Meter items are the most popular. And every December, we look back and see our most popular items for the year.

The list of our most read 2010 fact-checks (we're excluding oldies-but-goodies that were first published in prior years) reflects timely topics (health care), our most provocative political figures (Michele Bachmann) and the enduring questions about chain e-mails.

1. "The president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day." -- Rep. Michele Bachmann, Nov. 3, 2010.

Bachmann's provocative statements are well-known to PolitiFact readers. Many of you told us you'd hoped this one should win Lie of the Year, but instead it was first runner-up. Consider this a people's choice award of sorts. The estimate for the India trip came from one anonymous source in a news report out of India. The White House denied that it was that much. People familiar with presidential travel told us the estimate was way off, and a report by the independent GAO backed that up. We rated the statement False.

2. Starting in 2011, "you will be required to pay taxes" on "the value of whatever health insurance you are given by the company." -- a chain e-mail, received June 10, 2010.

This Internet rumor said that people would be required to pay taxes next year on the value of their health insurance. Employees will see the value on their W-2s, but they won't be taxed on it. The e-mail lists as a source a Kiplinger letter that we looked up: The letter actually contradicts the e-mail's assertion. For trying to pull a fast one on the public, we rated this one Pants on Fire.

3."Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections." -- President Barack Obama, Jan. 27, 2010.

President Obama said this during the State of the Union address, and it ticked off Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito so much that he shook his head and appeared to mouth the words "not true." We looked into the Supreme Court case Obama was referencing and found that Obama was overstating the ruling's impact on foreign companies' ability to spend unlimited money in U.S. political campaigns. The majority opinion specifically said it wasn't addressing that point. The opinion did allow U.S. corporations to spend without limit on elections. For pushing the envelope on foreign corporations, we rated Obama's statement Barely True.

4. "We researched to find out if anybody on Fox News had ever said you're going to jail if you don't buy health insurance. Nobody's ever said it." -- Bill O'Reilly, April 13, 2010.

Some opponents of the health care law particularly disliked the individual mandate, which required that people buy insurance or pay a penalty on their taxes. Some people went so far as to say that people who didn't pay the penalty would go to jail, but that's not possible under the bill that passed. (It forbids the IRS from using criminal prosecution against anyone who doesn't pay the penalty.) After the law passed, O'Reilly got into a back and forth with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., about the accuracy of Fox News' reporting on the health care bill. O'Reilly said that Fox was accurate and that nobody on Fox News "ever said you're going to jail if you don't buy health insurance." We found at least four instances of people making that claim on Fox, though. We rated O'Reilly's statement Pants on Fire.

5. In 2007, "the top 1 percent of all income earners in the United States made 23.5 percent of all income," which is "more than the entire bottom 50 percent." -- Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Nov. 30, 2010.

Sanders is among the Senate liberals who heartily opposed President Barack Obama's tax compromise with Republicans. The agreement extended the current tax rates for all income levels; Sanders wanted the tax rates to expire for high earners so that their tax rates would increase. Sanders was so put off by the deal that he took to the Senate floor for an old-fashioned filibuster, speaking for hours. We checked a couple of his statements from a similar speech a couple of weeks earlier, including this one. We found several evidence-based studies of income inequality that backed up Sanders' statement, so we rated it True.

6. The president's health care proposals will cause "most Americans to have their premiums increased, not decreased, and hundreds of millions of people lose their current insurance coverage." -- Nancy Pfotenhauer, Jan. 27, 2010

Conservative pundit Pfotenhauer made this comment on CNN as a description of the health care law that was pending in Congress. It was a talking point often repeated by opponents, but there wasn't an independent, nonpartisan analysis that showed that result from the proposals, particularly hundreds of millions of people losing coverage. We rated this one Pants on Fire.

7. "Democrats are poised now to cause this largest tax increase in U.S. history." -- Sarah Palin, Aug. 1, 2010

Palin, the potential Republican candidate for president in 2012, made this comment on Fox News Sunday, talking about Democratic plans for taxes. We looked at the Democratic plans to raise taxes on high earners, and they weren't close to being the largest tax increase in history. Even if you accepted the factually incorrect statement that Democrats wanted to let tax cuts expire for everyone (they didn't), there's still evidence that tax increases to pay for World War II were higher when compared with the size of the overall economy. We rated the statement Pants on Fire.

Palin was so annoyed with our report that she called us out on her Facebook page, adding that the Democrats had not published proposals for their intentions on the expiring Bush tax cuts. We decided to put that statement on our Truth-O-Meter, and we rated it False.

8. "We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families." -- President Barack Obama, Jan. 27, 2010

This was another of our fact-checks from Obama's State of the Union address. The key word in his statement is "working." Obama's claim is based on a tax cut intended to offset payroll taxes that was part of the stimulus bill. Single workers got $400, and working couples got $800; the Internal Revenue Service published new withholding tables so workers got a few dollars back in their paychecks every week. We rated Obama's statement True.

9. President Obama "doesn't ... want to admit we're at war." -- Dick Cheney, Dec. 30, 2009

The former vice president made his comment in 2009, but we published our fact-check in 2010, so we're counting it as part of the past year. Cheney was reacting to a foiled terror attack on a Detroit-bound jetliner and had this to say about Obama: "He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, 'war on terror,' we won't be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe." But we found several instances of Obama saying we're at war with terrorists. So we rated Cheney's statement Pants on Fire.

10. "The vast majority of the money I got was from small donors all across the country.'' -- President Obama, April 21, 2010

With new financial regulations being considered in Congress, CNBC's John Harwood asked President Obama about donations from Wall Street to political candidates. Harwood asked if Obama was embarrassed that he received more than $1 million in political donations from the employees of Goldman Sachs. "No," Obama said. "First of all, I got a lot of money from a lot of people. And the vast majority of the money I got was from small donors all across the country. And moreover, anybody who gave me money during the course of my campaign knew that I was on record again in 2007, and 2008, pushing very strongly that we needed to reform how Wall Street did business." Obama did raise a lot of money from small donors, more than any other candidates that year. But Obama also raised lots of money from large donors. And those large donors contributed more money to his campaign than the small donors. A detailed analysis of campaign contributions showed that only 32 percent of his general election money came from people who gave $200 or less. We rated his statement False.

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Researchers: Angie Drobnic Holan

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