Mailbag: The best of our 2010 reader comments
Our year-end coverage wouldn't be complete without recognizing an important contributor to PolitiFact: you.
Through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, you didn't hesitate to tell us how we were doing. So today we're publishing some of our favorite comments, pro and con, serious and not-so-serious.
Our 'socialist propaganda machine'
We fact-checked Sarah Palin's claim that "Democrats are poised now to cause this largest tax increase in U.S. history." We found that grossly distorted the size of the tax increases the Democrats are supporting and rated her statement Pants on Fire. Palin responded to our fact-check claiming that Democrats were hiding their actual proposal. So we fact-checked her statement that Democrats do not have a plan for extending the Bush tax cuts, and rated that False. We found that even though formal legislation has not been written, there are several published proposals.
That led to an avalanche of reader mail.
"Keep your socialist propaganda machine rolling along. I enjoy reading your warped political viewpoint. Your alliances with the other socialist media is a nice touch. Problem is, they have no more credibility than your PolitiFact truth-o-meter."
"You are arguing that intentions are enough to show a 'plan,' the President's budget and hearings in Congress being your examples. Palin is arguing that short of actual legislation there is no plan. Presidents may propose, but it takes legislative action by Congress to dispose. I think Palin has the better of the argument. Intentions have no force of law, only legislation does; which requires concrete action, written legislation passed by a vote (or, perhaps, by the process of 'deeming' it passed!) which this Congress has so far failed to produce."
"Thank you for your concise examination of Palin's pathetic statements on FOX fake 'news' and other places, concerning the expiring tax cuts. I hope that American voters are smart enough to figure out Palin's and the Republican Party's distortions and outright lies concerning the expiring tax cuts. Palin proves where the Corporate Elite / Tea Party / Republican National Committee / Plutocrats are coming from: FANTASY LAND. Greed is King in our country and the Republican Party / GOP is, in reality, the POG--the Party Of Greed."
"Why are you libtards so afraid of a woman that doesn't even have a job? How about a few 'Pants On Fire' for the phony you helped elect president?"
"Did you see the latest Facebook fabrications of Sarah Palin? I know it is beneath you to play 'tit for tat'... but this woman must be held accountable for her continued, arrogant and offensive accusations of anyone that surmises Barack Obama may actually care about America. I despise the woman, I'd love to take her to task, but I have no forum. Maybe you fair minded folks will issue your own rebuttal."
Your writing was sharp and often included some helpful analogies. During his State of the Union speech, President Obama said, "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." We found that the Supreme Court specifically said it wasn't ruling on foreign corporations, so we rated his statement Barely True. One reader said we missed the point.
"No one doubts that the Republicans have used the filibuster much more then in the past, and no one doubts that the Supreme Court ruling opens the door to much more influence and control by the corporations. Your fact checks obscure these truths. Try this for the distinction between context-less literalness and wisdom: A person reports a man his come into a bank with a gun 'and is shooting at everyone in the bank.' The police later say his statement was false. The reason is that there were three people in a vault that the shooter didn't see. Therefore he wasn't 'shooting at everyone in the bank.'"
We lack a funny bone
One reader said we were missing a funny bone when it came to our report on Rush Limbaugh's statement that Obama wants to ban fishing. We rated his statement Pants on Fire.
"I'm not going to claim you are biased or anything like that because I do not know how you go about choosing the statements you debunk of particular pundits, but it does seem you debunk a lot of the right wing talk show hosts on stupid lines that if you heard them while being said in the context they were said, there would be no reason to debunk them. So I'd like to request that you actually listen to these shows occasionally and debunk the serious lines. ... Like the Rush Limbaugh one where you had him claiming SERIOUSLY that Obama banned fishing and hunting. I heard that show. He wasn't serious. Thank you so much and keep up the good work as far as keeping the politicians in DC in check. Just try a little harder to debunk actual claims, not joke ones."
Illegal immigrants and health care reform
A reader laid out a "slippery slope" argument to refute our reporting that illegal immigrants do not receive new benefits under health care reform. It was much more civil response than we usually get on the issue.
"If the administration passes an amnesty plan for the illegal immigrants, they will be citizens and will get health care. This administration does want to enact some type of amnesty legislation. In a two-step sense – first, grant amnesty and citizenship and second, grant health care, the current illegal immigrants will receive health care. I do not believe this has been taken into account in the cost of the health care reform."
Several readers took issue with our story on a claim by Newt Gingrich, that when the United States "first created the federal income tax, frankly, nobody below a million dollars a year paid anything." One reader was outraged that we rated it False rather than Pants on Fire.
"But, gang... really. This isn't wrong, it's Pants on Fire wrong. You bent over backwards, forwards, sideways, stretched figures almost to the breaking point in his favor, parsed his words, and fact-checked 'what he meant' (i.e., a 2010 million in 1913 dollars) instead of what he SAID. That is, he said that '...frankly, no one below a million dollars a year paid anything.' Even by fishtailing around his statements so much that I got seasick, you still had to rule False on this. Because it is. But why give him a six-mile running start? He said 'a million dollars' and that's the amount he intended the audience to understand. No weaseling. It's either a deliberate falsehood, or a very cavalier attitude towards the facts. I'd just like to bring in guest commentator Joe Wilson to comment: 'YOU LIE!' (Thank you Joe, now go back to sleep.) Pants on Fire, guys. And your behineys may be a little smokey, too."
Fact-checks about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster
Several readers didn't like our Half True for President Obama's statement that he issues "a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling." We found that the moratorium related to exploratory oil drilling, not to existing, oil-producing deepwater platforms. We thought that may have confused some people, but readers didn't think that should have been considered in the ruling.
"In your analysis, you state: 'At issue here is the term 'oil drilling.' Many people use the term broadly to refer to the entire process of extracting oil from the ground, not just drilling the holes looking for oil. But once a well starts producing oil, it's not being 'drilled' anymore. Obama's statement is hardly half false, even if a few people don't know the difference between pumping and drilling. (You wrote) 'Many people' (might be confused)…first, I find that hard to believe; second, truth is hardly subject to the misapprehension of the listener."
Another reader quarreled with our rating of Mostly True for Obama's statement "Oil companies showered regulators (at the Minerals Management Service) with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations." We quibbled with the part about companies writing their own regulations.
"How do you know that Obama's statement that the energy companies wrote their own policies is 'murky'? On what basis is it so? All indications are that this is precisely what happened under Bush and Cheney. If Obama had said instead, 'It appears that the energy companies were allowed to write their own policies,' would you give his remarks a True rating? I like your site, but I am concerned that you have the late media illness that states that the Dems and GOP lie equally, get the same amount of shady money, and that their legislation equally benefits the rich. This is not true. The GOP is the party of wealth and power, much more so than the Dems. Their lies are more outrageous, more harmful, though the Dems are hardly perfect. Fox News, mostly, has caused media outlets to search for 'equal time' among Dems and GOPers, so now, even though global climate change is a FACT, news organizations are forced to give equal time to global climate change deniers! This isn't balance; it's a lie from our nation's watchdogs, the media."
Finally, a reader had this to say about a story we wrote about Sarah Palin's comments about President Barack Obama, and how much money they both got in campaign contributions from oil companies.
"I find it very disingenuous of Palin to make any comments about oil. I think she should be forced to collect all of her 'Drill, Baby, Drill' t-shirts and head down to the (Gulf of Mexico) and use them to soak up the oil."
Michele Bachmann and Social Security
PolitiFact Texas rated a statement recently by Rep. Michele Bachmann. Social Security, Bachmann said, is "out of money" and "borrowing from the general treasury." We rated that False.
First, we heard from a few readers who asked why PolitiFact Texas was rating Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota.
"The item about Michele Bachmann and Social Security being under the Politifact Texas header? Are you telling us that she's moved? Gone? A Texan now? Please, dear God, let it be true! She'll fit right in. And what a better place Minnesota has become, almost like magic! Thank you for arranging this relocation."
We also got comments on PolitiFact Texas' fact-check of Gov. Rick Perry's statement that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. We rated it False, primarily because Social Security is not a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme. The reaction poured in:
"Social security IS a Ponzi scheme. Ever since Social Security funds were rolled into the general fund, the government has been funding their liability to the previous generation with the contributions from the current worker generation. If that is not the definition of 'Ponzi scheme,' I don't know what is."
"Everyone who pays into Social Security eventually, unless they die, collects from Social Security. Everyone who pays into a Ponzi scheme, not so much. Also, paying taxes in a representational democracy to fund programs we may not agree with is not stealing. If that were the case then a significant portion of military spending is also stealing, as well as anything else the government funds. Kinda sounds silly when you think about it. It may be onerous, it may not make you happy, but it is what it is and we can vote to change what we don't like. Just curious, but is this 'stealing' thing a Glenn Beck talking point?"
"Saying Social Security is 'unsustainable' because the trust fund shrinks a little is like saying buying a home, a car, or clothing is 'unsustainable' because it shrinks your bank account. We pay for what's worthwhile, and keeping older people alive IS worthwhile, in my opinion and theirs. They vote, so if you're planning to scrap their retirements, Katie bar the door! The party that does it will never be heard from again."
Arianna Huffington on This Week
We rated Arianna Huffington's statement,made on ABC News' This Week, that Halliburton defrauded American taxpayers of "hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraq." We rated her statement Half True, because it was a subsidiary of Halliburton the company no longer owns; the hundreds of millions were alleged to be waste, not fraud; and the government continues to use the subsidiary as a critical government supplier.
Huffington herself blasted us on The Huffington Post. Some readers weren't too happy either.
"Billing for inappropriate and or undelivered sevices and accepting payment for the same, that had to be paid back to the Army, is 'fraud' in the ordinary understanding of fraud by most Americans. The overly technical legal definition that you are apparently using to excuse Halliburton is way too picky for the general English statement that Arianna made. If it weren't for vigilant watch dogs in Defense Contract Audit Agency then the taxpayers would have been bilked by Halliburton! I think your rating as Half True is wrong. Arianna's statement is true in the ordinary and intended meaning."
Others said Huffington was clearly wrong:
"You mention only one overt fraud claim, that being the lawsuit (lawsuits are allegations, not evidence of anything). You mention multiple questions being raised; that's not news either, nor evidence of anything at this stage. How can the Huffington statement be even 1% true, much less half? At best it's a reckless disregard of the known facts. Anyone can allege anything, but it appears you accept as Half True a claim that has yet to be proved. I don't think you followed where your own investigation led."
Snooki on the Truth-O-Meter
From time to time, we like to take a break from heavy public policy and review what pop culture figures say about heavy public policy. But not everybody likes our efforts to look at the lighter side. That was the case when we checked reality TV star Snooki, who said that Obama "put a 10 percent tax on tanning"; we rated that True.
"You're putting Snooki, a 'reality' show piece of window dressing, on your Truth-O-Meter? Sad... very sad."
"Boy, that puts new luster on the ol' Pulitzer, huh. Doesn't anybody want to be serious anymore? Yeah, I know there are several new taxes taking effect, but this is just pandering to those with room temperature IQs. By the way, Michael Jackson's dead, according to Washington Post. Better check it out."
"In the Truth-O-Meter post about the 10% tax on tanning, you said: 'Yes, it scares us too that Obama and McCain are so familiar with Jersey Shore.' It scares me you're so naive to believe Obama writes his own jokes, and McCain posts his own tweets."
'Glenn Beck rules, PolitiFact drools'
We collected several of our fact-checks on television pundit Glenn Beck into a report card of Truth-O-Meter rulings on the talk show host. We checked his statement, "The government is trying to now close the Lincoln Memorial for any kind of large gatherings" and rated it Pants on Fire. We heard from his fans and his critics.
"Ha ha, what is the matter, cat got your tongue!?!?! Where's your report on the 'Restore Honor' rally? Looks like you didn't find anything wrong with GLENN BECK. Glenn Beck rules, PolitiFact drools."
"Why is there only one page of Glenn Beck statements subjected to analysis of validity? You could fill at least a page per day with his daily half-truths, falsehoods, and 'pants-on-fire' statements. Isn't this the kind of scrutiny he needs? Don't Americans, if we are to fulfill our duties as citizens, need more examined than this iota of a letter of a line in a volume shelved in the infernal Alexandrian library of propaganda that Mr. Beck produces?"
The Obama-as-Muslim myth
Readers criticized us for analyzing why some people still believe Obama is a Muslim when he's actually a Christian. They said we were wasting our time or launching a public relations initiative.
"While I certainly don't endorse those who believe that the President is Muslim, PolitiFact had so far been a tool to keep the powerful in line, not reprimand the misguided. The information you included in your article on President Obama's faith was widely available, so the article came across more as a hubris civics lesson than a community watchdog. I expect others felt the same way, and hope you continue closer to your mission in the future."
"Why are you trying to convince the American people that he's a Christian, are you working for the Obama re-election campaign as their PR person? Because that's what it sounds like. The man is a liar and a socialist and the American people are realizing the truth about this man who somehow without credentials and positive proof of his citizenship has become our President. He supports building a mosque at ground zero, a total slap in the face to the American people as he well knows that the Muslims always build mosques on the grounds that they have conquered."
A few words of praise
"Just wanted to say thanks for the job you do. I reference your site more and more frequently, and appreciate the effort all of you put into it. It's nice to have a voice of reason, sanity and truth in this weird Fox opinion channel propagated world. Journalism used to be about truth, you guys are helping to make that happen again."
"I'm writing to let you know that your site has singlehandedly shattered my hitherto unchallenged belief that American politics is nothing but an unintelligible shrieking match. Seeing pundits and politicians from both sides of the spectrum held accountable for the things they say is very satisfying."
"If I could marry a website, I would be Mrs. Politifact.com."
"I really appreciate all the hard work you're doing. There is an amazing amount of disinformation in modern political discourse, and I regularly send people to you and Annenberg's FactCheck.org when discussing politics. You are doing the job that the founders of our country had in mind when protecting the Fourth Estate with the First Amendment, and I consider you among our best modern patriots."