Mailbag: Pandering to "room-temperature IQs"
By Angie Drobnic Holan
Published on Friday, July 2nd, 2010 at 3:51 p.m.
Our readers regularly exercise their freedom of speech by telling us exactly what they think of our work. Here's the latest from our inbox, edited for length and style.
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, and we thought that may have confused some people. Readers didn't like that ruling. Here are the complaints from several of them:
• 'New drilling' is the only kind of 'drilling'. Extracting oil through already-drilled holes is not 'drilling."'
• "You should not rate someone's statement based on the lowest common denominator of the audience. A 'drilling' moratorium means a stop in drilling. Drilling is a much more risky operation than actual production. In the actual 'production of oil,' the oil is essentially just flowing up a pipe. During drilling, you are actually drilling, installing new pipe, new valves, moving equipment, circulating drilling mud, measuring transient changes in the reservoir, etc."
• "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 groused about the rating PolitiFact Florida gave to Florida Sen. George LeMieux's statement, that the White House has "refused" international help in dealing with the oil spill. We rated that Barely True because the U.S. has accepted some offers.
"The Barely True rating for the United States accepting aid for the spill is ridiculous. The White House has dragged its heels on this for weeks. The help they are getting could have been received weeks earlier. The ships being offered to pick up oil are weeks behind being accepted and even then, if you were actually interested in checking the truth you would realize that the President isn't interested in actually getting aid. If he were he would have issued an executive order rescinding the Jones Act and allowing those ships that are so good at sucking up oil to get here and do their job. But, since he doesn't like to waste a crisis, he's not doing anything to get the job done. So he can blather on about putting together yet another commission to investigate it. This is a farce and you should be intelligent enough to know that. 60+ days later he's still dragging his feet ... I rate the statement as MOSTLY true. You guys are so one sided and unable to present an objective view that I don't even know why you think you should exist."
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."
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."
(Our explanation: She made the comment during a keynote address before the Republican Party of Texas.)
A few others said the ruling underplayed Social Security's real problems.
"I would tend to agree that that exact statement is false as written. Social Security is not borrowing from the general treasury. However, I think that you cherry picked the statement. Bachmann's overall point seems to have been that Congress has been using Social Security payroll taxes to subsidize the general fund but now the general fund has to subsidize Social Security. That point is not as clear cut."
Arianna Huffington on This Week
Our ratings of Half True seldom please readers. That was the case with our rating of Half True for Arianna Huffington's statement, that Halliburton defrauded American taxpayers of "hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraq." She said it on ABC News' This Week, and was contradicted by Liz Cheney.
Some said Huffington was correct:
"Half-true for Arianna? and no condemnation of the bald-face liar Liz Cheney! You must be kidding! 'Defrauded' is too POLITE a word for the illegal activities of KBR in Iraq rather than being too harsh. The fact you have acquired this mountain of evidence of KBR's wrongdoing is itself a surprise given that the Bush administration had no incentive to prosecute a key cog of the war in Iraq. You are falling victim to the ills of pious fairness that afflicts the 'lamestream' media."
"You did a lot of rhetorical tap-dancing (as did Halliburton) to avoid the obvious conclusion that Halliburton/KBR 'attempted' to defraud US taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars through 'illicit, indefensible, unjustified or inflated' claims. Ms. Huffington's ONLY error (if any) was omission of 'attempted' in her statement. In my opinion history will ultimately judge -- despite the Department of Defense's accounting for billions resembling a drunken sailor's -- that Ms. Huffington was absolutely correct, and PolitiFact was, per your assessment of her statement, Half True."
"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."
We got one note of praise:
"With regards to the excellent article by Angie Drobnic Holan, I concur with her findings and the final 'grade' of Half True is right on. Based on the information referenced I feel that the analysis is solid and fair. On a related note, your website is first rate and a tremendous service to the public. Keep up the good work."
Our item was high and outside
Most of us here at PolitiFact are confirmed baseball fans, so we can't resist the occasional fact-check on American's pastime. A reader disliked our look at pundit George Will's statement on Don Larsen's 1956 perfect game; Will said on This Week that Larsen's final pitch was "a foot and half probably high and outside." We rated that Half True.
"Are you guys kidding? Ever hear the term 'hyperbole? I am quite sure George Will didn't mean a literal 18 inches outside the strike zone. There are 1,000 other 'misstatements' and out right lies being told by talking heads and politicians and THIS is what you go after? ... I am quite sure someone of Mr. Will's intellect doesn't need a hack like me to defend his remarks about the historically questionable judgement and accuracy of baseball umpires. But thank goodness you guys fact checked that one. I was going to go through life thinking there was not only an umpire that blew a call, but that the pitch in question was literally 18 inches out the accepted strike zone. If you need suggestions or tips on misstatements that matter, drop me a line. Hint: this (a pitch outside the strike zone) ain't one of 'em."
Another reader asked us to expand our Sunday checks and lamented a perceived decline in news interviews.
"OK, Since you are doing ABC every Sunday, Why not hit the rest of the Sundays news programs also? ... I am old enough to remember back when hard questions were asked and kept being asked until they were answered. Now, it seems as though the questions and the answers have nothing to do with each other. The question is asked, the answer depends on what talking point is to be brought out. Over and over the same answer is given, no matter what the question. Somebody needs to hold all the politicians feet to the fire. Not just the Republicians, although their flights of fancy stray further from objective truth, but Democrats also."
Snooki on the Truth-O-Meter
From time to time, we like to take a break from heavy public policy and bare-knuckled politics and report fact-checks on popular culture. Not everybody likes our efforts to look at the lighter side. Reality TV star Snooki 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."
A few notes of praise
We end as always with a few notes of praise, though some of our readers are clearly feeling a little pessimistic these days.
"It seems that you represent an honest political evaluating service attempting to be unbiased. I applaud you for that and recognize that compared to FOX, you are trying."
"After reading PolitiFact, I am left with nothing but dismay when it comes to being able to trust or believe anything I am told by anyone in authority. So, is the problem that they are liars, misinformed or both? Or is it as simple as the the motto of the TV character Dr. House, everybody lies. Keep up the good work and be sure to turn out the lights once they have finished ruining the country."
"Whoever came up with the idea for PolitiFact needs a raise. It is probably the single most useful tool that I've found that I've found to sort the truth from fiction in the political arena. Keep up the great work!"
Researchers: Angie Drobnic Holan
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