Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Mailbag: Bipartisan bouquets and brickbats

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.

We get e-mail from readers daily, some singing our praises and others taking us to task. Here's the latest installment of excerpts from reader letters.

Cheney and "an isolated extremist"


Readers were split on a ruling about former Vice President Dick Cheney, who said that when President Barack Obama heard about the Christmas Day bombing attempt, Obama said that "this was the act of an isolated extremist." We rated his statement Half True.

"I find your Half True evaluation extremely generous to Cheney. Your story and summary clearly shows that Obama had no intent of alleging an 'isolated extremist.' I would award Cheney 'technically true,' implying a deliberate misapprehension of the facts or a 5% true, giving Cheney credit for his alacrity in finding another way to bash Obama."

"By blindly accepting Cheney's definition, you are accepting his bias. Cheney chose to twist the meaning of Obama's word, and you simply accepted that twisted meaning."

"After having read your article on Cheney v. Obama regarding the Christmas Day bomber, I find that PolitiFact is now determining intent as opposed to facts. The fact is that Obama did say it. You nor anyone else knows what he 'meant' when he said it and I don't think you ought to report anything but the facts. It lessens your credibility."

Organizing for America and fact-checking


Another reader didn't like our ruling on a statement from Organizing for America, Obama's campaign organization. The group said that "we just can't count on the media to debunk" lies about health insurance reform. Given the many fact checks conducted by various media outlets, we rated this statement Pants on Fire. A reader wrote to say that Organizing for America was on the right track, and we were off base.

"Your attempt to debunk lies can barely be heard over the lies. The lies are repeated in emails, by commentators on radio and TV. They are repeated on Facebook and on LinkedIn. I do not see your debunking repeated anywhere unless I do it on Facebook or LinkedIn. So if you wish to be an effective debunker, you need to get the word out. Who in the media can help promulgate your findings? I've done my part. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asking them and other local media outlets to republish your results with a unique entertaining twist. Unfortunately, it was not printed. Please keep up the good work and please increase your efforts to get the word out."

Supreme Court ruling on corporations

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. Readers didn't like that.

"Sometimes you struggle with the small things and seem to forget the big things. Opening the floodgates to special interests IS the big thing – foreign owned US corporations (like CITGO) is the small thing. The small thing is a matter of opinion as to whether it is legal or not, however granting corporations freedom (as citizens) to spend without constraint will distort my ability to speak (and finance) issues of voter concern. Obama deserves a Mostly True."

"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.'"

Glenn Beck

The Fox talk show host Glenn Beck gets strong reactions from readers, both positive and negative. We recently examined his statement, "Thomas Jefferson created the Marines for the Islamic pirates that were happening." We rated that Half True.

"While the Barbary Coast pirates certainly were Muslims, their motivation was financial, not religious. Beck is -- now here's a shock -- promulgating religious bigotry, and you do your readers, I think, a disservice in not pointing out that while what he says is literally true, the very clear inference he's making is a lie."

"Now, I love seeing Glenn Beck's false statements exposed, but I notice that there are zero True and zero Mostly True statements in his file. Obviously he (occasionally) says true things. But when you don't include these statements on your site, it creates the impression that you've loaded the facts - much in the way that statistics are often used to mislead - and it appears that you've chosen only to present the facts that fit your opinions. ... Other than this flaw, your site's methodology and execution make it as rare as it is admirable."

"The picture you paint is biased because I know for a fact that Mr. Beck says a lot of things that are true. Politically explosive, but true. If I were to look only at this website's portrayal of him, I would conclude that he is a pathological liar. That is not true, and I think you know it."

David Axelrod on tax cuts

One of Obama's advisers, David Axelrod, said, "We passed without, frankly, the help of the Republican caucus, we passed 25 tax cuts last year, mostly aimed at the middle class and small businesses." We rated that True. A reader said we were not sufficiently sensitive to the difference between tax credits and tax cuts.

"A tax cut is not the same thing as a tax credit. If you review your list, a majority of those items in the Axelrod piece, they are tax credits, not tax cuts. Simply put, a tax cut is a reduction in your tax liability, and thus you pay less money to the government in the form of taxes. While a tax credit does ultimately reduce the amount of taxes you pay by giving you 'credit' for the amount owe, it's not a straight tax cut. It's generally connected to very specific conditions, and are often used as a way to encourage specific behavior. ... It's a bit misleading to characterize tax credits as tax cuts. Had David Axelrod said he passed X amount of tax credits and Y amount of tax cuts, then his statement would be true."

Jon Stewart's debut on the Truth-O-Meter

A reader applauded our first rating of a statement from comedian Jon Stewart. He said that one-third of the economic stimulus package was tax cuts, and we rated that Mostly True.

"I can definitely understand why you would hardly ever fact check Jon Stewart (it’s a comedy show, he’s not a pundit), but considering that a lot of people get their news from him and really take him seriously, I think people would love to see how he stacks up against the truth. I loved reading your check about his claim that the stimulus bill is one-third tax cuts. Just like conservatives tend to trust Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, liberals tend to be less skeptical of Stewart. As a comedian, he seems to be more down to earth and less likely to blatantly lie, but I’d be interested to see if that's really the case."

Complaints about the liberal media

There are the e-mailers who criticize us generally for perceived liberal bias. (For the record, we are an independent, nonpartisan journalism organization.)

"I don't think I can trust your Web site. While some of what you say may be technically true, you seem to have a bias in that your Pants on Fire classification includes several times as many Republicans as Democrats. Further, your comments on the Pants on Fire designations are much more harsh on Republicans than on Democrats. You may claim that is because more Republicans lie than Democrats, but, after over 50 years of following politics, I do not believe that and I think you know it."

"How about I send you two misstatements from liberal Democrats on a daily basis? I can probably have this before my second cup of coffee, but I seriously doubt you would publish them. I'm sure you want to keep your gig up as long as possible, and I wish you nothing but the best. A word of advice, though. Look at how Fox News blows the competition away, all of the other networks, they crush them. There's a reason for that. Fox tells both sides of the story fairly and honestly and lets the people decide. They don't try to twist facts and persuade the audience. CNN, ABC and especially MSNBC continually tweak the truth and spin the wheels of assumption and people get tired of it."

"Your analysis of this administration under the guise of being unbiased is clearly not working! We see through your bull---- and look forward to sanity returning in November. No matter what you do to stave off the upcoming onslaught with your ridiculous assertions, it's gonna happen, baby!"

Praise

We also get some nice e-mails thanking us for our fact-checking efforts, as well as our tracking of President Obama's campaign promises on the Obameter.

"Just wanted to say that the Obameter is one of the greatest things I have ever seen on the Internet. I hope that you will provide the same service for future administrations even if their names don't lend themselves as handily as Obama's does to the title."

"Keep up the great work. I love the site, and recommend it to anyone who will listen."

"I would like to applaud you guys for the work that you do. I like to have a non-biased group fact checking the national media and politicians; I think it is a good thing for America. Your site is easy to use and read that even the most illiterate person can find what they are looking for."

A new movement?

Finally, we got a kick out of this letter suggesting we all join together in bipartisanship.

"I am totally and completely sick of the bickering in Congress and convinced that at least 95 percent of the country is as well. I just want to see some hard evidence that the politicians understand the importance of working together. I've been married 51 years and have raised 3 children who still love me. If I had insisted that everything had to go MY way ALL the time my husband would be gone and my children would not be talking to me. If flexibility, a listening ear and a middle of the road approach builds strong families, why can't we expect the same from our government? I'm ready to contact everyone I know, have them contact everyone they know and so on until we amass a million voices demanding a bipartisan approach to this country's problems. And, I believe PolitiFact must play a major role in this revolution by monitoring which of our Representatives and Senators are really trying to find common ground and which ones are just posturing so they can get re-elected. I think the only way they will ever get the message is for the American public to hold their feet to the fire!! Let's get started. There is NO time to waste. I want to hear back from you."