Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Mailbag: We 'blew it' . . . or we're an 'island of sanity'

Some criticism, with a little praise, in the latest mailbag.
Some criticism, with a little praise, in the latest mailbag.

For Independence Day, we thought we'd provide some good beach reading --  our latest installment of the PolitiFact Mailbag.

Since we've addressed it before, we'll skip commentary from the past month on our False ruling for Jon Stewart, which inspired approximately 500 e-mails and countless Facebook posts and tweets. There's plenty more on other subjects.

Several readers took issue with rulings we made of statements by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

On one -- our False rating on Romney’s claim that "this is the slowest job recovery since Hoover" -- a reader acknowledged being "unimpressed by the analysis," which began counting jobs created once the recession ended and the recovery was under way.

"Looking at jobs created since the recovery started, without looking at how many were lost during the recession, is rather counter-intuitive," the reader wrote. "Surely the plain English meaning of a slow recovery would be how long it takes to get back the jobs you lost. Not that I’m a Romney fan, and I am a fan of your site, but in this case your analysis seems more misleading than the original statement does. No offense intended."

Another Romney statement that drew attention was that the United States is "only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy." We rated that Pants on Fire.

"Seriously, can you locate ‘free market economy’ on a map?" one reader wrote. "If not, how can you be certain that we're not inches away from leaving it? Romney's statement was ridiculous, but your attempts to quantify it are absurd."

Another statement that attracted reader critiques was the line in Romney’s presidential announcement speech that "a few months into office, (President Barack Obama) traveled around the globe to apologize for America." We ruled that Pants on Fire.

A reader wrote, "I read the expert evaluations you provided, and I think they do not support your pants on fire evaluation. They all say something to the effect that Obama used conciliatory language, but it was not an apology because he did not use the word ‘sorry,’ or he was using the language to try to bring two sides together or he was trying to put political blame on Bush. These all may be true but the fact remains, according to your experts, he did use conciliatory (apologetic) language. ... Certainly not worth a pants on fire rating.

The reader added, "If the above offended you, I regret that -- it was not my intention and I won’t do it again. Oops, was that an apology? No, couldn’t be -- I did not use the word ‘sorry,’ and all I was doing was trying to make sure we had good relations going forward."

A third reader took exception on different grounds: "This is not a fact issue. This is an opinion issue. Most conservatives would think Obama is apologizing while most liberals would not. If I said I felt bad about the wrong things I did, most people would recognize I am showing some remorse even though I never say, ‘Sorry.’ This is a very subjective issue, and it’s not something anyone can fact check without any pre-conceived bias themselves, including you."

One reader took us to task for our Mostly True rating of a comment by Austan Goolsbee -- Obama’s top economic adviser -- that "over the last 15 months, we've added more than 2 million jobs in the private sector. That's far in excess of what it was in the comparable period after the last recession."

"I couldn't help but contrast your score for that statement with the one for the statement by Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express," the reader said, referring to Kremer’s statement that "we bring in enough tax revenue to service our debt, pay for Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, and then still have about $300 (billion) or $400 billion left over." We ruled that statement Half True.

"Both statements are couched in ways that are literally true but have contextual issues," the reader wrote. "It is questionable for Kremer to limit herself to just the four named programs, and it is questionable for Goolsbee to have picked the 2001 recession for comparison. … I actually think you got the ratings backwards. Kremer should have gotten a Mostly True. Her statement was literally true and while it had the impact of being cherry picked, it's not obvious that she did so deliberately. By contrast, Goolsbee's statement was deliberately misleading both in picking the recovery from the 2001 recession as its baseline and in picking a selective period from the current recovery. Either choice should have dropped the statement to Mostly True on its own. Both together should give it a Half True."

Several readers charged that we were too soft in giving former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin a Barely True -- rather than a False or Pants on Fire -- for her comment that "Part of (Paul Revere’s) ride was to warn the British that were already there that, 'Hey, you're not going to succeed.' "

One reader wrote, "Going to your definition of Barely True, the ‘element of truth’ you were referring to was that he ‘warned the British.’ But he did not, in fact or in deed, warn the British. He bluffed the British, since his intention was to gain his freedom, not to give them notice of danger. The statement should be correctly be rated False.

Another reader, tongue half-way in cheek, offered a justification to rate Palin’s comment True.

"Technically, she was right since there was no America yet. All of the citizens in the area were still considered British subjects, and any warning given by Revere would certainly have been heard by British subjects that were still loyal to the King, as well as those that wanted their freedom from the crown," the reader wrote.

We also received a number of comments suggesting that we were too lenient on Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann when she said, "The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has said that Obamacare will kill 800,000 jobs." We rated that statement Barely True.

"Hey guys, you blew it," wrote one reader. "The CBO did not say that 800,000 jobs will disappear -- it said that 800,000 workers might disappear. The jobs that they occupied like would still exist to be filled by other workforce participants. This would reduce the unemployment rate slightly, make the workers seeking the vacated jobs better off and presumably make the disappearing workers better off, since leaving would be their choice."

Several readers disagreed with our Half True rating for Obama adviser David Axelrod’s statement that when Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in job creation.

"Your argument is that while the claim is true, perhaps Romney is not responsible," one reader wrote. "Unfortunately, this doesn't matter. Your job is to evaluate a claim, not its impact. While the impact makes for good analysis (and is important to note), it should not be a part of the Truth-O-Meter ruling." The reader added that "the worst part is that this signals a drastic change (and inconsistency) in your rulings."

The reader cited other claims rated True or Mostly True -- by Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, then-Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow  --- that do not adhere to the same split-ruling format.

(PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair responds: You're right that we have not always been consistent on our ratings for these types of claims. We've developed a new principle that is reflected in the Axelrod ruling and should be our policy from now on. The principle is that statistical claims that include blame or credit like this one will be treated as compound statements, so our rating will reflect 1) the relative accuracy of the numbers and 2) whether the person is truly responsible for the statistic.)

One reader took issue with our Barely True rating for Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. We gave Pawlenty a Barely True for his claim that Obama promised he would cut the deficit in half but instead will at least double it.

"Have I suddenly been transported into the Bizarro world?" the reader wrote. "Oh, that's because in his statement, he correctly repeated what Obama's pledge was. Well whooptie-doo for him! So, if I say, ‘The sun rises in the East, and Republicans want to eat all of your children,’ I'll get a Barely True as well, because some of my statement was accurate?"

Several readers disagreed with our Barely True rating for a statement by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., that "we do not want to raise anybody's tax rates. That's never been on the table."

The readers argued that we unfairly labeled as a tax increase the position -- held by many Democrats, including the president -- that the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire at the end of 2012. That would result in the top tax bracket rising to the rates that prevailed under President Bill Clinton.

"The Democrats are not calling for any tax increase," a reader wrote. "What they are doing is calling for an end to a temporary reduction in taxes. Under the law, the tax rate without any legislation to change it will result in taxes being returned to the pre-Bush levels. … This could be compared to letting a coupon expire. You could also compare it to the sale of the product at the store where you normally shop -- the price is set, and a discount is created for a specified period, then the price returns."

Finally, as we always do, we close with a few words of reader praise.

"As one with an almost pathological need for accuracy, your website is one of my favorites -- an analgesic buttress against the fallacious and inciteful (that is not misspelled, the irony of the homonym is purposeful) spew that is offered from our politicians and many ‘news’ sources these days," wrote one reader.

Another wrote, "I love your site, although I wish it wasn't needed. It's an island of sanity in a sea of political insanity."

One called us "incisive, competent, uncompromising, and vital. You've got a new follower. Thank you for doing that thing you do."

Finally, our favorite -- from a tweet -- was this one: "@politifact is bad ass."