Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Mailbag: 'A farcical and quixotic quest for some holy grail of honesty'

We've got mail!
We've got mail!

Not surprisingly, health care has dominated our reader comments over the past few weeks. Here are some of the messages we’ve received from readers via email or social media over the past few weeks, edited for length and style.

***

One reader took issue with our Mostly True rating of a statement by Mitt Romney that the Supreme Court said the individual mandate "is a tax. So it's a tax."

"You justify this conclusion by stating, ‘PolitiFact focuses on political speech, rather than legal speech, and judged by that standard Romney is pretty close to accurate.’ I disagree. The political speech in question is deliberately distorting what the ruling says. The legal speech is the basis for the political speech. As you note in your article, the court ruled the penalty did not qualify as a tax under the Anti-Injunction Act, but the court upheld the mandate on the basis of Congress' taxing authority.

"But your article misses a key point: What is the purpose of a tax? To raise money. By that standard, this is the lamest tax in history. You don't have to pay it if you have health coverage in the form of insurance, Medicare or Medicaid and the law provides incentives to buy coverage. Mitt Romney and the Republicans’ oversimplification of the matter might pass muster on cable news, but when you put it to the common sense test, it doesn't make a lick of sense. Anyway, you all do a great job and this is one of my few disagreements with your coverage."

***

A number of our readers took issue with our True rating for Sarah Palin’s comment on Twitter that President Barack Obama "said (the individual mandate) wasn't a tax."

"The rating is such a cop out. Not that your analysis isn’t correct – it is -- but rather the fact that you gave it the time of day to even fact check it. By applying your good reputation to this tweet and giving it your highest rating, you’re basically legitimizing short, information-less jabs."

***

Several readers criticized our ruling on Obama’s claim that "if you're one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance." We rated that claim Half True, noting that even before the law takes effect, the rate of forced plan-switching among policyholders every year is substantial, and independent projections suggest that the law could increase that rate.

"I'm a big fan, but I did have a concern about the Half True rating. I feel like it’s a little harsh. My understanding of his statement is that, under the new healthcare law, no one will be coerced or forced to drop their current healthcare from employer healthcare, Medicare, etc., and if they choose to remain on their employer's plan, it's fine. The criticism in your ruling doesn't seem to pertain to that. There may be other reasons why a person has to change their health care coverage, but the new health care law isn't one of them. I don't really see how Obama is misleading people with his statement."

***

"Now come on. You’re reading too much into a statement that he neither made nor, per any measure of honesty or responsibility other than your own, required any such assumptions or calculations. You are assuming that the average American person is too dumb to understand that President Obama was not considering the impact of the preexisting vagaries and variances of health insurance that have always been present when dealing with the current insurance market in America.  You are, in fact, assuming that the average American person is so dumb that President Obama should have mentioned this obvious fact so that they would not be misled or deceived on this matter. That’s insulting.

"You are now in the realm of a farcical and quixotic quest for some holy grail of honesty that nobody will ever be able to achieve (at least without abundant disclaimers, footnotes, and caveats) in a standard, one-sentence statement."

***

"Come on, Obama said, ‘No one’ will lose their present plan.’ It's a downright, misleading lie if one person loses their plan, and certainly Pants on Fire if 4 million to 8 million lose their plan."

***

A reader had a more general comment about a factor we had not addressed in our recent coverage of the Supreme Court’s health care decision.

"I suggest you take a harder look at how many employers will drop their coverage and pay the penalty for doing so. You don’t discuss this thoroughly or at all when examining statements on both sides about the impact Obamacare will have on number of employees insured by their employers. I have discussed this issue with many colleagues at other law firms who practice in the employment field as I do, and there is a ground swell of employers who are doing the math and will be willing to pull the trigger if the penalty is lower than their average cost per employee. They don’t see a competitive disadvantage as they believe any right-thinking employer will act similarly. I think you are underestimating this when doing your ratings on this issue."

***

Readers also contacted us to sound off about a wide variety of other topics. One reader took issue with the Promise Kept we gave Obama for his pledge to "throw his weight around" to lobby for a college football playoff system.

"I appreciate an unbiased analysis of politicians. However, President Obama had absolutely nothing to do with a new playoff format in college football. This past season -- when the third-best team in the SEC won the national championship after losing to that team earlier in the year -- was the catalyst for the change. To attribute this to the president gives your site the impression of carrying water on his behalf."

***

One reader criticized our choice of terminology in a fact-check about a Facebook post titled, "10 Illegal Alien Facts."

"I praise your efforts to show how ridiculous the Facebook claims are. However, your use of ‘illegal immigrant’ is only slightly better than ‘illegal alien.’ Was your intent to avoid alienating conservative readers?" (Editor’s note: The term "illegal immigrant" is standard style from the Associated Press.)

***

One reader questioned our decision to rate the comment by the 60 Plus Association that Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was "the deciding vote for the health care law." We rated that Mostly False.

"You say, ‘The ads reflect the gamesmanship and exaggeration that occurs every election year as groups and political candidates attack incumbents for their votes.’ This is true, of course. But when it comes to smarmy, underhanded political attack ads, I'll take one that holds congresspeople to their actual voting records any day.  I'd say the Truth-O-Meter has bigger fish to fry."

***

Several readers took issue with our rating of Michelle Obama’s claim that "only 2 percent of public high schools in the country offer PE classes." We rated that False, since federal data show that while 2 percent of public high schools offer PE classes on a daily basis, 95 percent offered PE on a less-than-daily basis.

"Your findings are incomplete and misleading. Most high schools I know require a PE course to be completed like a basic civics course -- never to be revisited. You seem to purposely misconstrue Mrs. Obama's point. The high schools do not require any regular exercise. A PE course taken as a freshman or sophomore isn't going to help the overweight junior or senior."

***

One reader said we erred in a fact check of an Obama campaign ad that charged that after they bought GST Steel, "Mitt Romney and his partners loaded it with debt, closed the Kansas City plant and walked away with a healthy profit, leaving hundreds of employees out of work with their pensions in jeopardy." We rated that Mostly True.

"In my opinion, you missed on this one. The president didn't just say profit -- he said ‘healthy profit.’  Doubling your money in nine years is not a healthy profit for a private-equity group. This is barely above what you would have done in U.S. Treasuries."

***

A reader offered the following point about our check of Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod’s claim that when Romney was governor, Massachusetts ranked "47th in job creation" nationally. We rated that Half True.

"You miss the most important fact of all. During that period, Massachusetts experienced what I suspect most would call ‘full employment.’ How important is job growth in a period of ‘full employment,’ regardless of whether the state ranks 30th or 47th?"

***

And a reader urged us to put a greater emphasis on using inflation-adjusted figures where appropriate. The reader specifically noted a Mostly True rating of Vice President Joe Biden’s claim that "nationwide tuition at public universities is up almost 300 percent ... in the last 20 years."

"Your rulings should be a lot harsher against money figures not reported in inflation-adjusted values.  When a politician states non-inflation adjusted values, they often massively distort the truth. Biden’s percentage increase in college tuition was 164 percent off due to inflation. This is absolutely misleading, and politicians must be held accountable."

***

A number of readers offered praise for our work.

"You guys rock. Keep doing what you're doing. That is all."

"Thanks for (being) the one source I can trust. There are so many lies from all political organizations, it’s hard to keep up with what's true and what's not. Keep up the good work."

"The way both sides are going after PolitiFact lately, you can tell they are doing a good job. Carry on, and thank goodness there are still some real journalists out there doing the job we need a free press to do."