Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Mailbag: You are 'sometimes difficult to defend'

Our readers tell us what they think of our recent reports.
Our readers tell us what they think of our recent reports.

Politics is often a game of numbers, so it's no surprise that many of our ratings lately have focused on statistical claims by President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Likewise, we've gotten lots of feedback about those ratings.

Here is a sampling of recent letters on those claims, plus a few other topics our readers wanted to vent about.

Tax cuts for millionaires -- On our check of Obama’s claim that Romney is proposing a "tax cut that gives an average of $250,000 to every millionaire in this country." We rated that True.

"Obama said Mitt Romney is proposing a ‘tax cut that gives an average of $250,000 to every millionaire in this country.’ You said it's True because, under either of two measures, ‘people with $1 million or more in annual cash income’ will get a break of at least $250,000. My quibble is that those people are not ‘millionaires.’ Well, I mean, they are, but a hell of a lot more people are also millionaires. ‘Millionaire’ is a term that defines wealth, not income. Someone with more than a million in annual cash income is very likely a multi-millionaire, with quite a bit more than a million stashed away in the bank. Conversely, I'd imagine there are a lot of ‘millionaires’ who don't even make $250,000 a year, and there's no way Romney's tax cut would give those millionaires an annual tax cut equivalent to one quarter of their net worth. I think Obama's math is right, but his terminology is wrong. I'd ding him down to Mostly True."

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A "normal recovery" -- On Romney’s claim that "we should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. (Creating 115,000 jobs, the total from April 2012) is way, way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery." We rated that Half True.

"In your rating of Romney's claim that the recovery should add 500,000 jobs a month, you correctly point out that only rarely has the economy produced that many jobs. However, you go on to compare the number of jobs created during the Obama years to other recoveries since 1970, saying that the average is 200,000 while Obama's record is 110,000. This would be valid if each recovery was from the same severity of economic problem. The economic meltdown that happened just before Obama took office was the worst crisis since the great depression. It was far worse than other recessions since 1970. It is a mistake to make such a comparison. I rate your response to Romney's statement Half True."

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Measuring pipelines -- On Obama’s claim that in the past three years, "we've added enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some." We rated that True.

"You rated President Barack Obama's statement as 100 percent True because under his term enough new oil pipeline has been added to circle the earth. While the facts may be true, his statement is not. You give him credit for saying that the ‘U.S.’ has added enough new pipeline to circle the globe, when in the speech you cite he says time and time again ‘we've opened,’ ‘we've quadrupled,’ ‘we've added.’ When the president says ‘we've,’ he is not referring to the U.S. -- he is implying his administration. He is trying to take credit for his administration the decisions made by individual states or from the prior administration to increase production. For you to take the stance that his statement is factual is a stretch at best. Further clarification should surely be made."

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Hispanic unemployment -- On a Romney claim that "the total unemployment rate for Hispanic or Latino workers has increased from 10% to 10.3%" between January 2009 and March 2012. We rated that claim Mostly False.

"In reviewing your recent finding titled, ‘Mitt Romney says Hispanic unemployment has risen under Barack Obama,’ it occurred to me, as it has several times before, that you guys really need another category for your Truth-O-Meter, or an alternate type of meter.

"In this finding, you are essentially saying that Gov. Romney’s comments were technically correct, but highly misleading. Therefore, it seems invalid to characterize his comments as Mostly False, as they were not, in fact, false. Instead, why don’t you create another metric for capturing this all-too-frequent category? Perhaps add the category ‘white lie’ to the Truth-O-Meter, or at least explicitly include ‘white lie’ under the rubric of "Half True." Or perhaps employ an entirely different depiction, as you’ve done with the Flip-O-Meter, for characterizing this unique type of deceptiveness."

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Family income -- On Obama’s claim, that "98 percent of American families" make "under $250,000 a year," which PolitiFact Florida rated True.

"This is a technicality, but your rulings often hinge on technicalities, so here goes. ‘Make’ is not synonymous with ‘adjusted gross income.’ People use the word "make" to mean the full amount of money they earn in salary, wages, and other monetary compensation before taxes are taken out. ‘Benefits’ are understood separately. Thus, hypothetically, ‘I make $100,000 a year plus free health insurance.’

"‘Adjusted gross income’ is the amount reported after deductions such as the standard deduction, mortgage interest, charitable contributions, etc. are subtracted. Thus, a person possibly could "make" $300,000 but report an adjusted gross income of less than $250,000.

"Obama clearly said that 98 percent of Americans "make" less than $250,000, so the test of the statement should hinge on the actual word he used, not a different term. My guess is that the result would be that the statement is still either true (with the revised figure still above 98 percent) or "Mostly True" (the figure is less than, but close to, 98 percent). But I would like to know for sure."

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Gas prices -- We received this in response to our story, "Who to blame for the price at the pump? Tough to say."

"I’ve enjoyed your analysis of the amount of increase in gasoline prices and whether Obama has responsibility. I’d like to suggest that there also should be some mention about the change in prices of natural gas. If someone wants to blame Obama for the doubling of the price of gasoline, they should also give him credit for cutting the price of natural gas in half. I don’t think he’s had much influence on either one, but I just think if the gasoline increase is mentioned then the natural gas decrease should also be discussed."

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Hillary Rosen -- We received this in response to our article, "In Context: Hilary Rosen saying Ann Romney 'never worked a day in her life.’"

"I'm not sure how your In Context item changed anything I've seen in the media regarding Hilary Rosen's statement. It was ignorant, insensitive, and perhaps a window into the self-absorbed soul of an out-of-touch person. Not much need for context there, folks. Idiotic statements are idiotic statements."

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Gun rack in a Chevy Volt -- On Newt Gingrich’s claim that "you can’t put a gun rack in a [Chevrolet] Volt," which we rated False. We recently named this as one of our top five Gingrich fact-checks.


"I rely on your website to be unbiased and fair. Too many of my conservative friends are critical of your articles and it is sometimes difficult to defend. Case in point, the article checking Newt Gingrich's claim that a gun rack could not fit in a Chevy Volt. I realize that both you and Newt were being a bit tongue-in-cheek. But by taking this claim seriously you lose credibility. This was a figure of speech. There are plenty of serious, outrageous claims to take Newt Gingrich to task on. Pick one of the genuine whoppers, and quit making a mockery of your responsibility to the public."

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Joe the Plumber and Obama's parents -- On Samuel (Joe the Plumber) Wurzelbacher’s claim that Obama’s parents were communists, which PolitiFact Ohio rated False.

"Joe the Plumber's Obama's-parents-were-communists claim should have gotten a Pants On Fire. It is not just a matter of, as you say, that there is "no evidence" that Obama's mother or father were communists. This is a claim totally manufactured from whole cloth. Any rating more generous than Pants on Fire helps play into the ignorant but culturally very prevalent notion that believing the nation's wealth should be more evenly distributed through the populace than it currently is -- that is, leaning to the political left -- is tantamount to sympathy for communism."

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General Motors -- On Vice President Joe Biden’s claim that "General Motors is the largest corporation in the world again." We rated that False.

"In your fact-check of Vice President Joe Biden's claim that General Motors is the largest corporation in the world, I believe your judgment was wrong. The article made substantial mockery of the absurdity of his claim, even opening with ‘It was no April Fool's joke.’ There appears to not be a shred of evidence supporting anything close to what VP Biden said, and yet it did not earn a Pants on Fire rating. To me it is obvious that his claim meets the criteria of "makes a ridiculous claim" needed for a Pants on Fire rating. I think I ought to note that I am a Democrat and an Obama supporter. However, I call a foul when I see one."

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A few general comments:

"It's so good to know that there are still real journalists out there. Thanks for all you do, guys."

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"i am way too in love with reading articles and checking out the truth-o-meter on @politifact. This is why i havent been getting my sleep."

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"I am mostly disgusted at the lies, distortion and dishonest that everyone seems to think is just the way the game is played in American politics. So, how about giving us all a week off? Just publish True and Mostly True statements and laud the speakers for telling the truth to the American voter. Maybe create a list, like Angies List -- these are the guys you can trust. I think that they would all want to be on the list.  The catch is that they would have to tell the truth to get there."