Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Mailbag: Post-election edition

Readers weigh in on some of our recent Truth-O-Meter rulings.
Readers weigh in on some of our recent Truth-O-Meter rulings.

Now that Election Day has come and gone, we’re catching up on some of our recent mail from readers.

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One of our most widely noted fact-checks from the presidential campaign -- our Pants on Fire for Mitt Romney’s claim that President Barack Obama had gone on a world tour "aplogizing for America" -- drew criticism from one reader.

"While I am a conservative, I am not unrealistic in my expectations or blinded by ideology. In the item on the Obama ‘apology tour,’ you focus on the fact that Obama never said, ‘Sorry.’ But Obama made an unprecedented trip wherein he spoke of the many mistakes of American arrogance, overbearing and ethnocentrism. He didn't specifically apologize, but the subtext was apologetic. The whole point of the tour was to say, ‘We haven't been considerate enough of your feelings. We have made a lot of mistakes -- please put that behind you, and like us.’ Without that subtext, the speech isn't worth giving. ‘Pants on fire’ seems extreme and inaccurate. If Obama made a tour to tout American greatness and apologized for being late to a dinner, and then opponents took that out of context and called it ‘an apology tour,’ that would be Pants on Fire. But that doesn’t seem to fit for a tour that expressed apologetic sentiments in an unprecedented (and embarrassing) manner."

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One reader had a technical complaint with one of our items from the third presidential debate. We gave a Mostly True to Romney’s claim that "Pakistan has 100 nuclear warheads and they’re rushing to build a lot more. They’ll have more than Great Britain sometime in the relatively near future."

"Even if Pakistan had thousands of nuclear warheads, they currently cannot hope to get those warheads out of their own region via the delivery systems they currently have. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has delivery systems that can put their warheads within meters of basically anyone on the planet. It is the job of a fact-checking organization to make sure its readers are as well-informed as possible, which is why I think nuclear delivery systems deserved some mention in the fact check. Without a delivery system, a nuclear warhead is basically a bullet without a gun."

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One reader thought we were unduly harsh in our Half True rating of an Obama claim that "there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care; they rely on it for mammograms."

"Planned Parenthood has staff that specializes in evaluating patient needs for mammograms. This is no different than my doctor ordering tests for myself that she does not provide at her office. That she doesn't administer the test directly doesn't mean she doesn't provide a service related to the test. Evaluating the need to get a test that may cause more harm than good in the cases of false positives is a crucial step that your coverage diminishes."

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A reader took issue with our Half True rating for Obama's claim that Romney’s plan makes "catastrophic cuts to education."

"You never seem to address the word ‘catastrophic.’ You make a passable case that there would be cuts to education, unless you assume that moving spending to the state level might actually result in more efficiency. But what about ‘catastrophic’? Federal spending is less than 13 percent of all education spending. So are you saying that any cut to that 13 percent is a halfway catastrophe? You short sheeted Romney by calling an unknown percentage cut a ‘half true’ catastrophe."

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A few readers were nonplussed by our rating of a tweet by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore that said that during George W. Bush’s administration, "we were losing millions of jobs per month," while under Barack Obama we have "three years of gaining hundreds of thousands of jobs per month." As written, the tweet rated a False, but we noted in our analysis that Moore tweeted a correction after we began working on the story but before we published our piece.

"Speaking in generalities, a person or campaign does one of three things after receiving a poor rating from you. They either double down and repeat the falsehood, remain silent but do not repeat the falsehood, or issue a correction. It strikes me that instances of the last option are few and far between. I think it would be useful to acknowledge this somehow. In Moore’s case, perhaps you could have issued two rulings: the False for his initial tweet and then a True for his corrected tweet. That would at least provide a small incentive for people to tell the truth, even after having told a lie in the first place."

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Several readers raised questions about our Obameter ratings, which track progress, or lack thereof, on promises made by Obama during the 2008 campaign. This one addresses the Compromise rating we gave an Obama pledge to appoint a chief financial officer to oversee the rebuilding following national disasters.

"Upon reading your article, I do not understand how this one is rated ‘compromise.’ Has he appointed a chief financial officer? Waste and abuse may be reviewed and minimized by a host of other offices and positions. But that was not the promise."

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One reader quibbled more generally with our use of the term "Compromise."

"Compromise suggests that the president worked with the other party on a project, yet many of the promises rated Compromise have nothing to do with a partisan agreement. Many are partially successful promises, but ones that have not been fully completed. By labeling that a ‘compromise,’ it leads the public to believe that there has been a partisan agreement to achieve the goal. I suggest adding a column for ‘Half-Success’ or ‘Almost’ or anything along those lines."

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Finally, a few readers offered words of praise for our work.

"I just wanted to thank you and your staff for the work and effort you put into this essential process of American politics. We can hardly turn on the television this time every four years without hearing criticisms of each candidate, sometimes true and others not so much. It often becomes exhausting even to me, someone who has a profound interest in our democratic process and who’s trying to get down to the essential facts of the elections with as little bias as possible. I appreciate the time you guys spend trying to sort through countless numbers of claims by politicians in an effort to help the public have a clearer view of what they need to look for in each candidate. Keep up the good work!"

And:

"I'm a fan. Whenever I need a beacon of truth, it seems you and your staff have the tool for me. What you do is invaluable to the democratic process in this country, and I believe with enough publicity, sites like yours could at least set us on a path back to a time when a politician caught flubbing the facts (aka lying) would be run out of office (or at least mildly scolded)."