Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Mailbag: 'Count me disappointed'

The latest batch of mail brings both criticism and kudos for our Truth-O-Meter rulings.
The latest batch of mail brings both criticism and kudos for our Truth-O-Meter rulings.

It’s been a busy time since our last mailbag. Here is some of the feedback from readers.

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We got a blizzard of criticism about our Half-True ruling for Mitt Romney’s debate claim that President Obama waited two weeks to call the attack in Libya "terror."

"Your site often has bizarre Truth-O-Meter readings, but I don't think I've ever seen anything as strange as asking whether President Obama called the attack in Libya an ‘act of terror.’ You looked at the tape and the transcript and the circumstances and concluded that it is what he said -- and then rating it Half True because ... what? Because someone else said something else? If you want to rate a different question, such as whether everyone in the Obama Administration said it was an act of terror, do that. But don't ask whether a person made a statement, conclude he did, and then rate it a Half Truth."

But a few readers drew the opposite conclusion.

"To even suggest that Obama referred to the incident in Libya as an attack of  terror was wrong. The President made a statement in the Rose Garden that the U.S. would defend itself from any act of terror. This was a generalized statement. He never said the attack in Libya was a terrorist act. He even refused a direct question as to whether he thought the attack was an act of terror."

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Several readers questioned our analysis of Mitt Romney’s claim about the Navy being smaller now than it was almost a century ago -- a claim we gave a Pants on Fire to earlier this year and which attracted renewed attention when Barack Obama challenged it during the third presidential debate.

"I'd disagree with your assessment of a smaller Navy. It is not about capability, but rather force projection. We can do anything anywhere, but you can only spread the peanut butter so much before you don't taste it anymore. This is about the number of ships on the water, not about the composite capability of the smaller forces."

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Several readers took issue with our Mostly True ruling for Mitt Romney's claim that "the president said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel."

"You totally debunk your own argument by saying that the quote was allegedly stated in a press-free, tape-recorder-free and video-camera-free zone where there has yet to be produced any evidence alluding to the deliverance of this statement in any incarnation. In this very modern campaign, when both candidates have countless hours -- days even -- worth of video tape, campaign footage and sound bites, not to mention the amount of coverage Obama has faced in his last four years in office and then years prior in the 2008 campaign, you have not been able to provide any direct, substantive evidence that he has ever conveyed this position. It is absurdly reckless to offer this unconfirmed statement as Mostly True."

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A reader wrote to critique our Mostly True ruling for Mitt Romney’s claim that Obama has pension investments that include Chinese firms, and "investments through a Caymans trust."

"A future interest in a defined-benefit pension plan is not, strictly speaking, an investment, either as that term is used in common parlance or as that term is used in legal contexts. Obama didn't buy anything or negotiate for any particular disposition of the deferred portion of his compensation, and he does not stand to gain or lose anything by virtue of the state of Illinois' investment activities. The Illinois state pension fund -- and Romney -- are invested in China and the Caymans, but Obama, strictly speaking, is not."

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A reader wrote to discuss one facet of our Half True ruling on a statement by Planned Parenthood that Romney and Virginia Senate candidate George Allen "would overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to end safe, legal abortion even in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's life is at risk."

"This is of course correct, and as a law student I can't fault you for pointing out the separation of powers problem with this attack. However, you also addressed a statement by Romney in the second debate that President Obama hasn't offered an immigration bill as president, a statement you rated as True. Yet surely you know that presidents cannot introduce legislation -- only members of Congress can. It seems to me that if you're going to hold Planned Parenthood to such a formalistic, rigid conception of separation of powers, the same should apply to Mitt Romney."

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Many readers wrote to criticize our Pants on Fire rating for the Obama campaign’s claim that Romney plans to "fire" Big Bird.

"Your fact check acts as if the only way to get fired is to be canned from a full-time job and end up in the unemployment line. That's just wrong. I'm a freelance writer with a lot of regular clients. A few keep me on a monthly stipend. At any time, one of them could ‘fire’ me by ending our regular, long-standing relationship, just like Romney would fire Big Bird. It doesn't make any difference that I, like Big Bird, have other resources from other clients and wouldn't go bankrupt. I still get fired by a long-standing client."

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A few readers were critical of our Pants on Fire rating for a union group’s claim that Romney’s investments at Bain Capital created zero jobs.

"You completely ignored the fact that chain stores like Staples do not just create jobs -- they also put locally owned businesses out of business by using ‘loss leaders’ and pushing cheaper products made overseas, bought in huge quantities and sold at low margins with the intent of breaking Mom and Pop businesses."

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Several readers criticized our Pants on Fire for Obama’s claim that Romney "backed a bill that outlaws all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest."

"In the fact check, you say, ‘In 2007, Romney said on ABC’s Good Morning America, "You know, I do support the Republican platform, and I support that being part of the Republican platform and I’m pro-life." You also say in another fact check, which you rate True: ‘The GOP platform that seeks an abortion ban and is silent on an exception for rape "has been there for more than 30 years."’ So Romney has been quoted saying in 2007 that he supported the Republican platform at a time when the Republican platform was against rape and incest exceptions. The rating should be Mostly False because it leaves out significant details that give a misleading impression."

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A number of readers did not like our False rating for Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s claim at the GOP convention that Obama has "never even worked in business."

"Working ‘for’ a business is not the same as working "in" business. Writing a newsletter, doing research, being part of a law firm, or publishing a book is a far cry from the type of business experience one gets from being a business manager with profit-and-loss responsibility. Having the experience of being accountable for the bottom line of a business segment, division, or company is the issue at hand, not whether or not Obama worked in some non-results-accountable capacity that is in no way tied to issues so critical in today's economy. Your argument, while factually correct, totally misses the point."

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Several readers took issue with our Pants on Fire for a GOP convention claim by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., that the Obama administration "even proposed banning farm kids from doing basic chores."

"You justify your ruling by writing that ‘while the proposal was alive, federal officials did not propose banning children from doing basic chores on their parents’ farms. It's ridiculously false to suggest it applied to children of family farmers and even sillier to say it applied to chores.’ I've lived in farm country much of my life. Farmers help each other out, and sometimes kids from one farm work at another. The interpretation by the Labor Department would seem to place the legality of such activity in jeopardy. I believe you have stepped into opinion territory. Count me disappointed."

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One reader was irritated by our decision to rate a tweet by actress Eva Longoria, who said that Paul Ryan "wants to cut Pell Grant scholarships for nearly 10 million students." We rated it Half True.

"Really? Who cares what a Desperate Housewife thinks about anything? In the middle of a national election you're scoring celebrities? Who’s next? Alec Baldwin? Sean Penn? I think the Pulitzer was premature."

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A few readers took issue with our Pants on Fire rating for Romney’s claim that "redistribution" has "never been a characteristic of America."

"I agree with your finding if the term ‘redistribution’ is referring to ‘redistribution of income.’ However, I believe President Obama is referring to something different. To me, he’s referring to ‘redistribution of wealth,’ and redistribution of wealth has never been a characteristic of America."

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And on one Obameter item -- a Promise Broken for Obama’s pledge to support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act -- a number of readers said we graded the president too harshly. They argued that while the law is still on the books, Obama has done a variety of things to hasten its demise, and as such should have received at least a Compromise.

"The article rates Obama's promise as Broken despite providing numerous instances of the president doing exactly what the article states he promised to do."

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We also received a number of emails that praised our work.

"While I seem to only contact you regarding issues I disagree with, for each article that I disagree with, there are dozens that I truly appreciate. You guys are making huge strides in improving politics and, by extension, the country. Keep up the good work!"

"Your website makes me feel like I can participate in the democratic process for the first time in my life. (I am 32.) I am actually starting to enjoy following politics now because you give me back some control, and you let me consider the facts at a calm distance from the misleading stuff that is designed to send me on a disabling emotional rollercoaster. What you are doing is a big deal to people like me. I am extremely grateful to you, and I want you to know."

"Just know that you have at least one reader that appreciates the light you shine into the dark places. Please don’t stop fighting."