Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Mailbag: Christmas-New Year's Edition

Some of our recent feedback from readers has been chilly; some not so much.
Some of our recent feedback from readers has been chilly; some not so much.

The holidays may put many people into a spirit of good cheer, but the recent reactions from PolitiFact have been more of a mixed bag. Here’s a sampling of recent comments, complaints and compliments emailed by PolitiFact readers.

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Several readers took issue with out Half True rating for President Barack Obama’s claim that the minimum wage "in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office."

One reader wrote, "I always find it a quick pleasure to read PolitiFact, but I must take serious issue with your recent rating. I have no problem with your research, but when a statement is correct only one-eighth of the time -- and by a mere two cents at that -- a Half True rating is grotesquely biased. If anything, that statement contains only the slightest kernel of accuracy, hidden behind seven falsehoods, and should, at greatest, be labeled Mostly False. The conclusion I am drawing is that you believe one truth from the president is enough to balance seven lies. An objective look at these numbers would paint this story as far more false than true."

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Several readers expressed skepticism about the scientific research underlying Obama’s claim that "by the time she turns 3 years old, a child born into a low-income home hears 30 million fewer words than a child from a well-off family." We rated the statement True on the grounds that it accurately reflected the published science. However, a number of readers argued that the math just didn’t add up.

"I don't doubt one moment that your sources are correct, but 30 million words more sounds just a little dubious," one reader wrote. "Three years, 365 days, 16 hours spent not sleeping, 60 minutes per hour comes to about 30 words per minute more. But very few people will be listening to people talking every waking minute. I mean, even on TV soap shows there are moments when actors give each other meaningful looks. Was the figure of 30 million extra words plucked out of the air by somebody trying to impress a curious journalist?"

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A few readers wrote in to add some additional context to our analysis of a claim by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who said, "About 2 percent of Americans get paid the minimum wage." We rated that claim Mostly True.

A reader wrote, "I think you failed to give due attention to an important point here. While you gave passing mention to the fact that the study cited didn't take into account higher state minimum wages, this is actually very significant. There are currently 19 states plus the District of Columbia that have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, and many of these are large states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. Roughly 45 percent of the population lives in states with higher minimum wages than the federal government requires. You may wish to look into what percentage of U.S. workers make above the applicable minimum wage where they live."

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One reader -- a self-described "Democrat who really likes" PolitiFact -- offered some sympathy for the Republican National Committee after we gave a Half True to the RNC’s claim that "the latest Quinnipiac poll found that nearly six-in-ten Americans oppose ObamaCare -- 30 percent support the law and 57 percent oppose it." As we noted in our fact-check, the error was simply a typo; the supporting material cited in the RNC’s Facebook post had the correct number -- 39 percent.

The reader wrote, "I think you were too harsh on this one. The 9 and the 0 key are right next to each other. Given that they corrected their error so fast, I think Half True was too harsh."

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One reader criticized us for not digging deep enough in checking a claim by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that "just days ago, Iran's Supreme Leader (Ali) Khamenei, who will oversee implementation of this agreement, was calling Israel a 'rabid dog' and accusing the United States of war crimes."

The reader wrote, "While I know that the aim of PolitiFact is to remain nonpartisan, I feel I must raise a yellow card. To simply aver that Rubio accurately quoted Khamenei provides no context to the broader argument. Do Khamenei's claims carry weight, or are they baseless?  Because you have only examined whether or not he said it, you fail to do due diligence because you do not weigh the veracity of Khamenei's claims."

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A number of readers critiqued our decision to award the president the Lie of the Year for his claim that "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it." We’ve already published some commentary here, here and here. Now, a few more views, most of which defended the president:

• "You guys keep patting yourself on the back with your ‘we knew this back in 2009 and 2012’ that is repeated in every article and interview. The problem is, in those prior fact checks, never did you mention the issues with the grandfathering clause (and HHS predictions that many policies would not be grandfathered) or that cancellations would occur because of the Affordable Care Act. While you couldn't have known anything in 2009, the 2012 fact check conclusion is not really what made the president's promise false. In fact, had what you had written in 2012 been the only issue, the president would not be faulted for cancelled policies and his promise would remain a mere exaggeration. I'm not faulting you for not predicting the future, but rather that, just like the rest of the country, you were also duped as to the actual consequences of the ACA as it related to the president's promise."

• "So, how many of the people who could not keep their health insurance did you check to see if they really liked their health insurance?"

• "One little problem with your 2013 Lie of the Year – by your own account, Obama never made an unqualified claim that ‘if you like your health plan, you can keep it’ in 2013. It might be the lie of 2009 or of 2010, but not of 2013. You should at least have admitted that much in your report."

• "The United States has by far the most expensive and least effective health care system in the developed world. The health care reform was a massive, complicated, messy compromise, with profit-hungry companies and fanatical opponents of government intervention. But at least President Obama was trying to do good — to help less well-off people afford to stay healthy. If you want to blame him for something, don’t blame him for that."

• "I was told if I bought a car I could keep it! Then, my 1979 Ford Pinto was deemed unsafe by the government! Mine hadn’t actually exploded yet, so I really, really want to keep it. Ford quit making them, and actually even recalled them. Now the government wants to give me vouchers to buy a new Toyota Camry – the most popular car ever -- for a super reasonable price. But I want to cry! I want to cry, ‘Lie of the year!’ because I thought I could keep my car!"

• "You just destroyed a presidency today. I hope you can look back three years from now, see what you did, and feel at least a little bit sorry that you did this awful thing."

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Finally, a couple readers thanked us for our work.

• "I just wanted to say how much I appreciate what this website does. I know that's probably not something worth clogging the email filters for, but I think PolitiFact is a valuable and rare resource in today's information age. Or perhaps it's better called the ‘misinformation age.’ Very few sources of news provide explanation for their reasoning, and it's that lack of media transparency that stands as a barrier to many Americans understanding the issues that plague our sociopolitical world.  It's very similar to the same problem PolitiFact tackles in politics; there is no accountability for the things people say. While I might not like or agree with PolitiFact's ratings on certain statements it fact-checks, in the time I've followed the website it's shown a commitment to explanatory research, fairness, and objectivity that is commendable. Good job, everyone."

• "As a longtime college professor, I appreciate the efforts of PolitiFact to raise the level of the discussion about how we distinguish fact from fiction. My students often come to class without adequate tools for evaluating claims as they struggle with a daily flood of information. One student said a couple years back that ‘opinions are truer than facts’ because ‘facts are made up.’ PolitiFact realized several years ago that these kinds of comments aren't isolated cases of student insanity but fairly common in a world of partial truths. I'm thankful you've done so much that encourages fact-checking, acknowledges its value and enhances people’s ability to do their own fact-checking. I especially applaud your efforts to look at yourself reflectively. Sources are seldom perfect, and your mailbags are a good demonstration of the kinds of questions that need to be raised when searching for the truth."