Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Mailbag: ‘I find your analysis quite flawed’

Some of our readers' comments recently have been as colorful as these mailboxes.
Some of our readers' comments recently have been as colorful as these mailboxes.

The blizzard of scandal allegations in Washington has inspired commentary from our readers. This installment of our Mailbag feature is dominated by email from readers about the Internal Revenue Service and the attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi.

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Several readers commented on our check of a claim by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., who said,."The IRS doesn't have to prove something against you ... you've got the burden of proof." We rated the claim Mostly True.

One reader said we should have included a longer portion of Forbes’ comments, including his claim that "the power that the IRS has (is) different than any other agency, any other department."

"You failed to examine the entire statement! The IRS is not the ‘only’ agency or ‘department’ that requires one to prove innocence. The Federal Aviation Administration issues ‘violations’ and you must prove your innocence. The police routinely stop people, and they must ‘prove’ their sobriety or they go to jail. The claim ‘only agency’ is totally false!"

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One reader said we were too soft on Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., when we gave her a Mostly False for saying, "The IRS will have the ability potentially" to deny or delay health care under President Barack Obama’s health care law.  We concluded that she was wrong, but we added that the agency faces complicated logistical challenges that, if not met, could inadvertently delay health insurance subsidies to millions of Americans.

"The fact that a bureaucratic glitch ‘could’ conceivably delay things is a long way from the ‘denial’ of health care that Bachmann was suggesting -- a deliberate decision to deprive someone or some group of health care. To equate an unintended, intentional and unlikely-to-happen problem in implementation to a deliberate denial is absurd. By that standard, nothing any politician could possibly say, no matter how far-fetched, can ever be ruled False because something, perhaps a meteor falling on Washington or an invasion from outer space, could make their statement true. Get real, people."

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A few readers critiqued our ruling of Mostly False for White House spokesman Jay Carney. Carney had said that when Susan Rice spoke about Benghazi on the Sunday news shows, there was no effort to play that down the role of al-Qaida or its affiliates. We concluded that Carney was wrong to say she didn’t play them down.

"What you checked is kind of a moot point. Susan Rice definitely did try to calm any hysteria or paranoia that may evolve from the crisis, and her mentions of -- but not detailing of -- those links are a form of playing down simply by minimizing the mentions. It was prudent of the ambassador to not talk about points that have no evidence one way or the other. I find your analysis quite flawed. It’s what she didn’t say, not what she said, that was the play-down. And I think that’s a point that you failed to notice."

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Meanwhile, we received some criticism for our rating of Obama’s claim that "over the last several months, there was a review board headed by two distinguished Americans, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering, who investigated every element of" the Benghazi incident. We gave that claim a Mostly False, but a reader complained that we had wrongly interpreted what Obama meant when we filled in the blanks. (Obama had concluded the sentence by saying "investigated every element of this.")

"Isn't it a little dicey to substitute words into the president's statements and then write a fact check based on the resulting statement, a statement? My advice is that when you have an ambiguous statement, just state flatly that it is ambiguous and you can't fact check it for that reason.  Alternatively, ask the speaker what they meant and then fact-check the new statement if it seems to warrant it."

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Another reader accused us of unfairly buying into the Republicans’ framing of the argument on Benghazi.

"You bought hook, line and sinker the Republican view that the ‘talking points’ are part of the Benghazi review. Benghazi was a military matter. The Review Committee was charged to look into every aspect of the attack, which makes the president's statement true. The talking points issue was a political creation by Republicans to attack Obama, Rice, and Hillary Clinton."

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A few readers raised questions about our fact-checks on terrorism. One was disappointed in our fact-check of a claim by Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who said, "In barely four years in office, five jihadists have reached their targets in the United States under Barack Obama," compared to zero "in over seven years after 9/11 under George W. Bush." We gave that a rating of Mostly False.

"This misses a very big point: Cotton conveniently started counting after 9/11. Remember, 9/11 happened on Bush's watch. It would have been good to remind readers of this to give the whole ‘who’s had more terrorist attacks on their watch’ story a more complete answer."

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Several readers took issue with our check of a claim by Obama that since he took office, "there have been no large-scale attacks on the United States." We rated that Half True.

"Here you guys are again inventing your own metrics. The deaths from the Boston bombing are way less than a typical Afghanistan patrol running into a couple of IEDs. That goes on routinely, and is certainly not large-scale. The Boston bombing was two guys and two bombs. Gruesome? Yes. But only extreme because such events are not the rule in America. ‘Large scale’ means events like 9/11, Pearl Harbor, or invading a country. You do at times have good reason to conclude Half True, but this is not one of them."

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And one reader thought we should have been more critical of a claim by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who said that new Medicare billing guidelines "have nine codes for (injuries by) turkeys." We rated that True.

"One thing you left out of your analysis is that his statement is totally irrelevant, and is designed only to inflame the discussion. Another is that medical terminology is constantly evolving and growing more precise, and will continue to evolve and grow more precise regardless of whether Obamacare continues or not. Indeed, it was evolving and growing to be more precise even before Obamacare existed."

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Finally, one reader decided after reading our previous Mailbag column to send us a note of praise.

"Most of the reader comments I usually disagree with, but occasionally one or two will tweak my brain to think outside of the box and see a comment from a different angle.

"I do find it hard to connect with people who are insulting or degrading towards your conclusions. When it all is said and done, your conclusions of True and False don't really matter. What matters is that you are actually putting people to the test for what they claim to be true and going through the massively hard job of researching their claims. This is by and far the best part of your website: You give us links to all of your research! That alone makes your website and the service you provide -- for free, by the way -- amazing. Even if you left off your summation and decision based on the Truth-O-Meter, we could still go through your research and links and come to our own conclusion.

"Keep at it! You are all amazing and I'd like to think you are the best chance for politics in this country."