Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Mailbag: 'You guys are a bunch of morons'

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.

One of the things PolitiFact gives thanks for is for our readers, who often provide us with thoughtful commentary about our work, even when they disagree with us. We’ve recently gotten a bunch of reader feedback by email or Facebook -- so much interesting discussion, in fact, that we’re splitting what’s normally one Mailbag column into two.

First, we’ll look at reader letters on health care policy. In a separate piece, we’ll look at everything else readers wanted to sound off about.

Lots of readers sympathetic to the Obama administration brought up concerns related to our fact-checking of the president’s pledge that under his health care law, if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.

Referring to our False rating for presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett’s claim that "nothing in Obamacare forces people out of their health plans," one reader wrote, "It's funny how many of you idiots keep bringing up Obama's broken promise when it was a promise that was actually broken by the insurance companies. Calling that false shows you guys are a bunch of morons who shill for the Republicans."

A similar claim, by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that the health care law "does not demand that all of these cancellations go out" earned a Mostly False but drew the scorn of several readers.

"By your own admission, in the text of your write-up, what she said is technically True," wrote one. "The key word is ‘demand.’ You may not like that she ‘downplayed’ the effects of the law, but her statement was true nonetheless. You are fact checkers, not downplay checkers."

Meanwhile, one critic of the law questioned our ruling of Mostly False for the claim by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity that "new mandates are already reducing full-time employment."

"Your analysis refers to existing anecdotal evidence that supports the claim, and you cite reports that conclude only that the recession was the ‘key factor’ in keeping part time employment high, but apparently doesn’t refute the possibility of some loss of full time employment as a result of ACA," the reader wrote. "You say it’s ‘plausible’ but ‘speculative,’ but in this case, the statement was so modest as to be almost impossible to deny. … If PolitiFact cannot determine whether a statement is true or false, then you should either leave it alone or at least call it Half True and explain that why you consider it too speculative (or potentially misleading) to be verified."

Several readers criticized our Pants on Fire ruling for the claim by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that "if I have affordable coverage in my workplace, I'm not eligible to go into the marketplace. ... It’s illegal." Many said we unfairly minimized a department spokeswoman’s statement Sebelius had meant to say "that marketplace plans cannot be sold to a Medicare enrollee, and the secretary is a Medicare enrollee."

"She doesn’t deserve a Pants on Fire if her statement was technically incorrect, even if her reasoning was faulty," wrote one.

Meanwhile, we gave a False to a claim by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, that "hidden" in the healthcare.gov code is language that means users "waive any reasonable right to privacy of your personal information." We concluded that the website’s markup does include a sentence along these lines that isn’t visible to the user, but because it’s not displayed to the public, it carries no legal weight, and consumers can’t consent to it.

That inspired a postscript from Jeryl Bier, the author of the Weekly Standard article that first addressed the issue Barton raised.

"Although I would not take it as far as Rep. Barton did, I found Kathleen Sebelius’s comments interesting," Bier wrote. In the hearing, "Sebelius assured Barton that the language would be removed. It could be argued that Sebelius was simply trying to mollify an irate Congress, but she did commit to removing the statement, and shortly after her testimony, it was."

Several readers said our True ruling on a claim by Rep. John Fleming, R-La., was incomplete. Fleming said that in Massachusetts -- a state that implemented a precursor of Obamacare -- "half of the primary care doctors are not accepting new patients."

Fleming may be accurate, one reader said, but "it’s a strawman, a bogeyman, a factoid designed to inspire fear without concern for context or effect. What would be meaningful would be to know the following real contextual and comparative values. How many doctors are there in Massachusetts per capita compared to other states and countries? How many people do not already have a primary care physician, especially considering that Massachusetts’ universal coverage law has been in effect for more than six years? How many people have sought a primary care physician and have been unable to get one? What is the new-patient acceptance rate of doctors in other states? To give Fleming’s claim any attention is to elevate an empty balloon."

Another reader added, "You have left out a critical point. If medical schools accepted more students, this would not be a problem. Those who say they are for free enterprise seem to have no problem restricting the market when it comes to physicians."

One reader took issue with the False rating by our colleagues at PunditFact for Sean Hannity’s claim that "in July 2010, the government said small businesses -- 60 percent -- will lose their health care, 45 percent of big business and a large percentage of individual health." We found that Hannity was not correctly framing what the government report looked at.

"You need a  new category -- ‘Too Soon to Tell,’" the reader wrote. "Things may in the end be a lot worse than stated."

Finally, former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took issue with PolitiFact New Hampshire’s Half True rating for his claim that "you've got more people wanting to go moose hunting in New Hampshire than want Obamacare."    

On his radio show and in a Facebook post, Huckabee called our ruling "a lot of weasel words for people who claim to deal in facts. Well, I don’t like being accused of telling a half-truth when even they admitted that my numbers were correct." So he proceeded to review the math. He added, "PolitiFact needs to learn the difference between an assumption and a fact. They might also want to look up the definition of the word ‘joke.’ And the word opinion. As in, ‘It’s my opinion, from personal experience growing up poor, that most families would find a pot of moose chili to be a lot more useful than an overpriced insurance policy their doctor won’t take."