Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Mailbag: 'You are a joke, and your operation is a sham'

Here's a look at some of the complaints (and compliments) our readers have sent our way.
Here's a look at some of the complaints (and compliments) our readers have sent our way.

In recent weeks, the government has been shuttered and the nation teetered close to a first-ever default. Not surprisingly, many of our readers have written us with their views on fact-checks about both the federal debt and President Barack Obama’s health care law, which prompted the congressional standoff that led to the shutdown.

Here’s a sampling of recent emails, Facebook posts and tweets that we’ve received from readers.

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Readers were divided about a fact-check of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. We gave Boehner a Half True for claiming that "this year, the federal government will have more revenue than any year in the history of our country." We noted that Boehner was correct if you measure by raw dollars, but not if you use revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product, which is arguably a better method.

Here’s one reader who thought we were too harsh on Boehner:

"Well done on the latest effort in your ongoing mission to give the lowest ratings possible to those whose politics you disagree with. Your ruling is just painful. All Boehner said was that the U.S. government will have more money this year than was had any other year in our country's history. That is all. Being a true fact deserves no ruling other than ‘True.’ You're basically faulting him for a lack of wonkishness, and using this to take his rating down a rung. Make that two rungs; how he couldn't have gotten a "mostly-true" rating even with the referees against him still defies reason. You are hitting him for something he didn't say, while refusing to give him credit for what he did say. You are a joke, and your operation is a sham."

But here’s another who thought we were too soft on Boehner:

"I write to decry the failure to call a spade a spade. The use of raw dollars in comparing current economic numbers to past economic numbers is inherently dishonest. Anyone with a shred of understanding knows this. So why in the world are you only giving this lie a Half True rating? Why encourage this kind of dishonest politicking even that much?"

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One reader reacted sarcastically to our check of a claim about Syria by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. -- that "we've seen priests beheaded by the Islamic rebels on the other side. We've also seen an Islamic rebel eating the heart of a soldier." We gave that claim a Half True.

"I'm greatly relieved to learn the priest was not beheaded, but only machine gunned to death. Whew! Also greatly relieved to learn that the jihadist only pretended to eat his victim's heart that he ripped out of his body. Now I can sleep tonight. Please keep up the good work and don't ruin my reverie by saying the photo and video of the decapitated little Christian girl was real."

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Several readers took issue with our Mostly False rating for former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who may be a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014. Crist said that In 2012, the state "put together a list of over 100,000 people that they thought were ineligible to vote. Came out there were less than 10."

"You guys do a great job, but in this case, how can you possibly say Mostly False? The point remains entirely valid. Eighty-five is still vanishingly small when compared to 100,000. Your logic here is positively weird. I have a master's degree in math, but I don't need it to find your judgment utterly bizarre."

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A reader took issue with our fact-check of Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who said that in a "sweetheart deal … members of Congress, thanks to the Obama administration, are going to be the only people in America to get subsidies in the Obamacare exchanges." We rated that Pants on Fire, noting, among other things, that under Obamacare, congressional employees are forced off their existing insurance plan, something the law itself does to no other employment group.

"There are thousands of people who formerly got insurance through their employers and have been dropped because of the Affordable Care Act. There are also those who've had their hours cut to 29 so they won't run afoul of the ACA. These people are being dumped on the exchanges, and their employers will no longer be helping them at all. And although the National Review has a point that congressional staffers and legislators are treated somewhat harshly, they're not being treated more harshly than the people I described above.  If they get this special subsidy, they will in fact be getting something that no other person getting dumped onto the exchanges will be getting. Heck, they're not even being dropped down to 29 hours a week. What a deal for them. Congressional benefits have always been a pretty sweet deal."

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A reader disagreed with how we framed our check of a claim by Obama that raising the debt ceiling "does not increase our debt. It does not grow our deficits. It does not allow for a single dime of increased spending. All it does is allow the Treasury Department to pay for what Congress has already spent." We ultimately decided not to make a rating, in part because the definition of "spending" was unclear. Was it akin to the moment you swipe your credit card, or when you finally pay the bill? Depending on your choice, we concluded, the accuracy of his statement would be quite different.

"Instead of pontificating the idea and waffling on the point of ‘spending,’ it would have been a much better idea to firm up the notion that spending occurs any time we purchase, either by credit or instant remediation (cash or debit). The act of trying to make ‘spending’ relevant to the viewer’s perspective just shifts the blame one more time. Borrowing money in any shape or form is spending, because it must be paid back. We need intelligent writers like yourself to stop letting politicians off the hook by shifting the viewpoint in order to make things easier to swallow."

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The spouse of a UPS employee took exception to our False rating for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when he said UPS left 15,000 employees’ spouses "without health insurance" and told them to, "go on an exchange with no employer subsidy."

"This change will cost these families more money since the new plan will have a premium and the UPS does not have a premium for spouses. Once again, middle-class America is being clobbered. UPS offers some of the best health benefits, and these spouses will most likely have inferior plans with higher costs and lower coverage and the added burden of double the paperwork for a family."

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A few readers critiqued our check of a claim by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that because of the 2011 debt ceiling fight, "the stock market lost 2,000 points." We rated the claim Mostly True.

"That the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 2,000 points over a period of time is true. But there could have been many causes, such as interest rate movements, international currency issues, regulatory changes, company earnings prospects, or just plain random noise. To blithely claim that one event ‘caused’ the move in the market is totally contrary to common views about why stock prices move. We would all be rich if we could discern causal patterns in the stock market so easily.  Please stick to facts – not hare-brained ‘causal’ inferences."

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A few readers expressed concern with our article, "10 things Obamacare supporters say that aren’t entirely true," a roundup of questionable Democratic claims about the health care law. Earlier, we had published, "Top 16 myths about the health care law," which consisted primarily of faulty claims by opponents of the law.

"The word ‘say’ in the headline of this article implies some sort of relative proximity in terms of time. I ‘say’ something today. I ‘said’ something else yesterday. But there are at least three things on your list that somebody said at some point and are no longer saying -- at least anyone with any real authority. I understand the symmetry of having a list of 10, but when you have to reach back six years to fill out your list, you're simply reaching. And that’s especially true when you pull in campaign promises, not from the last campaign but from the campaign before that."

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A reader offered a postscript to our check of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s claim that the Congressional Budget Office "reports that delaying the Obamacare individual mandate will reduce the deficit by $35 billion over ten years." We gave that a Mostly True.

"The article may have been technically accurate, but I think you left out a couple of important factors that Norquist conveniently forgot about. What about the costs of emergency room visits by the millions of people who otherwise could have used their own health insurance coverage under the new law? We all have to pay those bills. What about the costs of pain and suffering, even deaths, for many among the millions of uninsured and underinsured who won't seek medical help when they need it because they can't afford it? Norquist would prefer to talk about the dollars and cents and forget about the common-sense benefits from the law. We wish you hadn’t done the same."

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One reader thought our rating was too lenient when we checked a claim by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., that the employer mandate in Obamacare "affects only 5 percent of businesses in this country." We rated that Mostly True.

"I would argue that the law affects all businesses. As soon as I'm finished with this email, I have to get back to preparing documents related to the law that I need to mail to each and every employee. I'm involved with two businesses, both of which have fewer than 10 employees, and we still have to jump through silly bureaucratic hoops, wasting time and resources for no effect whatsoever. Bah. Time to get off my soapbox."

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A large number of readers disagreed with our ruling on a claim by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that Texas Republicans "believe in abolishing Social Security, abolishing V.A. health care." We gave Sanders a False.

"Sen. Sanders’ claims are 100 percent accurate. You claimed that, instead of wanting to ‘abolish’ Social Security and V.A. health care, the Texas GOP simply ‘called for a 'privatization' of both programs. That is a distinction without a difference, since privatizing a government program abolishes that government program. Of course, that does not mean that the activities that were previously carried on by that government program cease -- they may be carried on by the private entity. But the government program, and all of the protections and guarantees that are likely built into that program for the benefit of the public, are abolished. If Congress and the president one day decided to repeal the law that permits Congress to designate national parks and turn them all over to the private sector, would you argue that the National Parks had not been abolished? If you don't think privatizing is the equivalent of abolishing, I'm sure the public would disagree when a McDonald's is built next to Old Faithful."

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A number of readers expressed appreciation for the work PolitiFact does.

"Thanks for your great site!  I forward it to friends of all persuasions. As a liberal, I appreciate knowing when my own kind lies too."

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"I am very happy that PolitiFact is around. Thank you for weathering all the criticism, because no matter what you post, someone is angry. I will continue to follow you on Facebook whether I agree with you or not!"

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"Finally some concise, no-nonsense explanation about the Affordable Care Act. Now if only that type of information was available on my AOL welcome screen instead of some celebrity swinging naked on a wrecking ball."

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"Lack of credibility is the disease. Politifact is the cure."

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Finally, one retired newspaperman told us he was thrilled to learn that PolitiFact will soon be launching PunditFact to judge the accuracy of opinion writers, television commentators and talking heads.

"I was so delighted to read that PunditFact will be coming that I wanted to jump for joy. But at 84, I don't get very high off the ground."