Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Mailbag: 'I rate PolitiFact’s conclusions Mostly False'

Readers had lots to say about our recent stories. Here's a sampling.
Readers had lots to say about our recent stories. Here's a sampling.

It’s been a long, hot summer, with lots of criticism of our work, as well as some praise. Here’s a sampling of recent emails, Facebook posts and tweets from our readers.

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One reader said we should have given a harsher rating to an ad by a pro-gun control group that features two youngsters, one holding a copy of Little Red Riding Hood and the other holding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The caption says, "One child is holding something that's been banned in America to protect them. Guess which one." We rated it Mostly False.

"Your ruling is too generous here. Pants on Fire seems more appropriate. As the article says, the book was banned in two California school districts for a short time starting in 1990, while assault weapons were banned from everyone nationally from 1994 to 2004, and from residents of states comprising 27 percent of the population since, and also from children in most of the remaining states since. Strictly speaking, both have been banned -- but only the gun is banned anywhere currently, and in terms of geographical and temporal scope, the gun bans are far more significant.  There is no kernel of truth in the idea that a few isolated bans of Little Red Riding Hood are in some way more significant."

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Several readers wrote to us about our check of a claim that marijuana is "less toxic" than alcohol. We rated that claim Mostly True.

"PolitiFact concludes that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol based on science and statistics. May I suggest a science experiment? Randomly select two NASCAR drivers of the same age, gender and weight at the Brickyard 400 and provide one with two marijuana joints and one with two beers and have them race with the other drivers on the track. Predictably, the alcohol impaired driver will weave on the course and the marijuana impaired driver will speed at 20 mph. Which one will cause an accident? Both are at risk and danger to the entire race. If the experiment doesn’t work at a NASCAR race, is it in the best interests and safety of the citizens of Florida to legalize marijuana and expose the drivers of the human race to this kind of risk? I rate PolitiFact’s conclusions Mostly False."

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Several readers criticized our check of a claim by former CEO and Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina that "there are only four countries in the world that ... legalize abortion after five months -- China, North Korea, Canada and the U.S." We rated the claim Half True.

"Politifact is becoming downright bizarre in the contortions it goes through. Fiorina made a factual assertion: Only four countries allow abortion after five months. That statement is factually false any way you look at it. There are more than four that allow purely elective abortions beyond five months, and many more than four that allow therapeutic abortions after five months. She's wrong. Period. So where do you get Half True?"

But another reader pointed out a problem in Fiorina phrased the claim:

"Countries don’t ‘legalize’ actions -- they make certain actions illegal."

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One reader said we overlooked an unfair linguistic echo when we analyzed the claim by a pro-Obama group that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., "refuses to accept the basic science" on climate change and is "a climate change denier." We rated that claim Mostly True.

"The use of the derogatory term ‘denier’ against Rubio is a blatant attempt to liken him and others to anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers. A growing number of Americans, if you bothered to look, see major issues with global warming science, and that doesn't make them ‘deniers.’ You've lost all credibility from me. However, you did make me angry enough to write this."

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Several readers said they disagreed with aspects of our fact-check of Al Sharpton, who said that Obama "has taken 92 days of vacation since he was sworn in," compared to 367 for President George W. Bush at the same point in his presidency. We rated his claim Mostly True.

"I don't know how you can get down to Mostly True when it comes to President Obama's vacation days. There is no discrepancy regarding the number of days he has taken to this point, nor is there any question about the numerous days that his predecessor spent at his ranch in Crawford. You're implying that the fact that President Bush went to Crawford repeatedly would have cut down on the cost of his vacation days. I disagree. The number of days spent at Crawford also necessitated the flying of his staff to and from Crawford along with scheduled visitors to the White House."

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One reader challenged PolitiFact Rhode Island’s math in a fact-check of a claim by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. Schatz said that "for several days in July of 2012, Greenland surface ice cover melted more than at any time in 30 years of satellite observation. During that month, an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet thawed." We rated the claim Half True.

"The article says 0.01 percent of the ice melted and did not refreeze. In your recap on the main page, you state that ‘99.9 percent of the ice is still there.’ Where I come from, 100.00 minus 0.01 equals 99.99. I guess it is kind of math that prevented you from giving a Pants on Fire rating."

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A reader took issue with PolitiFact Texas’ check of a claim by Texas Gov. Rick Perry that "abortion is the second-most conducted surgical procedure in this country." We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

"Regardless of whether it is the most common surgery, you cannot dismiss this number.  While more surgeries may be performed for other reasons, abortion is unique in that it takes a potential human life and disposes of it."

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One reader took issue with our check of a claim by television host Bill Maher that if it is enacted, the Senate immigration bill is "going to make the Border Patrol bigger than the FBI -- you could put one agent every 250 feet." We rated his claim True.

"Although you say near the end of the article that the agency would not deploy its new employees that way, you base your True verdict on the simple math of miles-divided-by-agents. Here is some alternative simple math: The border must be guarded 168 hours per week. When you take into account holidays, vacation, sick leave, and training, it requires about five 40-hour person-weeks to guard a single position around the clock. In addition, the army of 40,000 watchers might need a substantial number of supervisors, supervisors-of-supervisors, and non-watching staff like time clerks, fence-repair workers, and others whom you identify. ‘Every 250 feet’ is far from the truth. It was the punch line of a joke -- a clever joke -- but not even sort-of True."

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Finally, a number of readers had kind words about our work. Here’s a sampling:

"I appreciate several aspects of your work in particular. 1) Balance. You work hard at this and it shows. 2) Links to primary sources. 3) Links to related stories. 4) Stories that are complete but not belabored. 5) A just-the-facts, Sgt. Friday tone. 6) Clear introductions, clear closing paragraphs and a convenient device -- the Truth-O-Meter and its accompanying labels."

"The right claims PolitiFact has a liberal agenda and the left claims they have a conservative agenda. I figure if you piss off both sides equally, you are doing your job of trying to maintain neutrality while reporting the facts. While I do not always agree with your rulings, I am glad PolitiFact is around."

"It's amazing how foam-at-the-mouth angry people get when the conclusions reached don't line up with their political views. A lot of people seem to champion fact-checkers as crusaders for truth until they release something that they don't agree with, and then say that they ought to be shut down for their ‘obvious’ bias. A lot of people can't seem to handle the simple fact that no political ideology is right or wrong 100 percent of the time."

"It would be a bleak world without PolitiFact. Oh, wait … it IS a bleak world. But at least we have the facts!"