Mailbag: 'That's a fail, PolitiFact'
PolitiFact readers expressed significant interest in our coverage of the Senate torture report and the intersection of race and crime, among other issues. Here’s a sampling of recent commentary about our fact-checks.
Several readers criticized our rulings related to the release of the Senate report on alleged CIA torture of detainees. One reader thought we were too generous in giving a Mostly False rating to a claim by former Vice President Dick Cheney that terrorist detainees "were not covered by the Geneva Convention. They were unlawful combatants. And under those circumstances, they were not entitled to the normal kinds of courtesies and treatment."
"I don't understand why Cheney's statement was rated only Mostly False. What part of his statement was true? While it is true that the articles that cover POWs don't apply to unlawful combatants, that's not what Cheney said. He said they ‘were not covered by the Geneva Convention.’ Your article demonstrated that they are in fact covered under separate articles of the conventions. Not ‘kind of’ covered, not almost covered, not covered if you squint your eyes, or make some assumptions about the verbiage."
Another reader, however, took us to task for questioning the CIA’s actions.
"Before judging Dick Cheney, I suggest you look at the videos of people jumping out of the World Trade Center, falling head first for an eternity, splattering all over the ground after falling 80 stories. Then go write your newspaper article."
Meanwhile, one reader, who identified himself as a Vietnam combat veteran, expressed disappointment with our look at a claim by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that the authors of the Senate report "never interviewed a single CIA official." That rated Half True, but the reader wished we had broadened our inquiry.
"How about doing a PolitiFact on the accuracy and thoroughness of the report, or Sen. Rubio's claim that the the release was 'reckless and irresponsible'? I really like the observation that ‘CIA records reveal that 34 percent of the 119 known CIA detainees produced no intelligence reports.’ Does that mean that 66 percent of the 119 did produce intelligence reports?
"We were trained in possible interrogation techniques and were blindfolded, placed in less-than-coffin-sized boxes, deprived of food and sleep and roughed up, and I know as an officer and an aircrew member that I didn't get half the treatment the ground troops and special forces go through. War is not a pretty thing and, based on today's report from Pakistan -- a Taliban attack on a defenseless school and execution of more than 120 people, most of them children -- the people we are dealing with are not exactly Mahatma Gandhi."
The national debate on race and crime inspired by the police-involved deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., continued to inspire reader comments.
Several readers took offense at our Pants on Fire rating for a social media meme that claimed that "794 law enforcement officers have fallen in the line of duty since B.H. Obama took office, with no special recognition from the White House."
"When you say he has ‘appeared at memorial events and made speeches with regularity," I say of course he has, if by regularly you mean annually. Was I the only one to notice that every example provided occurred within the first two weeks of May? Hmm, coincidentally that's when National Peace Officers Memorial Day and Week occurs. So I guess this all hinges on what your definition of ‘special recognition’ happens to be. Webster's defines special as ‘different from what is normal or usual.’ Presidential speeches and memorial attendance during Police Week are quite normal annual occurrences and are in fact expected. So exactly how many funeral services for fallen officers have had the honor of presidential or even administration attendance? My guess is that Michael Brown has them beat by three. That's a fail, PolitiFact."
Another reader added this observation:
"The president did the bare minimum of his duties. Did he mention a single officer killed in action by name? Did he say that any of them could have been 'his son'? This fails to show that there was anything near 'special recognition.' At worst, this should have been Half True. To call this Pants on Fire is a slap in the face to the officers killed in action."
A reader offered some additional thoughts about the claim by Andrea Mitchell of NBC News that in Ferguson, "you've got three black officers and 50 white officers with a town that is 67 percent African-American." We rated that Mostly True.
"Yes, in raw numbers. However, there should have been some further discussion. There has been a major demographic shift in Ferguson within a decade. The police force represents the demographics of the city from a decade ago. Police are likely to be on the force for 15 to 20 years. The demographics of the force cannot change as rapidly as the general population does, unless the force either expands dramatically or selectively dismisses a significant number of current officers for no other reason than their race. The implication of the statement is that the situation is discriminatory, when it is in fact a creation of the rate of demographic change."
One reader said we were too quick to rate a claim by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani False. Giuliani said "the conviction rate is almost exactly the same" for whites and blacks who commit murder, but we noted that we couldn't find any statistical evidence to support Giuliani’s claim, and experts said they weren't aware of any, either.
"I used to love your articles. They used to be objective. They used to be fact-based. But when you start rating things False just because you can't find statistics to either support or disprove a claim, you've gone beyond objectivity and ventured into editorializing. Because of lazy journalism -- I was once a journalism major, so, yeah, I get to say that -- you simply say that since you couldn't find a single consolidated report that backs up Guiliani's claim, it has to be False. … Brilliant move, Einstein. There's a huge difference between ‘unsupported’ and False."
One reader took issue with our Half True rating for a claim by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that the home-mortgage deduction is widely thought to be "a middle-class benefit. It's not -- 73 percent of it goes to people making a quarter-million dollars or more a year."
"On the rare occasions when I disagree with your conclusion I can still appreciate the rationale. However, this fact-check leaves the reader with the impression that federal income tax expenditures should be spread evenly -- or at least more evenly than 6.3 percent getting 35 of the benefits. Such a situation is, first, not logical, and second, not even possible, because not all taxpayers pay the same amount of federal income taxes.
"In fact, according to the latest available data from the Tax Foundation (a 2013 analysis using 2011 data), the bottom 50 percent of filers paid less than 3 percent of the income taxes collected. In the same year, the top 5 percent of filers paid over 55 percent of the taxes, even though they earned only about 34 percent of Adjusted Gross Income. While many would argue that such a progressive tax collection system is appropriate, a logical corollary would be that it is also appropriate that tax expenditures also be progressively distributed."
One reader said we were too picky in giving a Mostly True rating to a claim by the comic strip Doonesbury that 3,000 Americans "died of gunfire" between the time of the Ebola scare in Dallas and the midterm elections. The reader said it should have been a full True.
"I don't understand your ruling on this. What portion of the comment is even remotely untrue? Statistically, on average, 3,000 Americans die from gunfire during the period cited. What clarification is needed? It is a fact, period. Did it get this rating because it was a left-leaning comment and PolitiFact is a right-leaning organization, who as everyone knows, are uncomfortable with inconvenient facts?"
One reader was intrigued by our Pants on Fire ruling for a claim by former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura that water fluoridation "was originally done by the Nazis!" Historians had told us across the board that the Nazis, for all their faults, did not fluoridate water.
"The connection between fluoridation and the Nazis in World War II is that fluoridation was and continues to be a massive human experiment without the consent of the experimental subjects. This type of experiment is outlawed in the Nuremberg Code, which was developed with input from the American Medical Association and used in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi doctors. … Perhaps some overly excitable person misunderstood this connection and confounded the analogy of unethical experimentation with the actual use of fluoride."
Finally, a few readers offered words of praise.
"I enjoy everything you write. Keep up the good work -- finally real investigative journalism!"
"False and inaccurate information on important matters of the day lead to bad decisions by both politicians and voters, and we are flooded with it these days. Unfortunately, today's media by and large spends much more time on entertainment and controversy than on revealing what is true and what is false. Thanks for performing a great public service and doing the job that true journalism is supposed to do."