Mailbag: Presidential campaign edition

This is the prize for 2016 contenders. (Wikimedia commons)
This is the prize for 2016 contenders. (Wikimedia commons)

We’re still months away from the first caucuses and primaries, but readers are already unhappy about some of our fact-checks involving the potential presidential candidates. Here’s a selection of recent emails we have received about our coverage of the Democrats and Republicans who are (or may eventually be) running for president.

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Several readers -- on both sides of the issue -- criticized our coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Some took issue with our check of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who said, "The State Department asked all secretaries of state to send their emails over" and Clinton was "the only one who’s done it."  We rated that Mostly False.

"Schumer’s 100 percent correct. There's no context missing from his statement, despite your claims to the contrary. He was totally accurate -- she's the only one who has done so. As you say, all secretaries of state between Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell used email, some not much, some more. All used it. Only one has complied. Your implication that he was trying to hide that others haven't used email very much is irrelevant to what he actually said and meant."

Another reader posed this hypothetical:

"Since George Washington's secretary of state and those moving forward were not asked, that makes the statement False? You guys are a trip. You twist yourself up trying to call Republicans’ statements True and Democrats’ statements False."

But another reader said we were too soft in our coverage of Clinton.

"She provided the 55,000 pages in paper only, unsearchable. At least half is double printing.  Perhaps you all could deal with actual facts instead of spin? You should also realize that those 55,000 pages were sent in December 2014 -- about two years after she left the cabinet and after four months of fighting any production at all. It’s amazing to see a fact-checking organization so far afield on actual facts."

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Numerous readers took issue with our check of a claim by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that "many of the alarmists on global warming, they’ve got a problem because the science doesn’t back them up. In particular, satellite data demonstrate for the last 17 years, there’s been zero warming." We rated that Mostly False, noting that scientists said that Cruz was cherry-picking the time frame and the source of the data.

"I'm afraid you have engaged in some cherry-picking yourselves, although it was no doubt inadvertent. You agreed with the fact that there hasn't been any significant warming over the last 17 years. You correctly stated that this doesn't mean warming won't resume at some point, nor did Cruz so allege.

"What Cruz said was that this pattern casts doubt on the models which had predicted a great rate of warming. This is where the cherry-picking came in. You quoted the IPCC's opinion that these actual results don't undermine their models. However, many leading climate scientists differ. Their opinion is that the actual results do tend to cast doubt on the IPCC models. In particular, many climate experts now believe that the actual results imply that carbon dioxide causes less warming than the amount built into the IPCC models. You may have been unaware of these scientists, because their results get less publicity than the IPCC.

"In short, Cruz was right on the facts. PolitiFact dinged him because many climate scientists' opinion was that his facts aren't significant. However, PolitiFact ignored other climate scientists who believe that these facts are significant. I think PolitiFact would do better to focus on facts, particularly where expert opinion is unsettled."

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Several readers said we went too soft on Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson -- a neurosurgeon -- for saying that "A lot of people who go into prison straight, and when they come out they’re gay." We rated that False.

"I would suggest that a Pants on Fire is appropriate. As a highly educated person, he should be held to a higher standard, especially regarding medical and psychological issues where he cites no studies or data. Plus, he makes the assertion in a political context, so it is more than reckless -- it is calculated. Shame on him."

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One reader wrote us about PolitiFact New Hampshire’s check of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said, "If you took every penny of the 1 percent, including their dog, you wouldn't even begin to balance the budget." While noting that this was an academic exercise -- since no one is actually proposing it for real -- we rated that Mostly False.

"You aren't adjusting for the economic impact of taxing at that wealth or taking all that money. You can't assume that taking that money from where it is now would not have a significant impact: a sale of all stock (wealth), dividends automatically reinvested (income and possibly taxes), moving wealth from income generating funds (income and taxes), going overseas (taxes). Most economists agree that a 90% income tax or greater would not be sustainable. In the past there was one, but capital gains were vastly different and so was real GDP growth and potential. As complex of a problem as this is, liquidating the 1 percent’s assets would only be worth what the market is willing to pay. Taxing them would not work. I rate your assessment too simplified and his claim to be Half True."

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Finally, one reader said we didn’t look widely enough when we published the story, "The scorecards so far," summarizing some of the Truth-O-Meter records of presidential candidates.

"You say, ‘We thought it was a good time to look at the scorecards of some of the people we believe are likely to run." But some very likely potential candidates on the Democratic side seem to be left out. Only Hillary Clinton is mentioned, but there are others who have mentioned that they are considering a run, such as Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., could even be included even though she has insisted that she's not running.

"The fact that only one potential candidate is mentioned makes me feel that PolitiFact is being biased toward Hillary Clinton for the Democratic ticket, which seems to be against everything that the site stands for. I could understand leaving out potential candidates that you don't have any fact checks for, since you wouldn't have much to add to the article, but I know there are multiple fact checks at least for the three potential candidates I have mentioned. I read the articles on the PolitiFact site because I like the non-biased, straightforward approach, but this article disappointed me because I feel it hurts the election process by giving the impression that other Democratic candidates should be ignored because Hillary is the most likely to win."