Mailbag: 'You gotta play fair'

The snow is piling up, and so are the missives from PolitiFact readers.
The snow is piling up, and so are the missives from PolitiFact readers.

The Post Office always likes to say it delivers the mail regardless of the weather. The same is true for emails from PolitiFact readers. Here’s a roundup of some of the recent comments, complaints and compliments we’ve received.

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Several readers took issue with our check of a claim by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said that "over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts." We rated that claim False.

One reader wrote, "I have to call foul. Paul said that to a room full of ideological fellows, in an informal setting, in a context that clearly indicates that he meant it to be an exaggeration. Yet PolitiFact nowhere acknowledges that in its write-up of the statement. Yeah, people on welfare sometimes get a bad rap, and, honestly, I've seen first-hand how hard it is even for people with legitimate disabilities to get government help for it. I'm not on Paul's side on this one, at least not very much. But you gotta play fair with the fact checking or it just doesn't work. Your article was like the nerd in a 1980s movie who hears someone say, ‘That band is on fire tonight,’ and then reaches for the fire extinguisher. This particular fact-check missed the mark."

Another wrote, "I am a physical therapist and I deal daily with people who have back pain. I am not sure if Paul's numbers are correct, as he may have used faulty logic. However, back pain is a serious problem, and many peer-reviewed studies have stated the prevalence as being as high as 67 percent. Additionally, the cost of back pain in the U.S. accounted for approximately 9 percent of all health care expenditures. I can tell you from a clinical perspective that not all cases of back pain are classified as musculoskeletal disorders, just as not all musculoskeletal disorders are not back pain. If back pain accounts for nearly 10 percent of all health care expenditure and a conservative range of prevalence would be between 20 percent and 67 percent, it would seem to me that with back pain alone, we could get closer to the claim that half of people on disability suffer from this condition."

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One reader cited PunditFact’s fact-check of Republican pundit Dana Perino, who said that on climate change, "the temperature readings have been fabricated, and it's all blowing up in their (scientists') faces." We rated that Pants on Fire.

"While I enjoyed and largely agreed with your characterization of Dana Perino's claim that ‘temperature readings have been fabricated,’ I take issue with your characterization of Paul Homewood as a climate change ‘skeptic.’ Just because the rest of the media incorrectly treats ‘skeptic’ and ‘denier’ as synonymous doesn't mean you have to. The definition of a ‘skeptic’ is someone who refuses to believe in anything for which there is no proof. That's the complete opposite of people like Homewood, who looks at a 97 percent scientific consensus the planet is warming, supported by dozens of major lines of evidence and data, and says, ‘No, I know better.’ A real skeptic would be demanding proof from Homewood, not from the scientific establishment. Homewood is just a denier and should be labeled as such."

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Several readers found fault with our check of a claim by President Barack Obama that "the reason we even have colleges is that at some point there were politicians who said, ‘You know what? We should start colleges.’ " We rated that Mostly False.

"The first ‘universities,’ or what would become known as such, were in the main set up by local princes, prelates, and town or city governments in medieval time," one reader wrote. "The consortia in ancient times were also usually set up by governing bodies. It was only into the 1600s that the idea of individuals or groups of individuals, including churches, started setting them up. You may disagree that this is what Obama meant, but I'm betting it is."

Another wrote, "If Obama is referring solely to American institutions, he's incorrect in this aspect of his quote, but he's largely correct about the role of government in the foundation and fostering of education -- primary, secondary, and tertiary. … The problem with the media, and the problem with your rating and article, is that many outlets take Obama's quote at word value and allow for no interpretation. … One thing can be sure: businesses did not set up universities. Corporations did not set up universities. People did. And governments are people, they are the people. Obama's point was that government can and should have a role, and he's right. We can't all wait for the Jesuits or Daddy Rich to set up a place of higher learning."

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Several people made a similar point about our check of Carls Jr. CEO Andy Puzder, who said that "Obamacare has caused millions of full-time jobs to become part-time." Citing missing and conflicting data, we rated that claim Half True.

"Good investigation, but you missed one important point," one reader wrote. "Obamacare didn’t cause any full time jobs to become part time. The companies, such as Puzder’s, that made the move caused them to become part time. It’s like the gunman who tells the judge, ‘I told him that if he twitched I’d shoot ‘em. He twitched, I shot ‘em, so it was suicide not murder.’ His company had lots of options, including charging me a few cents more for my burger or (God forbid) shaving off a little from Mr. Puzder’s compensation ($4,485,055 in 2012, according to Forbes)."

Another reader agreed: "These were business decisions. Many responsible business owners did not cut hours -- just those who care nothing about their employees."

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One reader took issue with our check of a claim by former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. She said that 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney "pays less tax than the guys who installed his car elevators." We rated that claim Half True.

"You make a complex analysis and determine that it is Half True. But Romney pays millions of dollars in taxes, and I’m pretty sure the guys who installed his car elevator don’t. You seem to have rewritten the statement to, ‘Romney pays a lower percentage of his income in federal tax than the guys who install his car elevator.’ I’m not sure why you would reinterpret her incorrect statement in this way. You don’t seem to do that kind of thing consistently for others."

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Several readers thought we underplayed the religious undertones of the Barbary wars in our fact check of a chain email that claimed that "over 200 years ago, the United States had declared war on Islam, and Thomas Jefferson led the charge!" We rated that False.

"While your ruling may be technically correct in that we did not go to ‘war with Islam’ over religion," one reader wrote, "Islamic doctrine played an explicit role in the conflict. The Tripitolitan ambassador invoked the Koran as authorization to plunder ships. Doesn’t  this bring Islam into the conflict?  Saying it was just about money is not correct, at least not for the Muslims then."

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One reader said we should have looked deeper in our analysis of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s claim that Hispanic students in Florida perform "the best" of any Hispanic population in the United States. We rated that claim Half True.

"It may be even less than Half True when you factor in the data from third-grade retentions," the reader wrote. "The fourth-grade reading scores are undoubtedly skewed, considering that all the third graders who did not pass the FCAT reading test are not sent to fourth grade. A not-insignificant share are held back."

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A reader raised a point about PunditFact’s check of conservative pundit Laura Ingraham’s claim that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has an "immigrant family background." Noting that she is Puerto Rican -- meaning that she’s an American citizen by birth -- we rated Ingraham’s claim Mostly False.

"Immigrant status? Do you live in North America? Then your immigrant status is ‘Yes.’ My family has been on these shores since at least 1625. That makes me no less an immigrant. Lack of compassion and understanding for more recent arrivals is epic denial."

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Finally, one reader thanked us for our effort to determine the accuracy of statements in politics, including our expansion to California.

"I’ve been checking your website for many years and glad to see you expanding. Keep up the unbiased work. I was once a local elected official in a tiny town and was getting hammered on a topic from both sides. A friend told me if both sides are ticked, you’re probably doing it right."