Mailbag: 'What complete and utter nonsense'

Mail carrier Derek Wilkins makes deliveries on Burlington Ave. N. in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Lara Cerri/Tampa Bay Times)
Mail carrier Derek Wilkins makes deliveries on Burlington Ave. N. in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Lara Cerri/Tampa Bay Times)

It’s summertime, and readers are antsy. Here’s a selection of recent commentary sent by readers about our fact-checks. We edit selections for style and length.

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Several readers wrote us about a series of fact checks we did about Hillary Clinton’s claims of voter suppression under four Republican governors -- former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. All four of Clinton’s claims were rated Mostly True. (A summary of all four fact-checks is available here.)

"Instead of just giving a Mostly True for Clinton’s statements -- uh, yes, those are obviously facts -- could you instead point to the research that shows how less early voting affected students and the poor? Also, research that shows that the poor and minorities were unable to vote because of the voter ID laws? You didn't show any research at all to back up why any of this would make the difference. So that's it? What she said was Mostly True? If you didn't do further research, could you at least point to the research, so that we can?"

Another reader said, "It’s a shame that hypocrisy isn’t a factor in your ratings. Hillary’s home state of New York doesn’t have any early-voting days, only mail-in ballots, and not a peep out of her or the entire left about that."

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One reader criticized our fact-check of Obama’s claim that today, "the United States is the most respected country on Earth." We noted that one poll, by Gallup, found the United States leading a limited group of countries -- Germany, China, Russia and the European Union -- while a BBC poll that tested a broader group found the United States finishing in the middle of the pack, behind Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, the European Union and Brazil. We rated the claim Half True.

"The BBC poll had a much larger sample size than Gallup poll, but the breadth of the sample was much narrower, at only 28 countries as opposed to more than 130 for the Gallup poll," one reader wrote. "In looking at the countries surveyed in the BBC poll, and more importantly at those major countries that were not surveyed, it can be argued that the BBC poll was not only much narrower but also much more likely United Kingdom-centric. The small sample size of the Gallup poll would give it a higher margin of error, but the breadth of the sample would lessen bias and make it more statistically relevant. If these surveys were evaluated by a statistician, I believe you would have to conclude that a more accurate Truth-O-Meter rating would be True, or at least Mostly True."

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One reader questioned an aspect of our fact check of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who said, "The gap between the very rich and everyone else in America is wider today than at any time since the 1920s." We rated that Mostly True.

"Why did this analysis focus on income instead of wealth? The picture is much more stark if the focus is on wealth. I can understand why right-wing rentiers would want to water this down by using the more benign measurement, just not PolitiFact. Please use wealth inequality as primary measurement."

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One reader took issue with our fact-check of a claim about the metric system by Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee, specifically the part where we wrote, "Today, not all, but many federal agencies -- including the military -- use metric units almost exclusively, according to a statement from the National Institute of Standards and Technology."

"What complete and utter nonsense. It is specifically the foot dragging by the military-industrial complex to not ‘voluntarily’ comply with metrification that we continue to be an international joke in this regard. All US military vehicles continue to use Imperial nuts and bolts. So does the airline industry as a direct result. I know it is difficult for newspapers to intelligently discuss technical matters, but you really screwed the pooch on this one. Shame on you."

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We received a good bit of email when we checked President Barack Obama’s claim -- after the incident in Charleston, S.C., in which a gunman killed nine African-American worshippers -- that "this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

Virtually everyone who wrote us considered our Mostly False ruling to be too harsh. One, however, went the other way, saying we were too lenient.

John R. Lott -- president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, and a source often cited by pro-gun advocates -- wrote us to say that, while PolitiFact was "quite clear on the limits of the data" used in the fact-check, "the report excluded Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and other countries with high rates of mass public shootings from their analysis. Comparing the U.S. to just European countries puts the U.S. in 8th place," rather than fourth.

Lott also wrote that the research we relied on "missed a significant number of mass public shootings in the countries that they claim to have covered." He provided additional details in this blog post at his own site.

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Finally, a few readers expressed their appreciation for PolitiFact.

"Your findings are always interesting and needed," one wrote. "Too many people believe what they read, without skepticism or even common sense. Thank you for this valuable service."

Another wrote, "Keep up the great work. It's so badly needed in this highly partisan, sound-bite-only world. Your site is the first thing I read every morning. All my friends send me items to check. My friends call me ‘fact checker Phil.’"

And a third wrote, "I don't know how all this got started, but I'm glad your fact-check ends that ‘fairy tale.’ Now I can relax and enjoy my cup of coffee."