Mailbag: 'Your article is complete hogwash'
As the first voting in the 2016 presidential race draws closer, tempers have grown shorter -- including among PolitiFact readers. Here’s a selection of recent reader reaction to our fact-checks, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Many readers took issue with our check of a statement by President Barack Obama that "a violent felon can buy (a gun) over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked." We rated that Mostly True, but many readers wrote to say we should have been more critical of Obama for misconstruing the laws governing gun sales.
One reader wrote, "It would have been much more accurate to say that buyers could arrange to buy a gun over the Internet. Since shipping guns from one party to another is almost impossible (legally) for non-licensed individuals, then the actual transfer almost always occurs face to face. I think in most people's use of the word ‘buy,’ the purchase occurs when the buyer gives the money to the seller, and the seller gives the product to the buyer. This is a subtle but very important distinction as it is the avenue that the felon obtains possession of the gun that is the crux of the matter."
Another reader wrote, "You add an awful lot of text to make what the president said Mostly True. To explain what you think he meant -- same-state, private sales where the delivery happens in person, is a stretch. A person can purchase ivory, too -- if it's on piano keys and they bought the piano. A person can kill another with impunity -- if the other was sentenced to death after a valid, fair trial, had reached the end of their appeals, and the former is a prison guard charged with throwing the switch to the chair. PolitiFact shouldn't be in the business of making things True or False by way of explaining the heck out of those things."
Meanwhile, one reader thought Obama had a reasonable point, citing his first-hand experience at a flea market in South Carolina: "There are usually at least 10 people selling multiple long guns every weekend. These are non-licensed sellers. I bought a rifle from one. He wrote down my name and address but didn’t check ID. Most people think a gun show is in a big building with lots of tables, but that’s not always the case."
A few readers took issue with our fact-check of a statement by Jeb Bush that Hillary Clinton "is under investigation with the FBI right now." We rated that Half True.
One wrote, "Your article is complete hogwash. The FBI only does ‘criminal investigations’ and this is not simply an ‘email probe’ or some other small issue. With 150 agents investigating, with the so-called probe looking at the Clinton Foundation, and with many ‘smoking gun’ emails already revealed that would certainly ensure incarceration for people like you and me, the writer of this article is purely ‘full of poop’ for trying to paint this as an innocuous FBI probe. PolitiFact should be ashamed to write and publish such garbage."
Several readers expressed concern about our check of a claim by Marco Rubio that hostages were released as soon as Ronald Reagan took office because Iran perceived that America was "no longer under the command of someone weak." We rated that Pants on Fire.
One reader said he was a senior civil servant in the Pentagon at the time, overlapping with the administrations of both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. "Though I am not generally a supporter of Sen. Rubio, I assure you that most people in my position believed what Sen. Rubio said. Of course the Carter Administration carried out continuing negotiations, but PolitiFact seems to assert an insight into the minds of the mullahs that is better than that of most people. Maybe the CIA would hire you! I am concerned that answers like this one give the conservatives more ammunition to discredit PolitiFact."
Another wrote, "Seriously, we who lived through this era of history are to believe that the incoming Reagan presidency had nothing to do with Iran letting our folks go? The certainty that any deal negotiated with the flummoxed Carter was likely off with hardliner Reagan played no role? Not even a teensy-weensy bit? This simply defies common sense. Diplomacy without the credible threat of force is words. Under Carter, Iran knew they faced no real threat of force, especially after the disastrous rescue attempt. Under Reagan, it was a different story and Iran knew it. Carter was the good cop to Iran, willing to deal; Reagan was the bad cop waiting with the nightstick for the good cop to leave the cell."
But another reader thought Rubio’s assertion was even more off-base than our fact-check indicated: "You failed to note that Reagan, in his second term and by his own admission, traded arms for hostages held by Iran. How that squares with his description of Reagan as a forceful figure whose strength led to the 1981 release is difficult to conceive."
A few readers wrote us about our fact-check of Ted Cruz’s claim that Obama "appointed Eric Holder as attorney general. Eric Holder said he viewed his mission as brainwashing the American people against guns." We rated that Half True.
Cruz, one reader wrote, "took a statement that Holder made about a very specific group -- inner city kids who were awash in gun violence in D.C., in order to try to reduce urban gun crimes -- and used a single word, ‘brainwashing,’ to lie to the country that Holder's remarks are evidence that he and the Obama administration strive to infringe upon people's Second Amendment rights. It's sickening that this kind of inflammatory word-twisting and misrepresentation not only goes unchallenged but is partially sanctioned by your site as 'Half True.’ "
Another reader wrote, "Not to nitpick, but in the quote you posted, Holder didn't say that brainwashing was his mission. Instead, he said that it was something that needed to be done. A mission, to me, is your sole or primary focus, and that's probably why Ted Cruz used that word -- it sounds far more extreme than what was actually said."
One reader thought we were too hard on Donald Trump for giving a False rating to his claim that the five Guantanamo detainees swapped for Bowe Bergdahl are "back on the battlefield."
"You know guys, I think you are more concerned about your own credibility than the truth. You wait until the very end of your verbose article to admit that the five may have continued their connections with terrorists, albeit temporarily from Qatar. I have noticed this trend in your reporting, making it less than trustworthy."
Several readers said we should have been more critical of a statement by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley that the economy is "too weak to raise income levels." We rated that Mostly True. We noted that while the economy under Obama has made significant strides in such areas as job creation, income has not been an area of significant improvement. Median income is lower now compared to 2009. It is, however, slightly up from its low point in 2012."
One reader wrote, "This seems to be somewhat circular logic -- calling the economy weak because income levels have not risen, thus keeping incomes from rising. When you look at the entire economy -- gross domestic product, corporate profits, etc. -- it’s not doing too bad, and raising wages, particularly the minimum wage, would strengthen the economy. Any weakness in the economy is the result of low wages, not the cause."
Several readers thought we let House Speaker Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans off easy when giving him a True rating for his claim that "today, if you were raised poor, you’re just as likely to stay poor as you were 50 years ago."
One wrote, "True? Really? How about the fact that poverty 50 years ago was hell compared to what it is today? The Republicans constantly say that people in poverty live so much better today than they used to. They can’t have it both ways. I know that you’ll say, ‘Well, we only checked the statement.’ Yeah, but the whole point of the statement is to claim that poverty programs aren’t working. Mobility and poverty are two completely different things. You’re letting him combine the two and making him sound like he’s right."
One reader criticized our story, "The presidential scorecards so far," which listed the summaries of our fact-check ratings for the 2016 presidential field, candidate by candidate.
Such a comparison, the reader wrote, "is absolutely meaningless, because the statements selected for Truth-O-Meter ratings for each candidate were neither scientifically nor randomly selected. In previous responses to my emails, Truth-O-Meter personnel have stated that the criteria used for selection of statements is documented and thus is sufficient for journalistic integrity. I have no problem with what statements you select for fact-checking, or the process used in the selection. However, trying to lump all such statements together into a scorecard, and then comparing scorecards for different people, when different statements were rated, is scientifically meaningless, and, in my opinion, advocacy journalism rather than fact-based journalism."
A few readers lobbed more general criticism our way.
One wrote, "Since you want to hear suggestions, my suggestion is that you hire an outside firm, preferably one without an agenda, to fact-check yourselves. Nobody believes you anymore. Your credibility is shot; at this point, you're nothing more than annoyance. But, cheer up: There are still a lot of dumb, uninformed people out there whom you might be able to fool, so you may be able to do some more damage to this country yet."
Another wrote, "You have proven yourself to be once again not a fact-checker but a left-leaning, anti-American group whose paper supports the leftist ideology of hatred."
Another sarcastically cited our decision to award the 2015 Lie of the Year to Donald Trump. "Thank you! I didn't like Donald Trump before, but after seeing how dishonest and biased you are, I am voting for him out of spite. It's shameful that you call yourself neutral."
On the other hand, one reader appreciated the follow-up to our False rating for Hillary Clinton’s statement that ISIS is "going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists." We addressed reader concerns in our subsequent article, "New video or not, Clinton claim about ISIS using Trump in video is still False."
The reader wrote, "I saw the piece in PolitiFact yesterday on this issue. While I disagree with the outcome, I very much respect the upfront manner in which PolitiFact addressed the issue with rational, sensible discourse. I truly enjoy the publication and will continue to be an avid daily reader."
A few other readers wrote us to thank us for what we do.
One reader from Europe wrote, "The currency of political activity worldwide is exaggeration, half-truth and straight-out falsehood -- truly a debased coinage. This is why we could do with you lot on this side of the Atlantic. Europe, if not indeed the world, needs you."
One reader particularly praised the article, "PolitiFact Sheet: 3 things to know about the 'gun show loophole.' " The reader wrote, "I look forward to reading more of your articles and believe that fully understanding political language and phrasing is key to sorting through the vitriol that is our political culture."
One reader who has taught college-level political science courses online wrote to share his appreciation. "I added the Truth-O-Meter to my site soon after you unveiled it. My students always enjoy it, and it repeatedly reinforces my insistence that they be critical thinkers when observing American politics. Thanks so much for the service you provide not just to today's voters but also to educating the next generation of voters."
Finally, one reader shared with us the role PolitiFact plays in his breakfast routine: "Making coffee in the morning is not without its challenges when waiting for the water to get hot. Reading PolitiFact makes the time go by a bit faster."