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PolitiFact's 5 most-viewed fact checks from January
Three of the five most-read PolitiFact items in January stemmed from the State of the Union address. Three of the five most-read PolitiFact items in January stemmed from the State of the Union address.

Three of the five most-read PolitiFact items in January stemmed from the State of the Union address.

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan February 16, 2015

Here are PolitiFact’s top 5 most-viewed fact-checks and special reports of January 2015, counting down to the most popular story.

5. Rand Paul says most people receive disability for back pain, anxiety

Like many Republican presidential hopefuls, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is already traveling to some of the early primary states in anticipation of a 2016 decision. While in New Hampshire, Paul was caught making a dubious claim about the disability program: "Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club," he said, adding that people were "gaming the system."

But the numbers don’t back up Paul’s claim.

First, just a small fraction -- less than 2 percent -- of the money doled out by the federal disability program goes to people who shouldn’t receive it, according to a federal audit.

Second, anxiety and back pain don’t make up half of the applicants. The two broader disability categories that include back pain ("diseases of the musculoskeletal system") and anxiety disorders ("mental disorders - other") don’t even come close to 50 percent, let alone those two ailments by themselves. We rated the claim False.

4. Joni Ernst's 2015 State of the Union rebuttal: annotated

We tried something new at PolitiFact this year. For the State of the Union address and the Republican response, we not only fact-checked each speech in real time, we also created annotated versions of the speech. Readers had the ability to click on a line of text or passage in the speech and learn more about that fact or statement.

For the GOP address delivered by new Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, we looked at claims about stagnant wages, canceled health care plans and the Keystone XL pipeline. Our work is still available for you to view.

3. Joni Ernst's bread bags: Iowans give us their take

Almost instantly, Ernst’s comment about growing up poor and wearing bread bags on her shoes as a kid to keep them dry become the most memorable line of her speech.

"We were raised to live simply, not to waste. It was a lesson my mother taught me every rainy morning," Ernst said. "You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed, because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet. Our parents may not have had much, but they worked hard for what they did have."

The anecdote incited laughter from critics but resonated with many of her constituents and supporters. We decided to dig into it further, talking with Ernst’s friends and neighbors as well as long-time Iowans and historians to get a greater sense of its prevalence. The result was an interesting trip to 1970s Iowa. (We later published more about the practice based on reader submissions, in our "Mailbag: Bread Bag Edition.")

2. Barack Obama's 2015 State of the Union address: annotated

For Obama’s sixth, and penultimate, State of the Union address, we asked our fans and readers to fund a project that would allow us to annotate Obama’s speech. The result was overwhelming. We not only reached our goal, but raised enough to send reporters to Iowa and New Hampshire to cover the 2016 primary season as well.

Readers who graciously donated to our Kickstarter campaign woke up the morning after Obama’s speech to an annotated copy of the 2015 State of the Union address. The end result from our team was more than 180 annotations of the 6,700-word speech, including links to new and old fact-checks on issues such as education rates, paid maternity leave and middle-class wages.

A quick warning: Due to the limitations of the program we used -- provided by -- we had to limit annotations on the speech to PolitiFact reporters and editors for a short period of time. So if you click on the link today, you might see additional annotations from readers that have not been vetted by our team.

1. What will happen to taxes on Jan. 1, 2015? Chain email gets tax rates all wrong

For the second year, we spotted an erroneous chain email that claimed Americans will be paying new taxes at the start of 2015 thanks to Obama and Democrats.

Included with a list of new taxes that allegedly went into effect Jan. 1 was this disclaimer:

These taxes were all passed only with democrat votes, no republicans voted for these taxes.   

These taxes were all passed under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

If you think that it is important that everyone in the U.S. should know this, pass it  on. If not, then delete it.

The email gets many things wrong, most notably scaring people by saying their tax rates will go up on New Year’s Day 2015. In addition, most of the rates cited are wrong in some way, and are uniformly higher than the actual rates. And the email is flat-out wrong when it blames Democrats, and Obamacare for the increases. The bulk of the tax hikes stem from a different bill entirely -- one that received support from a large majority of Senate Republicans and a significant minority of House Republicans.

We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

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PolitiFact's 5 most-viewed fact checks from January