Mailbag: 'You contribute to the distrust of media'
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 3, 2017

There’s a new administration in Washington, but there’s been no let-up in emails from readers criticizing (or, occasionally, praising) our coverage. Here’s a rundown of some of the comments we’ve received from readers over the past few weeks.

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Numerous readers took us to task for our fact-check of a tweet by President Donald Trump that said, "The National Debt in my first month went down by $12 billion." While that is what the numbers showed, we quoted several fiscal policy experts who said that the national debt fluctuates up and down depending on the day, and that he was reading too much into a short-lived statistical quirk. We rated the statement Mostly False.

"Would it be possible that companies began adjusting fiscal policies after the November election in anticipation of a much more business-friendly federal bureaucracy? Would it be possible that corporations are repatriating some of their offshore profits in anticipation of tax reform this year?  After all, they had three months to adjust business short-term and long-term strategies. Was it the result of existing federal policies or a change in business behavior over the past quarter due to the election outcome? A unified Congress and White House might just be very well received by sole proprietors and small businesses. When you say actual facts are Mostly False because you put a political spin on your analysis, you contribute to the distrust of media outlets."

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One reader thanked us for our "interesting and informative" article, "Anatomy of a statistic: Do 80 percent of Americans oppose sanctuary cities?" It looked at two polls -- the Harvard-Harris poll and the Quinnipiac poll -- that asked differently worded questions about when undocumented immigrants should be deported and came up with divergent results.

"It's always good to remind people of the ways in which polls can be misleading. But I think you missed one of the key issues with those polls: The Harvard-Harris poll refers to crimes for which the illegal immigrants were ‘arrested,’ while the Quinnipiac University poll refers to crimes which they had ‘committed.’ Neither touches on whether they were ‘convicted’ of crimes. Last I checked, we still did the innocent-until-proven guilty thing here."

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One reader fluent in Hebrew added some detail to our fact-check of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that in the "past few weeks," President Donald Trump pointed out "Iranian violations on ballistic missile tests. By the way, these ballistic missiles are inscribed in Hebrew, ‘Israel must be destroyed.’ " We rated the statement Mostly True, though in passing, we noted that the Times of Israel noted dryly that "the words mean ‘Israel must be wiped out from.’ Apparently, Iran’s Hebrew writers intended to complete the phrase with something to the effect of ‘the face of the Earth’ but messed up their translation."

"The Hebrew phrase they note is: ישׁראל צריכה להימחק מעל

"The מעל (ma’al) at the end is what’s confusing the Times of Israel, and it does sound kind of funny in Hebrew, but I’m certain that that’s what they were going for is ‘Israel must be wiped out from above.’ It probably wouldn’t make sense to a native modern Hebrew speaker, but it’s just the sort of thing Google translate would spit out, and obviously makes a lot of sense to stamp on a missile."

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One reader suggested that we could have been more complete in our assessment of a claim on social media that "Melania Trump’s security detail at Trump Tower costs more than the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts." We rated that Mostly False.

"I agree with your analysis and inferences as to why the costs to New York City are currently significantly less than the billed $500,000 per day between the election and the inauguration. However, you completely ignore the additional costs to the U.S. government itself of maintaining a command post and full-time contingent at Trump Tower as well as personnel at the local airports used by the Trumps. This is certainly more expensive than the cost of securing the First Lady and her son at the White House, which has to be secured anyway. What is the daily cost of that? $50,000 per day? $200,000 per day? We may never know, as the Secret Service typically keeps such information extremely confidential. Your should have at least noted that these additional costs exist."

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Many readers were critical of our fact-check of Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who said that the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is "the most overturned court in the country." In rating the statement False, we wrote that "while the 9th Circuit has a higher than average reversal rate among cases it sends to the Supreme Court, it has not had the highest rate since at least 2004 (the oldest data point we could find). Even if it did, experts told us that the massive size of the 9th Circuit compared to the handful of cases it sends to the Supreme Court every year make reversal rates an imperfect measure of the quality of the 9th Circuit’s decisions. More broadly, experts say this statistic is a poor way of comparing courts."

"I found your analysis of Hannity’s claim to be very shoddy. In fact, it appears to be a blatantly biased article. If one looks at the number of cases overturned from each district court, the 9th circuit is by far the worst. You fail to even mention this fact. Even if you think the percentage of overturned cases is the more important metric, honest reporting should at least say that Hannity was right if you look at one metric, but here is why it isn’t the right metric to look at."

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A few readers wrote us to offer praise for our work.

Tony Leisner, who teaches at the school of public policy administration at Walden University, said his background working with doctoral students from several African countries gave him a special perspective on our fact-check of a claim by bloggers that "It would take $135 billion to eradicate global poverty." PolitiFact’s Global News Service rated this statement Mostly False.

The students’ dissertation studies, Leisner wrote, "typically focus on the micro-aspects of poverty as opposed to very broad policy. Based on this, I applaud you for pointing out the complexities of poverty alleviation. Complex problems almost by definition require more complex solutions. If money alone was a solution, then the majority of big lotto winners wouldn’t end up broke less than a decade later."

Another reader applauded our fact-checking of the CNN debate on health care between Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

"Thank you for helping to dissect the truths of last night's debate. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion between the two senators and felt it's been the most productive debate in the past year. Thank you to CNN for holding the event and to PolitiFact for taking the points through the Truth-O-Meter.

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Mailbag: 'You contribute to the distrust of media'