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In November, President Joe Biden signed into law a major infrastructure bill, Democrats sought to deflect criticism over inflation, and the nation argued over rules related to COVID-19 vaccines and critical race theory.
At PolitiFact, we are thankful for reader feedback. Here’s a selection of reader reactions sent via email and on our Facebook page, lightly edited for length and clarity. Readers can email us fact-check ideas and feedback at [email protected].
Biden said in October that "raising the debt limit is usually a bipartisan undertaking." Democrats did help pass bipartisan legislation to raise the debt ceiling three times during the Trump administration. But there have been times when Democrats largely didn’t join Republicans in raising the debt ceiling. We rated Biden’s statement Half True.
A reader said that the context of debt ceiling votes in 2003, 2004 and 2006 were different from the vote this fall. "Your comparing them is not helpful without also sharing how they were different. I would appreciate it if you would develop the context of events more as you share your work, or stop using the false equivalencies."
Biden said in October that people who are vaccinated for the coronavirus "cannot spread it to you." That’s overstating the case. Multiple studies show that a vaccinated person is significantly less likely to pass the coronavirus to someone else than an unvaccinated person is, but the transmission risk is not zero. We rated the statement Half True.
A reader said we didn’t address the chance of a vaccinated worker who is wearing PPE to transmit the virus. "This article makes it sound like the vaccinated workers (who) are wearing PPE and spreading the disease. There are no figures on this. The figure would be infinitesimally small, certainly enough to claim that they would not infect you. So the claim is more than Half True; it is Mostly True."
We found that an image mocking a Tesla recharging with a generator was lacking context. The implication of the post was that the use of the gasoline generator illustrates that the electric vehicle is an inferior technology, or that it ultimately depends on fossil fuels. The reality is more complicated than that.
Dozens of readers thought we should not have fact-checked the image; a reader who posted the image objected to our fact-checking article. "My Facebook page is for a small group of people laughing at the ridiculousness of life; we discriminate equally, against our own stupidity and others. We are not interested in facts — just having a laugh, but apparently that is now becoming taboo. We are not that stupid to think that a Tesla electric car would have to stop on the side of the road and use a generator to recharge, but the idea is amusing."
We fact-checked Biden saying that from the start, the Second Amendment "limited the type of people who could own a gun and what type of weapon you could own." The Second Amendment limited government power, not the rights of individuals. Laws at the time that limited firearm ownership were primarily racist, aimed at controlling Black people and Native Americans. We rated his statement False.
A reader responded: "At the time the Amendment was written, guns that fired more than a few bullets at a time didn't exist and most guns of the period, owned by militia, were single shot flints."
A North Carolina Democrat running for U.S. Senate, state Sen. Jeff Jackson, said, "The five most-endangered hospitals in the country are all in (North Carolina)." A 2020 report found six North Carolina hospitals to be among 216 of the nation’s "most vulnerable," but there is no ranking among these hospitals. It’s inaccurate for Jackson to suggest that the situation is more dire for rural hospitals in North Carolina than it is for those in other states. We rated his statement Mostly False.
A reader who worked for employers managing health care said we oversimplified a complex topic and relied on hospital advocates for information.
"The role and funding of rural hospitals is one of the most complex business and social topics in health care," the reader wrote. "Major issues include what services should be done locally? What is the right level of local resources and staff, since utilization of any particular service varies a lot over time? The other gap in the article is that the expansion of Medicaid and health exchanges has created major gains for much of the hospital industry."
A TikTok video used a table of Israel COVID-19 cases to say 86% cases in July were in fully vaccinated individuals.The table cherry-picked age-group data to come up with an artificially high percentage of cases from vaccinated Israelis. It omitted cases among teenagers and children, and ignored that about a third of the unvaccinated Israelis have some immunity from a previous infection. Gaining immunity through infection is much riskier than being vaccinated. We rated the statement False.
A reader objected, stating the data was cherry picked. "I agree that the data presented on TikTok only presents part of the data. However, the data presented is not false. It is 100% accurate as presented. Your rating of False is dishonest."
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said, "In 2015, when Terry McAuliffe was governor, the Virginia Department of Education promoted incorporating critical race theory lens in education...They were trying to indoctrinate kids." As evidence, Scott cited a slide presentation from 2015 which referred to the theory only once — and it was under a slide marked "alternatives." Scott also cited a 2019 memo written by the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction that listed resources for school leaders, not as a part of the curriculum. We rated his statement Mostly False.
Some readers thought we were too harsh on Scott. One Facebook commenter objected to our sentence that "the documents he referenced were created as suggested reading and training material for educators, not students." The reader wrote: "This makes no sense. Surely the training material for educators will determine what will be passed along by the teachers to the students."
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers claimed that the idea that the pandemic being one of the unvaccinated is a "total lie." The virus started and spread among unvaccinated people before vaccines were developed and rolled out. Vaccinated people can catch COVID-19, but at much lower rates than those who are unvaccinated. They are even less likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus. We rated his statement False.
A reader thought we should have been more harsh: "Come on PolitiFact, that statement was a Pants on Fire statement."
PolitiFact fact-checks politicians and candidates from both major parties, including Biden and former President Donald Trump, in addition to Democrats and Republicans running for statewide offices. However, a subscriber to our weekly email said we fall short of our nonpartisan goals.
"The perception is that your fact checking does not come from a neutral place. I always get the impression that most of the fact checking is slightly defensive in the sense that you seem to fact-check the right more often than the left — and the subtext seems to be to fact-check in order to ‘help’ the left." The reader added a bit of humor: "To be honest with you, while Pants on Fire is meant to be funny, it’s at the same time potentially an ‘incendiary’ accusation … pun fully intended!"
PolitiFact has fact-checked a number of statements about Kyle Rittenhouse, who claimed self-defense in shooting three people, two fatally, during a violent protest. One of those fact-checks was the statement that "at 17 years old Kyle (Rittenhouse) was perfectly legal to be able to possess that rifle without parental supervision." We rated that statement False. On the day before the jury began deliberations, the judge in the trial dismissed a misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 against Rittenhouse. The claim we rated was made two days after the shooting. As we wrote at the time, whether Rittenhouse violated the law by possessing a firearm underage was the subject of ongoing litigation at the time, it was not "perfectly legal." We explained in more detail in an editor’s note. Rittenhouse was acquitted on Nov. 19 by a jury on all counts.
Dozens of readers disputed our fact-check. "I went to a top 10 law school," wrote one reader. "I don't see how any lawyer could not understand that Wisconsin law permits carriage of a long gun by a 17 year old. Yes, the law is drafted rather horribly, and several statutes have to be read in conjunction, but that's absolutely normal. To the point where I can't understand why the prosecutor brought this charge, as it makes him look bad. I am in no means a Rittenhouse supporter. I voted for Biden. But this undermines PolitiFact."
We will end with kudos from a few readers:
We fact-checked Dennis Prager, a conservative commentator, who said, "During the AIDS crisis, can you imagine if gay men and intravenous drug users … had they been pariahs the way the non-vaccinated are? But it would've been inconceivable." To suggest that gay men and intravenous drug users were not considered pariahs during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s is extraordinarily inaccurate. We rated his statement Pants on Fire.
"You did such a wonderful job of clarifying the human cost when government bungles the response to a health crisis such as happened with AIDS," a reader wrote. "An important and tragic history lesson of the human costs of careless and irresponsible behavior by our elected officials. A story that needs to be told again and again."
"Glad you hold everyone's feet to the fire," wrote a reader in a Facebook comment of our fact-check of White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who exaggerated improvements in employment and the coronavirus death rate.
A reader commented on our post about the Poynter Institute’s annual gala: "Keep them honest and be fair to take the time to evaluate the entire spectrum of political beliefs and not just focus on the right — thanks for PolitiFact."
A final note to all of our readers who sent us compliments, ideas and criticism. We’ve seen it all this year — quotes out of context, distorted data, misleading headlines — and the list goes on. What will be the biggest lie of 2021? We’ll announce the "winner" of our annual Lie of the Year in the coming weeks. Be the first to know and subscribe at politifact.com/signup.
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Readers sound off about our fact-checks on economy, health care and COVID-19.