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Josie Hollingsworth
By Josie Hollingsworth September 7, 2021
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman September 7, 2021

President Joe Biden’s statements about Afghanistan, misinformation about COVID-19 and political discussions about inflation continue to be frequent topics of our fact-checking.

Here’s a selection of reader reactions in emails and on our Facebook page to our fact-checks, lightly edited for length and clarity. Readers can email us fact-check ideas and feedback at [email protected]

• • •

We wrote about our fact-checks of 10 types of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation swirling online.

A family doctor in Florida sent us this reaction: "I read your article in the Tampa Bay Times on the misinformation on Covid vaccines. It is very informative and entertaining. I have printed it out for some of my patients to help convince them to get the vaccine. The bibliography with the links is fantastic."

• • •

We looked at how Sweden, with fewer restrictions than the U.S., has done in managing COVID-19. A reader said the two countries aren’t comparable. 

"Yes, a country with a robust, working national health care system and a population that is a fraction of ours, and the density if that population is spread completely differently had different numbers than we did! Who could have guessed? Let’s compare with a country that has the same populace and no national healthcare involved and that would be more complete."

While the United States and Sweden are quite different, there were plenty of examples of critics referring to success in the Scandinavian country. We select statements to fact-check about topics that are in the news, and this comparison was significant and widely shared. Nevertheless, verifying the facts of the situation, we found that the post cherry-picked data from a single month and left out substantial context about Sweden’s COVID-19 experience since the pandemic began. We rated it Half True.

• • •

A reader didn’t like our rating of Mostly False for President Joe Biden’s claim, "The fastest-growing population in the United States is Hispanic." 

"This is not Mostly False but Mostly True, or True with the reasonable interpretation that he was referring to ‘numerical’ not percent change. You chose to impose your definition over a reasonable interpretation of the data and statement."

"PolitiFact should not be picking and choosing how to interpret statements. This is particularly true when the writeup on the issue mentions the perfectly reasonable and therefore probably intended interpretation. This smacks of bias and/or sensationalization and impacts overall credibility. "

Other interpretations of numbers are key to this fact-check. We try to balance the actual words said with the context. It also mattered in this case that the explanation the White House provided didn't make sense in the context of his remarks.

• • •

Biden’s shifting public messaging about whether withdrawal from Afghanistan would be chaotic is now in the spotlight. We decided to see how Biden’s statements shifted over time, so we turned to our Flip-O-Meter, in which we evaluate whether a politician has been consistent in their position. We rated him with a Full Flop. which drew a lot of reactions from readers.

"Interesting that the actual doing brings about a better understanding of the situation. And articles like this that call the president's efforts a flop are not helpful, it only feeds the haters. Come on, PolitiFact, you can do better than this!"

"PolitiFact, you’re wrong. Two different situations. If the time permitted for a planned withdrawal it would not have been chaos. This was an emergency withdrawal when the government collapsed, and the military surrendered to the Taliban. One planned, the other an emergency to get Americans out safely. So no flop. Please correct."

"All of a sudden PolitiFact is gospel to Republicans. Yes, Biden flipped. And? The fact that Afghanistan flipped as quickly as it did proved we never should have been there and it was time to go."

"I don’t think it’s necessarily a flop to be optimistic going into a situation but then recognize in retrospect that it was always doomed."

"Yes, the statements changed because the situation changed. How is this a ‘full flop’? There does not appear to be an attempt to mislead the public, either then or now. The message I'm getting is that PolitiFact is trying to create a story ... generate a controversy where there shouldn't be one."

The Flip-O-Meter does not make a value judgment about a politician who changes positions on an issue. As we see above, some voters appreciate politicians who are flexible and have the ability to compromise or adapt their positions to the wishes of their voters.

Still, accusations of shifting positions are common in politics, and we’ve found that an analysis of the shift and the degree of change can be informative, especially in moments such as these.

The Flip-O-Meter has three ratings:

NO FLIP – No significant change in position.

HALF FLIP – A partial change in position.

FULL FLOP – A complete change in position. 

In the case of Biden, the meter detected a Full Flop. 

• • •

A reader found that we omitted some information about the drug Thalidomide in our fact-check about FDA approval. Thalidomide was prescribed around the world as a drug to treat nausea during pregnancy. It was directly linked to thousands of children being born with severe physical disabilities. 

"I agree that the referenced Facebook post is misleading. I'm surprised it's an approved drug as well. But in point of fact it is true that thalidomide was approved because of its efficacy that outweighs the safety risks in certain cases. Your assertion that the FDA never approved thalidomide is not a fact. It's often left to doctors to balance the risks and benefits of a therapeutic agent for each patient; so it's not unusual for drugs that are dangerous in some cohorts to get approval notwithstanding the known risks.

I hope this helps. I don't envy you the task of sorting out the truth of the world. You must have a very diverse set of skills and background to be able to run down the ultimate truth of any statement that flies across the internet."

Thank you, reader! Good catch. This fact-check has been corrected to reflect that the FDA approved thalidomide in the late 1990s, under strict conditions, as a treatment for people with multiple myeloma and lesions from leprosy, and required an extensive warning that it not be used by pregnant women. We’ve clarified the ruling statement to capture the context of the claim more precisely, in the drug’s effect on pregnant women. The rating is not changed. The original fact-check has been archived here.

• • •

We fact-checked Biden’s statement  that al-Qaida is "gone" from Afghanistan and rated it False. A U.N. report in June said that al-Qaida is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces in the range of several dozen to 500 persons.

"Less than 100 al-Qaida agents means that his statement is basically true while not being literally true. I don’t know how you can call this false," one reader wrote.

• • • 

We fact-checked a Facebook post that said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried "suspended gun rights — no due process — just because she says these people were merely ‘involved’ in January 6." We rated that statement Mostly False.

"So they are suspended until the person can show why they shouldn’t be suspended? Seems like due process would mean first a hearing, then a suspension," a reader wrote.

• • •

We fact-checked a claim about inflation by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., "Thanks to the insane tax-and-spending spree of President Joe Biden and Democrats in Washington, we are seeing six straight months of raging inflation." We rated that statement Mostly False. Our fact-check drew a lot of responses on Reddit including this statement:

"This article gives too much credit to the idea that inflation is being caused by government spending. The inflation we are seeing is more likely due largely to supply side issues that won't persist forever. Not that inflation from government spending and monetary policy won't be an issue. I'd wager that if those factors end up having a major impact it will happen much later. You just aren't going to see those effects when large parts of the economy are still ramping back up. At that point though, government spending including Biden's proposals could absolutely become problematic."

• • •

We will end with a comment from one of our emails about our work in general.

"My favorite thing is their Truth-O-Meter. Not disrespectful but just puts the facts out there. No one is exempt."

RELATED: All of our fact-checks about coronavirus

RELATED: All of our fact-checks about Afghanistan

RELATED: What we know about today’s Taliban

Joy Mayer from Trusting News contributed to this report. 

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