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In December, PolitiFact awarded the annual Lie of the Year to lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, lawmakers argued over the price tag of Build Back Better legislation, and Americans grappled with inflation and gas prices.
Our fact-checking of these topics prompted many of our readers to send us emails and comment on social media including on our Facebook page. Here is a look at some of our readers’ responses, lightly edited for length and clarity. Readers can email us fact-check ideas and feedback at [email protected].
PolitiFact had many options to choose from for our Lie of the Year: claims that the 2020 electio was stolen, claims that the COVID vaccine didn’t work, and the one we chose, lies about the Capitol insurrection and its significance. We chose this lie due its historical significance and because the events of Jan. 6 were widely broadcast on that day and many days afterward, allowing the public to see for itself exactly what happened. (Readers chose former President Donald Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election.) We heard a mixture of reactions from readers:
One commenter on our video expressed disappointment. "I wanted one lie not lies. I agree that the nonsense about Jan. 6 not being an insurrection is a big deal and worrisome, but the vote was for 2021 LIE of the Year, not LIES of the year. If that were the case, I would have voted for all of them. Because they are all a danger to truth." (This was not the first year that our Lie of the Year was a compilation of multiple lies.)
On reddit, one reader asked a frequent question we hear at PolitiFact: "Why not call political ‘falsehoods’ what they really are: lies?" PolitiFact’s use of the phrase Pants on Fire "does a disservice and downplays the severity of the disinformation and outright lies spread by partisan media as well as politicians."
We only use the word "lie" once a year. That’s because of the tricky issue of claiming to know a person’s intention. (PolitiFact Editor-in-Chief Angie Drobnic Holan explained in more detail our position on the word "lie" in a 2018 essay.)
One reader said we showed political bias and objected to this sentence in our story: "There is no evidence that the hundreds of people arrested for participating in the assault on the Capitol have been stripped of their constitutional rights, let alone that millions of Trump supporters are also under threat of losing their rights." The reader pointed to a statement by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth who said in court that a defendant’s civil rights were violated by the D.C. Department of Corrections. The reader wrote that "although Lamberth's statement refers to a single individual, he asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the civil rights of inmates were being violated."
The reader is correct that Lamberth raised concerns about treatment of an inmate, but that was about an inmate who he said didn’t get timely medical care — not that his civil rights were violated for being arrested and charged with a crime.
A Florida reader said in an email that our choice for Lie of the Year was "spot on." The reader added: "I know it takes time and a heck of a lot of effort to sift through the thousands of lies sent out daily. Thanks for publishing the truth."
One reader said we overlooked an important detail about rhetoric surrounding Jan. 6.
"It continues to gall me as a veteran and an American to hear the right use and own the word ‘patriot’ as they lie and attempt to rig elections. A perfect example is Tucker Carlson's phrase ‘patriot purge’ for referring to the subversive criminals who attempted to overthrow the legitimate election of 2020."
Another reader said the lies about Jan. 6 "should be the ‘Lie of the Century.’ A shameful day in our history that sadly, many are still trying to minimize and dilute how awful and just plain wrong (CRIMINAL) that it was."
One reader praised our article but said we picked the wrong Lie of the Year.
"By far the biggest, and most damaging, Lie of Year has been Trump’s constant rhetoric that the election was stolen. The Capitol riot was a byproduct of his election lies. His election lies caused the riot. Trump’s attempt to actually try and overturn a valid election is beyond concerning. I’m shocked people can’t see it for what it is. … I can’t think of a more un-American crime than to subvert democracy."
One reader wrote: "Thank you once again for your commitment to truth. How can we ever turn the tide of lies and half truths Tucker and others continue to deal us?"
CBS in Boston highlighted our Lie of the Year story and interviewed U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass, about denial of what happened that day.
"The way (Republicans) want to dismiss this, the way they say it doesn’t matter — it does!" said McGovern, who was inside the House chamber during the riot. "I think their denial, their complicity makes it all the more likely that we will see another such attack. Coups often don’t succeed the first time, but sometimes they succeed the second or third time. I want to make sure this never happens again."
Biden said in December, "even after accounting for rising prices, the typical American family has more money in their pockets than they did last year." The standard metric used for this purpose — per capita, inflation-adjusted personal disposable income — has risen steadily since before the pandemic hit, even when some anomalous quarters during the pandemic are factored out. We rated this statement Mostly True. We fact-checked the overall picture, but some readers said their personal situation didn’t result in more money in their pockets.
"Not sure whose pockets they looked at," wrote one reader on twitter. "I'm spending more on housing than I did 2 yrs ago."
"Disposable income (ie cash) for many households went up during the pandemic because people were not going out to do anything due to lockdowns," another reader tweeted.
Trump said in an interview in December that gasoline prices were $1.86 a gallon when he left office. The national average price for gasoline when Trump left the White House was actually $2.38, or about 28% higher than what Trump said. We rated the statement False. We focused on national average prices, while also highlighting prices from California and Texas. Readers noted that they found variation based on where they were buying gas.
During Trump’s tenure as president, "I drove and bought gasoline in a dozen states around the country. I found $4 fuel and I found $2 fuel every year," one reader wrote on Facebook. "Price fluctuations are more the result of refinery catastrophes, hurricanes, lengthy blizzards, high/low demands, proximity to major amusement parks, first/last gas station near a long stretch of remote highway, That's true of every president's term."
Critical race theory — a broad set of ideas about systemic bias and privilege — became an explosive flashpoint in campaigns and in America’s state legislatures in 2021. We explained the theory and states’ responses in a story, and fact-checked falsehoods about curriculum in Virginia and Arizona as well as a claim about action by the Justice Department.
One reader sent us an email thanking us for covering the topic and "false accusations leveled at it." The reader said he read the book "Critical Race Theory" by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic and "found nothing in it that would make me ‘ashamed of being white,’ as some of the opponents of CRT claim that CRT does," the reader wrote. "Keep up the great work!"
See individual fact-checks for sources