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In January, the United States marked the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and President Joe Biden’s first year in office, Republicans blocked federal voting rights legislation, and the country experienced a surge of the COVID-19 omicron variant.
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 the responses, lightly edited for length and clarity. Readers can email us fact-check ideas and feedback at [email protected].
We wrote a story about President Joe Biden’s progress on 99 of his campaign promises about COVID-19, racial justice, the economy and climate change, among other things. We rate outcomes on our promise tracker, not intentions. Some readers disagreed with that approach.
"We must remember that the benchmark is, has he TRIED to do these things, not if Congress has passed them, which is completely outside his purview and control," a reader said on Facebook. "We can't blame Biden for Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema's no votes."
"One person, President or not, should not get the credit or blame for everything that Congress and the Senate does or doesn't do," another reader wrote. "To focus on just one leader's efforts, successes or failures, is a deeply skewed account of how things get done or don't get done."
Biden said that as a youth, "I got arrested" protesting for civil rights. Biden may have participated in one or two flare-ups over racial discrimination in housing that occurred near his home in Delaware when he was in a teenager. But there is no evidence that Biden was actually arrested in the sense of being booked at a police station and facing any consequences in the criminal justice system. We rated his statement False.
A reader commented on Facebook: "Splitting hairs, much, PolitiFact? Arrested or not, the story illustrates that Joe has always been on the right side of the civil rights issue. That's the real point, isn't it?"
We wrote a story about Robert Malone, a vaccine scientist who became an anti-vaccine darling. Malone was banned from Twitter for violating the platform's COVID-19 misinformation policies. Malone has billed himself as the "inventor" of mRNA vaccines. In reality, the development of the vaccines and the technology they rely on involved countless scientists and several other breakthroughs. Malone has said he got both doses of the Moderna vaccine, although he has also claimed the shots worsened the prolonged symptoms he experienced from a previous COVID-19 infection.
This reader summed up some of the common feedback we heard about our article:
"Good piece on Dr. Malone. I think the most important takeaway was debunking his claim of being the inventor of mRNA vaccines. As you argued well, the technology is a culmination of work of dozens of scientists, and his claim as *the* inventor is dubious at best."
But the reader said other parts of the criticism of Malone seemed more tenuous: "It’s hard to tag him as an anti-vax right winger, and could create some cognitive dissonance and muddle your message."
Another reader asked why we didn’t mention the usage of monoclonal antibodies as a treatment for COVID-19. "I personally am vaccinated, but would like to hear your perspective on monoclonal antibodies. It seems bizarre that his solution to the problem is entirely left out of your article. Why are we not talking about monoclonal antibodies and their efficacy when used in conjunction with other medication?"
We wrote a story on same-day voter registration, which is offered to voters in 20 states. Democrats wrote legislation to require all states to offer it, but that was rejected by Republicans. A reader said we should have included more perspective from Republicans:
"In your well-written article, I only found one small paragraph giving perspective on why one conservative group (not even specifically Republicans) actually oppose it. In honor of MLK Day, I shared an article with my coworkers describing how MLK’s principles were deeply influenced by the work of Mohandas Gandhi. One of these principles was non-violence seeks to win the ‘friendship and understanding’ of the opponent, not to humiliate him. I hope this new year provides more opportunities for understanding and friendship between people simply having somewhat different values and priorities (see Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory and his TED Talk)."
PolitiFact and other International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers in January wrote a letter to YouTube asking that it step up efforts to combat online disinformation and misinformation worldwide.
"It's just plain common sense that you can't rely on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter to provide unbiased information," one reader wrote. "All three of those platforms are like the ‘wild west’ just by the false narratives they foster. I am of the opinion that the internet is a definite form of communication and it should fall under the Federal Communications Commission for some kind of regulation."
PolitiFact Wisconsin put Sen. Ron Johnson on our Flip-O-Meter after he announced he would seek re-election. In 2016, Johnson was unequivocal: that term, his second, would be his last.
Now, not so much. We rated his change of position Full Flop.
Some readers questioned why we took Johnson to task. "So what! He changed his mind! So what!" Another reader replied to that comment: "It matters because he lied."
We fact-checked a statement by Trump that Democrats "are trying to ban voter ID." His spokesperson cited a Democratic bill in 2020 that would have eased voter ID requirements. That bill was not enacted. Democrats have proposed various bills that would include a work around for voters who lack ID or a long list of acceptable forms of IDs. We rated Trump’s statement Mostly False. We heard a mixture of reactions from readers:
"Clearly, Democrats are seeking on a federal level to interfere with states’ voter ID laws. Requiring a state to accept utility bills would ban that state from requiring actual identification. Trump’s statement is Mostly True."
"Get out of left field and get into center field. Trump said they were TRYING to take away voter ID in states that have it." The left is trying to take away voter ID, the reader wrote.
"Dems would end voter ID if they could. They know that the majority of Americans want voter ID so instead they’ll try to pass a watered down version of voter ID."
"One of the major problems for the United States is the loss of voices and intimidation of moderates by right and left extremists. There is no value to me in saying that a specific statement by Trump is wrong/greatly exaggerated – duh! Moderates want a thoughtful, moderate discussion of voter ID."
We fact-checked a billboard by the Hillsborough County, Florida, GOP that refers to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, as a communist. The group’s chair told the Tampa Bay Times that it used the label because Castor is a "the leading proponent for the Green New Deal." That’s wrong on many levels. We rated the billboard Pants on Fire!
A reader sent us an email: "Thank you for your article dispelling the despicable billboard labeling Congresswoman Castor a communist. I speak as a Reagan Republican when I tell you that the current leadership of our party within Hillsborough County is typical of who and what is ruining my beloved GOP: conspiracy theorists and far-right extremists who have no clue and no respect. They are our equivalent of the far-left progressives who are attempting to hijack the Democratic Party. I may not always agree with the Congresswoman, but I happen to know her on a personal level, and she is a fine individual with love for her family and friends and for her country."
In December, PolitiFact awarded the annual Lie of the Year to lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. A retired librarian sent us an email with congratulations because our coverage was included in the Library of Congress historical collection of internet materials related to the attack.
"I have always been impressed with your work and the website, and now I know why — as a fellow librarian (retired), I salute you!"
We heard from several donors who appreciate PolitiFact’s efforts at nonpartisan fact-checking.
"Facts are the foundation of truth, which is the foundation of trust."
"There is a continuing need for accurate, unbiased fact checking."
"I support your efforts to always present the truth in politics."
We will end on a light note with some amusing comments by those who saw our TikTok showing that Washington D.C. grocery stores do not require proof of vaccination or photo ID to buy groceries. Our fact-checker Bill McCarthy went to a store to buy milk and drank some straight out of the bottle. We won’t tell his mom!
One viewer asked, "I'm sorry, did you just buy a half gallon of milk to drink casually on the Mall?"
See links in fact-checks