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Firefighters at an apartment house following a Russian rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. (AP) Firefighters at an apartment house following a Russian rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. (AP)

Firefighters at an apartment house following a Russian rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg March 21, 2022

Readers care deeply about Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the humanitarian disaster that has unfolded. Their feedback reflected outrage over the killing and debates over the impact on energy prices and how America should respond. We got reactions to the false claims about Ukrainian bioweapon labs, and whether Russian President Vladimir Putin could be charged with war crimes.

Below, our readers’ thoughts, lightly edited for length and clarity. Readers can email us fact-check ideas and feedback at [email protected].

Gas prices

Our fact-checks on the price of gasoline, the Keystone XL pipeline and anything tied to the rising cost of energy drew many comments. Not all of them hewed to the facts.

One reader said: "Gas prices are going up because OPEC and our oil companies have reduced the supply of crude oil while demand is rising, and they can price fuel almost as high as they want because they know people must have it to go to work, or to school, or to the grocery store and home again."

Another put the blame on "canceling fossil fuel subsidies, canceling permits and leases in ANWR, canceling the XL pipeline."

"Anytime there’s a threat to inventory the prices go up," said another reader.

And another said: "Seems like we could be energy independent in not only fossil fuels but the resources and manufacturing of green energy technologies if we tried. If we didn't just try to find temporary political benefit or blame." 

Let’s recap some of our key findings on the rising price of gasoline.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine led to sanctions that cut off U.S. oil purchases from Russia. The war alone isn’t driving up prices. They were rising earlier as the world economy recovered from the pandemic slow down. Supply did not keep up with demand, and that pushed prices higher.

See our fuller explanation here.

On the Keystone XL pipeline, we found that under the best scenario, the pipeline was years away from completion, there was no certainty that the pipeline could have produced a net increase of 800,000 barrels a day, rather than just carrying oil from Canada that is currently being transported some other way, and producers had no obligation to sell that oil to U.S. refiners.

As for oil production, the numbers show that they’ve been on par with the levels during the Trump administration, and are on track to reach an historic high in 2023.

You can browse all of our recent coverage on energy here.

Ukraine and bioweapons labs

The day after Russia launched its assault on Ukraine, social media posts carried the false claim that President Vladimir Putin was targeting U.S.-run biological weapons labs in Ukraine. Some readers didn’t accept our findings that Ukraine has no biological weapon program, nor is the U.S. funding the labs that such an effort would require.

"Our government obviously paid off PolitiFact to say what they want us to hear," wrote one reader. 

"Make sure you find a reliable media source ‘cause mainstream media will not report the truth to what's going on," said another.

Whether it was Russia, China or Fox News’ Tucker Carlson saying the U.S. backed bioweapon labs in Ukraine, we found no evidence to back it up. What we did find was about a dozen well-known public health and veterinary research labs doing the sort of work that takes place around the world. They work with dangerous pathogens, because those are the sorts of hazards that can kill people and livestock. The U.S. and other countries help pay for that work.

While the U.S. may provide funding to upgrade or build labs in other countries, the labs are run by those countries themselves, and the program’s goal is to prevent biological threats, not create them.

One reader wrote to express his thanks: "I know it seems niche at times but your work is one of the only published sources I've seen speaking out against some of the misinformation that is misleading naive people everyday."

"I have close family members who are totally consumed with the information that you write against in your article regarding the Ukrainian biolabs.They're obsessed with that entire source and it's beyond frustrating, but also beyond logical rational behavior."

One reader’s criticism brought up an important detail.

"First PolitiFact said there were absolutely no bio labs in Ukraine. Now they are changing their story and saying no bio weapons labs. How can anyone trust anything Politifact says?"

For full context, we encourage people to read our articles, not just the headlines. 

Putin and war crimes

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has flouted international law more dramatically than almost any other military incursion since the end of World War II. We asked experts in foreign policy, military history, and international law if he could be tried for war crimes.

"Why are we debating something so patently obvious that it's happening right in front of our eyes! Trust what you see,"  wrote one reader.

"Declaring war without a cause IS a crime. It is not defense. All war is criminal in its initiation," said another.

And a third asked, "Wouldn't Bush be ahead of him in line? Where was our outrage during the slaughter of Iraq?"

The International Criminal Court opened an investigation on Feb. 28 involving war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the invasion of Ukraine. 

Stacey Abrams’ claim on Texas ballot denial

We gave a Half True rating to Stacey Abrams’ claim that in Texas, "a 95-year-old World War II veteran is being denied the right to vote by mail because he can't produce a registration number he got back in the 1950s."

Abrams is a Democrat running to be governor of Georgia. The veteran she mentioned did have his mail-in ballot application rejected twice, but by the time she spoke, the problem was nearly resolved.

"You may mark her comment Half True but the new hurdles for someone already on voter rolls is real and true. This is the definition of voter suppression. ‘Free and fair elections are the foundation of every healthy democracy, ensuring that government authority derives from the will of the people,’" said one reader.

Another reader asked, "How many other Texans in a similar situation have no one to help them navigate all the hoops necessary in order to solve this problem before the deadline to request a mail-in ballot on Feb. 18?"

Biden and the gun liability law

We rated False President Joe Biden’s State of the Union claim that a liability shield "makes gun manufacturers the only industry in America that can’t be sued, the only one." Congress has passed other laws that protect a variety of business sectors from lawsuits in certain situations, so this type of law isn’t unique to the gun industry.

One reader said "You’re citing gun dealers, not gun manufacturers. BIG difference. If a toy hurts kids, the manufacturer should be primarily held liable, not Target."

The 2005 law does protect both firearm manufacturers and dealers. The bill reads: "The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) is a United States law which protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes have been committed with their products." 

COVID-19, Fauci and changing recommendations on masks

We explored the persistent belief that the nation’s top infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci lied about masks. Early in the pandemic, Fauci said masks would offer little protection. Several weeks later, as new evidence of how the virus spread became known, Fauci said masks were critical.

We looked at the changing findings of research, especially in the face of a brand new virus.

Reader responses were mixed.

"The people (who say Fauci lied) do not have a basic understanding of how scientific research occurs. Theories constantly change as information becomes available," wrote one reader.

Others were not so convinced.

"The problem is not that he directly ‘lied’ to anyone, it's that he regularly pushed theory as fact, knowing it couldn't be proven, which is inherently dishonest. Therefore, Fauci lied, people died," said one reader.

But another reader, while critical of Fauci, focused on the price of a flawed message.

"Fauci absolutely screwed up telling people masks don't work because he was afraid of a rush on civilians buying them. He should've just leveled with the public from the door and said ‘look we don't have enough. We need to save them for medical personnel’ because that initial lie gave conspiracy theorists and right wing grifters their original ammunition to discredit him."

Claims of Clinton lying

A relatively obscure legal filing by the special prosecutor investigating the FBI’s probe of Russian ties to the 2016 Trump campaign led some to claim that there was proof that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spied on the Trump campaign.

Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott said the filing showed that Clinton "actually spied on the president of the United States." We rated that False, because the filing didn’t say that.

A commentator on Reddit said, "Even as a Republican hoping she gets caught for what Scott says… that is not what the report claims. At least not what we’ve seen."

And another Reddit user added, "Even Durham stated that Republicans are reading more into his report than what he said."

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