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It’s been a busy year for news so far with the 2024 presidential primary already underway. As we settle into spring, we thought we’d look back to see how we’re doing, at least in your eyes.
Here’s a selection of reader reactions to our recent fact-checks, edited for length, style and clarity. Readers can email us fact-check ideas and feedback at [email protected], or reach us via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
In February, PolitiFact New York fact-checked a claim by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who said that a poll showed 53% of voters that were made aware of stories about the contents of Hunter Biden laptop, which surfaced just before the election in The New York Post would have voted differently in the 2020 presidential election.
We rated the claim False because the poll was limited to a Republican-leaning subset of people who were following the laptop story and already were unlikely to vote for Joe Biden. We wrote that 53% of the subset represented only 19.6% of Americans, making Stefanik’s statement inaccurate.
But a False rating wasn’t harsh enough for one reader, who wrote, "You were too generous by half with your story." The reader argued we didn’t adequately explain the "terrible polling questions" and said Stefanik’s statement was "completely dishonest and insincere."
"You must discuss ‘intent’ more. The intention with this poll was to mislead and deceive. And then Stefanik ignored that dishonest intent to continue with the disingenuous usage of the polling results. You MUST be better at calling dishonest and insincere people out. Intent matters," the reader said.
We also examined the origins of an antisemitic conspiracy theory that Black people are the "real" Jewish people, a false theory amplified in recent months by National Basketball Association superstar Kyrie Irving and the rapper Ye.
One reader had this response:
"Don't call it a ‘theory’ — that gives it credibility. Call it what it is — a delusion, a fabrication."
We looked at a claim by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who said in a Jan. 27 interview that "the largest contributor to the debt ceiling, or to our deficit, has been the Trump tax cuts."
We rated that claim False, partly because more than two-thirds of today’s debt already existed before Trump became president. Trump’s tax cut accounts for a big chunk of debt added since 2017, but three other bills that Democrats supported are expected to add nearly as much or more to the national debt.
One reader was not convinced.
"There is a whopping error in logic in your analysis of AOC’s claim that Trump tax cuts are responsible for the CURRENT U.S. federal debt. You were comparing her statement about tax cuts that have been in effect for six years and their impact on the current debt ceiling with three programs, the vast majority of the spending of which will not occur for years. This is simply not a valid comparison. Those programs have contributed almost nothing to the current $31 trillion debt, unlike the 2017 tax cuts."
We wrote about Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s false claim that President Joe Biden "cheated on his taxes and got away with it."
Biden and first lady Jill Biden used special tax entities called S corporations to shield income from taxes. Experts told us that may be an "aggressive" way to avoid taxes, but that’s not "cheating" or illegal.
One reader had this to say:
"While the statement about cheating is not technically correct, it would seem that the correct description of what Mr. Biden does on his taxes is ‘hypocrite.' Joe Biden is one of those Democrats who likes to demonize the successful (or the so-called rich). He tells us that they don't pay their ‘fair share’ of taxes. Well, Joe could walk his talk, and not skirt paying his own ‘fair share’ of the tax burden. He could pay those Social Security and Medicare taxes that he avoided via his S Corp. No one is forcing him to take those deductions if he truly feels that the ‘rich’ should pay their so-called fair share."
A train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, leading to a controlled burn of toxic chemicals and causing residents to worry about their long-term health. In the aftermath, many people wondered why the Federal Emergency Management Agency hadn’t stepped in, so we examined the role of FEMA and other federal aid in the incident.
That elicited this grateful response from a FEMA employee:
"THANK YOU for the well-articulated brief on my agency and its involvement in the incident in Ohio. … FEMA gets the blame for everything that goes awry in these things. Despite everybody who works in emergency management knowing the cardinal rule of our business is "All disasters are local!!" I have personally heard local and state officials blame FEMA for things that FEMA has nothing to do with.
"The men and women of my agency work long and hard hours, away from their families for many months at a time — we go where the emergencies are! — and often under austere conditions. A thank you every now and then would be nice. But we will settle for an educated explanation of what we do and how we do it. Thank you for that!!"
We got more thanks from a reader in March after we wrote a story examining what it means to be "woke." It’s a term that began in Black vernacular as a warning to be wary of racism, but lately has been co-opted by conservatives and used as a term of derision against liberals. Liberals had adopted the term to show their activism during the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements.
"THANK YOU for the detailed explanation of "woke!" I've been puzzled by its use and why some politicians find speaking about identifying and understanding underlying issues in our society is a bad idea! Thank you for PolitiFact and how it helps our citizens understand the issues bedeviling us!"
We wrote that Biden flip-flopped on a 2020 campaign promise that there would be "no more drilling on federal lands," after he approved a plan on March 13 that allows ConocoPhillips to drill up to 199 wells for oil and gas in the Willow Reservoir in the North Slope of Alaska.
Our Flip-O-Meter doesn’t make value judgments of a politician’s decisions, but simply measures when he or she has changed positions on an issue. One reader thought our article lacked historical context about changed circumstances due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
"In 2020 when Biden emphatically said ‘no more drilling on federal lands,’ it was at a time when the worldwide supply and demand for oil was not affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While it is good fact-checking to make note of a candidate’s promise made while campaigning and his or her subsequent actions that are different when they are in office, it is also worth noting that sometimes a stubborn insistence to stick to an announced policy is not necessarily a good thing to do when the circumstances are substantially changed in 2023."
"The View" co-host Whoopi Goldberg said earlier this month that the "First Amendment doesn’t allow you to willingly lie." She was speaking about Fox News and its coverage of former President Donald Trump’s election fraud claims and of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
We wrote that Goldberg’s claim was Mostly False, as the First Amendment protects lies as speech, although there are limited exceptions in libel or incitement cases.
One reader thought we should have mentioned a few other cases in our story.
"You would do well to cite, as the Congressional Research Service does in its discussion of the First Amendment, the ruling in Virginia State Bd. of Pharmacy Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. at 771 (‘Untruthful speech, commercial or otherwise, has never been protected for its own sake.’) CRS also mentions Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. at 52 (1988) (‘False statements of fact are particularly valueless [because] they interfere with the truth-seeking function of the marketplace of ideas.’)
"You mention Alvarez but fail to mention, as CRS does, that it was only a minority of the court that said that the government must have a compelling reason (‘strict scrutiny’) to restrict lies. The court only invalidated the law in that case because the controlling decision by Breyer and Kagan found that the law could have been tailored more narrowly (using ‘intermediate scrutiny’) to advance a substantial or important governmental interest. The law could have been restricted, for example, to avoid statements in ‘family, social, or other private contexts.’ That was not the situation with the public statements on a matter of extreme governmental interest that Goldberg was talking about regarding Fox News."
Another reader weighed in on the Goldberg piece:
"I enjoyed your article about lying and the first amendment. One additional relevant prohibition on lying is FCC regulation of broadcast TV."
On March 2, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., criticized the nation’s education system, saying "Half the kids in this country, when they graduate, can’t read their diploma."
While data shows as many as two thirds of U.S. high school graduates have underdeveloped reading skills, Tuberville’s claim was exaggerated, since reading a diploma is a much more basic skill than the skills required for the reading tests he cited. We rated his statement Mostly False.
One reader who worked as a tutor said a casual observer likely would have recognized Tuberville’s statement as hyperbole, but argued that the senator has a good point.
"I believe that it is time for all the stakeholders in public education to be honest and accept that our public schools are woefully substandard when it comes to educating those who need a basic education most. While Tuberville and I may have vastly different political views in general, I will give him credit for a point well-taken."
The 2024 presidential campaign season is already underway and we fact-checked one of the early Republican candidates, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who said Democrats "want to ban gas-powered cars and gas stoves" in a March 3 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
We rated her claim Half True, meaning it was partially accurate but left out important details and context. One reader thought our rating could be applied to many claims made by Democrats.
"I read your recent piece about Nikki Haley and her comment about Democrats wanting to ban gas stoves and gas powered cars. That is the goal, and we've seen that enacted in some Democrat-controlled states. Your ‘verdict’ that the statement was misleading because it tagged the Democrat Party rather than specific Democrats could be applied to many things that Democrats say about Republicans. One thing that comes to mind is the Democrats' claims that Republicans want to end Medicare and Social Security. That broadly attacks the Republican Party rather than being specific. Same with the gun issue. Democrats broadly attack the party.
"The verdict you gave in Ms. Haley’s case could be applied to a lot of other statements made by politicians and the media. They paint with a broad brush."
See links in fact-checks.