Mailbag: 'I rate your piece False'
It’s Thanksgiving, a time for comfort food, relaxation with families … and another installment of the PolitiFact Mailbag. Here is a selection of correspondence from readers about some of our recent fact checks.
One reader thought we were too harsh by rating a claim by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell that the climate-change agreement between the United States and China "requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years" as Mostly False.
"The Republican leadership is overreacting to the agreement, most likely because they see unilateral Environmental Protection Agency regulations behind it, but your Mostly False seems unfair. McConnell said the agreement ‘requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years.’ Let’s just change this to: ‘requires the Chinese to do nothing new at all for 16 years.’ I don’t think that’s a big change, since obviously China is going to do something in the next 16 years, good, bad or indifferent. And with this phrasing, he’d be right. All they have to do is continue what they were doing before the agreement. … What they need to do are basically extensions of existing Chinese targets, and not especially aggressive ones. The claim is off by a word -- an important but not critical word -- and that seems closer to Mostly True than Mostly False."
One reader offered an insight that could have produced an even lower rating than the Mostly False we gave to the claim by Fox News anchor Anna Kooiman that "there would be tens of thousands of jobs created" if Obama were to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
"The tar sands crude (that would be carried by Keystone XL) is already flowing south via trains, trucks, and existing pipelines. Much of it is refined in Montana and Wyoming refineries, facilities that will be bypassed by the Keystone XL. When factoring the number of jobs created by KXL, shouldn't you also factor in jobs lost to railroad workers, truck drivers, existing pipeline workers and Midwestern refinery workers?"
Several readers were critical of two fact-checks we did that were related to health care policy analyst Jonathan Gruber. Critics of Obama’s health care law located a video from a 2013 conference at the University of Pennsylvania in which Gruber said some impolitic things about how the law was put together, including a remark about "the stupidity of the American voter."
One reader criticized our check of a claim by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that "I don't know who (Jonathan Gruber) is." We rated that False, based on video from 2009 in which she cited Gruber by name.
"Point of full disclosure: I am a lifelong Democrat and a fan of Pelosi. However, it's possible to not know who someone is even though you've mentioned them in the past and recommended their work. It's possible to read the work of an obscure author, even cite the author, and then completely forget who they are now. I don't know now who the Republican candidate in the 2008 Massachusetts Senate election was, even though I probably knew back in 2008.
Two readers took issue with our fact-check of Obama’s claim that Gruber was "some adviser who never worked on our staff." We rated that Mostly False since Gruber had a significant, paid role in the administration’s deliberations even though he was not technically a full-time staff member.
"For a while now you seem to be injecting your own bias and opinion into your ‘fact checks.’ Obama said that Guber was ‘just some advisor’ and that he was ‘not on our staff.’ Despite the ‘facts’ that Gruber was a contract advisor and not a member of the administration's staff, you find Obama's statement Mostly False. Why? Because apparently you disliked at Obama's characterization of Guber's status, which you apparently believe extended beyond merely advising the authors of the bill regarding the calculations his model could provide them. Gruber's statements that prompted the fact check were about political and policy decisions that we (and you) have no evidence that he was party to. … Facts are facts. It is true that Guber was an advisor who was not part of the administration's staff. To twist those facts discredits you as an objective source. We get enough spin out of the politicians. You don't need to add to it."
A second reader added:
"At the center of your critique -- and it is a critique, not journalistic reporting or objective verification -- is that someone was dissed while having their position accurately described. I can not help but feel that this is less about ‘fact checking’ and possibly more about defending a valued or respected source who was thrown under the bus for his own gross lack of forethought in word choice. ... Obama's comments have to be taken in context to the accusations that are being made publicly about the level of involvement Gruber had. For ignoring the context and adding your own subjectivity to what is supposedly an objective evaluation, I rate your piece False."
One reader had a rejoinder to former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who said, "There are more people living in this country who were not born here than at any time in the history of the country." We rated that claim Half True, noting that the raw number is higher today, but the percentage is not the highest in history.
"Please inform Mr. Santorum that the vast majority of the population of the United States on July 4, 1776, consisted of foreign-born residents, other than American Indians."
Finally, a reader took issue with PolitiFact Wisconsin's True rating for Mother Jones magazine's claim that "Turkeys today weigh 29.8 pounds. In the ‘30s, they weighed 13.2 pounds."
"How can you say that 'turkeys are twice as fat' when turkey is is one of the leanest meats available? They are twice as heavy, or twice as meaty, but not twice as fat. Is a body builder fatter than someone that does not lift weights?"
And on that note, have a happy Thanksgiving weekend!