Mailbag: 'I rate your "fact-check" to be Mostly Useless'
Spring is finally here, but many of our readers aren’t feeling the cheer -- at least as far as our fact-checks are concerned. Here’s a selection of recent emails that made their way into our inbox.
SeaWorld Entertainment wasn’t happy with our fact-check of its advertising claim that "whales live as long at SeaWorld" as they do in the wild. We rated that claim Half True. The company sent the following letter:
"PolitiFact’s assessment of SeaWorld’s ad regarding the longevity of killer whales is at odds with the article’s own analysis. PolitiFact acknowledges that Dr. Douglas DeMaster, the scientist who confirmed the data showing SeaWorld’s whales have a survival rate nearly identical to those in the wild, is considered by independent experts to be ‘the key scientist to ask about this issue.’ The only contrary view cited was an unvalidated claim from PETA, an activist organization that, unlike Dr. DeMaster, has stated many times its desire to end zoological display. Moreover, PETA’s viewpoint uses a different measurement standard that PolitiFact correctly indicates is not considered meaningful by experts.
"PolitiFact’s only actual criticism of SeaWorld centers on issues such as the quality of life for killer whales and the debate over the significance of lifespan data – two important topics, but not relevant in a discussion of the ad’s accuracy. PolitiFact even notes that, ‘simple logic would suggest several reasons why marine mammals should live longer in captivity.’
"PETA, not SeaWorld, started a public discussion of killer whale longevity by spreading falsehoods, and this ad was created to set the record straight. PolitiFact has a responsibility to acknowledge the truth confirmed by its own research: Whales at SeaWorld live as long as those in the wild."
Several readers took issue with PunditFact’s check of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who said, "I never said I was on the Falkland Islands." We rated that claim Half True, which wasn’t harsh enough for some readers. One called us "cowards." Another wrote:
"His statement is categorically false. This one quote disproves it: ‘I've reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands.’ This is both a statement of geography and a statement of being in an ‘active war zone.’ O'Reilly is not referencing a war, but a war zone, which has a precise geographical meaning, as opposed to a war, which does not. Not only did you over-parse O'Reilly's statements but you also got the parsing wrong. Please have the humility to admit when you are wrong."
Another reader found a technical error.
"During the Falklands war, the British sank the Argentinean cruiser General Belgrano. It was not a destroyer. It was in fact a U.S.-made naval ship, the USS Phoenix, a World War II-era light cruiser."
Some readers were unhappy with our check of Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who said in a letter signed by 47 senators that if President Barack Obama strikes a nuclear deal with Iran, "the next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time." We rated that Mostly True.
"Nobody asked you for your editorial opinion of the deal. They only asked you if Cotton's comment was correct. Too often you inject your editorial opinion into one of these checks when it involves a Republican because I'm sure you get tired of reporting constantly that all they do is lie. But we Democrats are getting sick of it. If it's a lie, it's a lie. You don't have to come up with some way so you can try to make it seem like Republicans aren't lying all the time. Cotton lied. Period."
Several readers took issue with our check of a claim by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that Secretary of State John Kerry, "when he was a senator, flew to Managua and met with a communist dictator there, Daniel Ortega, and accused the Reagan administration of engaging in terrorism." We rated the claim Mostly True.
"Your latest attempt at fact-checking is simplistic and incorrect. Let's recap: Republican senators tried to undermine an active negotiation with a foreign nation, saying the U.S. will not even honor an agreement. Mitch McConnell references a trip John Kerry took 30 years ago, pretending it was the same as the letter to Iran, and claiming the media was engaging in ‘selective outrage’ by not remembering the example from 30 years ago. How is Kerry's trip comparable to the letter to Iran? Was Kerry undermining an active negotiation in Nicaragua? Was Kerry ignoring the role of the executive branch in shaping treaties with foreign nations? Was Kerry declaring that Congress will undermine any agreement the executive branch made with Nicaragua? Sen. Kerry was investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, where the Reagan administration was illegally arming the Contra rebels, then had those contra rebels illegally send arms to Iran. Such investigations are the duty of Congress! Unlike Cotton and his cohorts, Kerry was simply doing his job. Your ‘fact-check’ leaves out all of the relevant facts. I rate your ‘fact-check’ to be Mostly Useless."
Another reader criticized our description of Ortega as "Nicaragua’s communist strongman."
"You may be unaware -- most of the mainstream political and media establishment in the U.S. certainly is -- that in November 1984, Daniel Ortega was democratically elected in what were internationally recognized as free and fair elections. This was months before Kerry's comments noted in your article. This is a very well documented election, and well-known outside of the U.S. -- take two minutes to look it up. On that basis alone, there is no legitimate reason, at least for anybody claiming journalistic integrity, to refer to an elected leader as you did, regardless of your personal (and irrelevant) opinion of him."
Several readers criticized PunditFact’s story, "50 Fox News 'lies' in 6 seconds, from 'The Daily Show.' " It was an annotated version of a Vine video put out by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart.
"Shame on you for publishing this B.S. article. Most of these ‘lies’ were not told by people who worked at Fox News, and the ones that did work at Fox are largely based on opinion. The other ones that you purport to be a lie, you show no proof that they are not factual. Give me a break. This is pathetic. You and your newspaper are a joke. Now that is a fact. Ha!"
One reader was unhappy with the background we added to our check of social media memes that said, "George Washington said that ‘when government takes away citizens’ right to bear arms it becomes citizens’ duty to take away government’s right to govern.’ " We rated that False.
"I thank you for confirming what I already knew. Washington never made the statement. But could you possibly lose the left-wing slant when telling us what his words did mean? Because in all honesty I don't need you or anyone else to interpret English for me. I had family with military discharges signed by Washington. When he said free people ought not only be armed, he meant the public. America was to have no standing army. So please just report facts."
Several readers thought we sidestepped the real issues as we rated False a claim by former Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., that the Environmental Protection Agency "wants to regulate … the family BBQ."
"Mr West wants to know why EPA is concerned enough about particulate pollution caused by backyard BBQs to invest $15,000 in a study of ways to reduce that pollution. But that’s not what he said, because he is too stupid to recognize or accept the fact that BBQs produce particulate pollution, and particulate pollution is a well-known factor in human disease.
"You should have put more emphasis on and expanded in your brief presentation of the reason for the study: ‘To perform research and develop preventative technology that will reduce fine particulate emissions ... from residential barbecues. This technology is intended to reduce air pollution as well as health hazards in Southern California, with potential for global application.’ "
Indeed, a second reader pointed out that California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District has regulated backyard barbecues since 1990.
David Schultz, a Hamline University political scientist, raised a question about our conclusion that Minnesota has a projected budget surplus of more than $1 billion. It was noted in our check of a social media meme that said despite raising taxes on the wealthy and hiking the minimum wage, Minnesota "is creating jobs at a record pace, unemployment is at a historic low, median income is skyrocketing, and (the) state has a billion-dollar surplus." We rated the claim Half True.
"Supporters of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton claim that his economic policies have resulted in the state enjoying its current $1.9 billion surplus. The reality is that for the most part the surplus does not exist, but it is a bipartisan fiction driving the 2015 Minnesota legislative session.
"First, out that of the $1.9 billion, the first billion does not exist. If all of the current programs funded by the state are continued at their same spending level into the next biennium, it will cost the state another $1 billion to fund them because of inflation. In order to reap this first billion as a surplus, one needs to cut $1 billion in spending first.
"Second, the surplus is only a surplus because of the tax increases. Cut the taxes and the surplus disappears. There is no structural surplus.
"Third, the other $900 million is hardly a surplus either. With Dayton having proposed a $42 billion biennium budget, that $900 million is barely 2 percent. If we think of the total real obligations that the state has for the next two years, which include both what Minnesota pays for along with the federal government, real spending obligations increase by tens of billions of dollars. That $900 million is nothing. Assume any serious federal budget cuts or another shutdown and the state is still on the hook and has no money as a cushion. Or assume that there are other natural disasters that occur and a special appropriation is needed. Or simply assume a slowdown in the economy or even that the surplus forecast is off just a percent or so. Suddenly that $900 million is gone. Dayton’s tax raises may have changed the fiscal fortunes of the state, but by no means are solely responsible for the illusionary surplus."
One reader had a recommendation for our check of White House aide David Simas’ claim that job growth in the United States is now at the "fastest pace in this country's history." We rated that claim False.
"While I agree with your point, I did find fault in regards to part of your methodology. You set the point for job growth as being the month where the recession ended. However, a more appropriate point would be where the job losses ended in regards to the recessions. You state that the most recent recession ended in June of 2009. The job losses continued until February 2010. The job recovery would more appropriately be set for after the job losses ended."
A reader wrote to say we erred in describing the Progressive Policy Institute as "center-left." That came in a fact-check of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who said, "The FCC’s net neutrality policy includes what is "essentially a massive tax increase." We rated that claim Half True.
"No one on the left would claim that PPI is ‘center-left.’ There is nothing left-ish or progressive about Clinton's New Democrats or PPI. Perhaps you are fooled by their self-titling, rather than taking the time to examine their proposals. Perhaps the fact that they opposed action by the FCC that demonstrably progressive and left-ish sources supported should have told you something. They represent the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. They can be categorized with some accuracy as Rockefeller Republicans. You are merely reflecting the historical ignorance common to the mainstream media, which has itself moved so far to the right. But that does not mirror the American people, who have been found in poll after poll to be far more to the left than the inside-the-Beltway consensus that the corporate media use as their yardstick."
Finally, a few readers wrote to send their thanks for the work we do.
"I just really want to say thank you! I had searched for months to find a neutral political site that calls out politicians' nonsense. I understand the heavy bias involved in politics, but so many people make it so much worse when they lie outright."
"I recently ran across your site and wanted to let you know that I'm impressed. The tenets of responsible journalism that I learned so long ago in high school have been, sadly, forgotten by today's mainstream media. So much lately I read articles on one site and then go to another and read something that says exactly the opposite. So sad that we, the citizens of the world are being led astray. So, keep up the good fight!"
And one reader said we should cheer up in the face of criticism from both left and right:
"Don't worry -- those few sane people who are left love you."