Mailbag: 'You are better than this, PolitiFact'
The dog days of August are upon us, and some PolitiFact readers have gotten hot under the collar. Here’s a selection of emails we’ve received critiquing our recent work. They have been edited for space and clarity.
Several readers took issue with our fact check of a claim by bloggers that "Obama Makes Huge Move to BAN Social Security Recipients From Owning Guns." We found it was misleading to say the administration has made a sweeping move to disarm gun-owning senior citizens; the actual policy is much more limited in scope. It would add to the database only those whose finances are handled by someone else, known as a "representative payee." We rated the claim False.
A few readers said we were right to point out the exaggerations added that the impact could be bigger than it would seem at first glance. One wrote:
"I wholeheartedly agree that a lot of people have blown this way out of proportion. However, not all Social Security recipients with a representative payee are mentally unstable -- for instance, retirees or disabled vets where one spouse handles the money. This is the problem with what they are doing. Social Security will not speak with a spouse about benefits unless they are a representative payee. If one person handles all the household bills and money, it just makes it easier for them to have this title with Social Security. It does not mean the recipient is mentally unstable or unable to handle their firearms in a safe and responsible manner. Taking all this into consideration, this should be rated as Half True, not False."
One reader thought we were too soft in our analysis of a claim by commentator Andrew Napolitano, who said that emails show that as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton discussed "the location of Ambassador Stevens, who of course was murdered, in Libya." We found that Napolitano seemed to suggest the emails contained information that would have been damaging if released; in reality, it was widely noted in the media at the time that Stevens was in Benghazi, and on at least one occasion, reporters encountered him at the hotel where he was living and working. We rated the claim Half True. The reader wrote:
"A rating of Half True is far too generous. His intent was clear: to make it appear that Secretary Clinton actually told the killers where to find Ambassador Stevens. You analysis clearly showed that was a lie, but because there was an almost inadvertent grain of truth, you have a given a lie an overly generous rating."
A number of readers responded to our fact-check of Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s claim that "if you look at the results of Obamacare, what you see is emergency room visits are up over 50 percent." We found that Fiorina raised a legitimate concern, but her eye-popping statistic is not supported either by official data or by a recent survey. So we rated it Mostly False. One reader wrote:
"Nowhere in your article did you indicate whether the doctor's survey responses or other data was derived from states which had or had not expanded Medicaid. Texas hospitals are still facing financial issues from uncompensated or low-compensated care in emergency rooms. Since Texas did not expand Medicaid, emergency rooms are the primary care source for many uninsured people."
Another reader wrote:
"As a doc in a rural ER, volume is up. However, my take is that the federal government has not done a very good job of increasing the number of family doctors to now care for the increased volume of suddenly insured patients. Therefore the only place this newly insured group can seek healthcare is in the ER, which they used to go to when they were uninsured."
Several readers took issue with our fact check of a claim by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who said, "A minor cannot get a tattoo without parental consent but can get an abortion without parental consent." We concluded that Rubio has a good argument for about 11 states, but that’s a minority. More commonly, parents by law need to be at least notified -- and in many cases give their consent -- for a minor to have an abortion. There is a significant exception, however: 37 states allow a minor to go through a judge without notifying parents. On balance, we rated the claim Half True.
One reader wrote thought we had performed unfair surgery on Rubio’s original quote. Rubio, the reader noted, said that "the idea" that this is true is "mind-shattering for the vast majority of Americans."
"While I do not have a survey handy, I have never met someone who doesn't find this a little bit off-putting. Most people I know, whether liberal or conservative, agree that a legal guardian should be involved in any medical procedure performed on a minor."
Another fact-check that drew reader comment was one we did of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who said, "One of the reasons that Social Security is in so much trouble is that the only funding stream comes from people who get a wage. The people who get wages is declining dramatically." We rated that Mostly False. One reader wrote to say they noticed something missing:
"While the number of wage earners in 2012 is roughly the same as the number in 2007, what wasn't mentioned was a comparison to the average wage of earners in 2012 and 2007. As has been widely reported, the number of low-wage, part-time positions has increased since the recession, but a rebound in high-income, full time positions has been slow to happen. I would liked to have seen this point touched on. What has been the effect of increased part-time and low-wage job growth on overall Social Security collections? Does that also pose a risk to Social Security when paired with Baby Boomers retiring?"
A few readers expressed concern with our rating for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ claim that "we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on Earth." We found that there are several other countries with higher rates, notably Israel and Mexico. We rated the claim Mostly False. One reader wrote:
"I wonder how many Americans would consider Israel, Mexico, Spain, Greece, or Latvia to be ‘major countries’ compared to the U.S. Very few, I'm sure. Hanging a true-false judgment on such an arbitrary definition is what I'd expect from political spin doctors. At most you could accuse him of being vague."
Several readers wrote to us about our ongoing coverage of the talking point -- these days usually uttered by Republicans -- that the U.S. Navy now has fewer ships than it’s had at any time since before World War I. Depending on the claim’s exact phrasing, we’ve rated it from Half True to Mostly False to Pants on Fire. We noted that today’s ships are far more powerful than those of a century ago, making the comparison questionable. One reader wrote:
"I think you missed one very important fact: The president does not have sole power over how many ships are in service. Congress had to pass the budget (and cuts) for the Navy. So both parties are responsible for any cuts, if there are any."
One reader thought we should have lowered the boom more forcefully on conspiracy theories about Jade Helm, a two-month military training exercise sprawling across seven states in the American Southwest, including Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. We wrote an article on Jade Helm, but we did not subject conspiracy claims to the Truth-O-Meter. The reader wrote:
"I'm shocked that PolitiFact would post this article about the ridiculous Jade Helm conspiracy. You did not bother to counter any of the completely asinine conspiracy theories. The only counter was this single remark from an unnamed Pentagon spokesman: ‘We are not taking over anything.’ You failed to even give this conspiracy a rating. You are better than this, PolitiFact."
One reader from Louisiana wrote us to offer some additional context for our fact-check of the state’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal. We looked at Jindal’s claim that "in New Orleans, nearly 100 percent of our kids are in charter schools" and rated it True.
"You and Jindal did not consider that New Orleans leads the country in private school students -- more than 20,000. Many more Orleans Parish students attend private schools in Jefferson Parish. Jindal's claims should not be interpreted as a Louisiana success story. We remain a bottom-10 state in public education.
One reader raised a concern about our fact-check of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s claim that "if you're from Syria and you're a Christian, you cannot come into this country" as a refugee. We rated that False. The reader took issue with our exploration of whether the admittance of Christian refugees was disproportionately low. The reader wrote:
"You should have compared the number of Christian refugees accepted in the U.S. to their proportion in the Syrian refugee population, not to the overall population of Syria. You would have found that proportion to be much higher. Your conclusion would have been the opposite.
One reader was irked by some of the phrasing in our fact-check of Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s claim after the mass shooting at a Chattanooga military-recruiting facility. Bush said that "a law was passed, apparently in the Clinton administration, about whether, in recruiting offices … Marines or other military should be able to have guns. Apparently it is prohibited." We rated the claim Mostly False.
"In your post, it says, ‘The recruiting office where the shooting occurred represented all four branches of the military.’ But the armed forces of the United States have five branches. The Coast Guard ain't chopped liver."
Finally, a physician from California took issue with our article about Donald Trump’s claim that "tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border." Because it was hard to prove or debunk the claim with hard data, we did not put this claim to the Truth-O-Meter. However, multiple experts we checked with expressed skepticism about the accuracy of the claim.
"The U.S. medical community, traditionally a very liberal group, is resistant to waking up and acknowledging reality, much less admitting the truth. Third-world countries have different standards of personal hygiene. Agriculture workers use the fields as their toilet, contaminating acres of produce with bacteria and parasites. This practice is responsible for multiple outbreaks of intestinal diseases in California in folks who ate spinach or lettuce from our local mega-farms. It disgusts me that we can't have an honest conversation about the realities of our open border policy on the country's health and welfare. At the very least, that should be the job of our surgeon general and organizations that represent physicians like the American Medical Association."
We also received a number of messages via email and Facebook praising the work we’ve done. Here are some of them:
"I love this site! PolitiFact states the facts with no agenda. It is so refreshing! I love having a site I can actually trust! Everyone at PolitiFact rocks!"
"Occasionally I have some disagreement with conclusions, but for the most part PolitiFact does an excellent job. PolitiFact is not the problem -- people can't stand to have their beliefs proven wrong."
"I have had my mind changed several times by facts revealed by PolitiFact, sometimes towards the right, other times to the left. Thanks for what you do."
"I love Politifact because they will let others critique them without ego, this (Mailbag column) being a prime example. It's important to remember that humans run this. With that in mind, it is truly incredible journalism."