Mailbag: 'You blew this one, and badly'
As Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders continue to battle it out for the Democratic presidential nomination, readers have had lots to say about our recent fact-checks of the two Democratic hopefuls.
Here’s a selection of recent messages from readers. They have been edited for length and clarity.
One reader took issue with our check of a Sanders claim that Clinton "has been saying lately that she thinks that I am, 'not qualified to be president.' " We rated that Mostly False.
"You acknowledge that while Clinton did not say, ‘Bernie Sanders is unqualified to be President,’ she only failed to say exactly that ‘directly.’ Given that you know she did everything but pull the lever after ever so coyly placing and tightening the noose around Sen. Sanders' neck, you should have rated the senator's claim Mostly True, not Mostly False. It is disingenuous to say that Clinton saying that Sanders' answers raise questions about his qualifications is very different from saying he's 'not qualified.’ The hell it is. Clinton's correct response was the one Bernie gave, and the one which would have put the brakes on this garbage. Asked if Clinton was qualified to be president, he responded that of course she is. Joe Scarborough gave her three opportunities to say that, and she sandbagged Sanders each time. You blew this one, and badly."
Another reader criticized our Pants on Fire rating for Clinton’s statement that "I'm the only candidate in the Democratic primary, or actually on either side, who Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers are actually running ads against."
"I have to cry foul on your screaming Pants on Fire rating of Secretary Clinton’s statement, because it misleads readers on the point she was making -- that she has, indeed, been the target of the majority of the attack ads funded by Wall Street. As the numbers you listed reveal, there have been 48 ads against her, compared to three against Sen. Sanders. She should have phrased her remark in more accurate terms by saying that she is the most attacked candidate, rather than the only attacked candidate. But this exaggeration should have warranted no less than a Mostly True rating. Your intent here seems to be to deliberately ignore the larger point she sought to make."
Other readers took issue with our check of Sanders’ statement that his free public university tuition program "is paid for … by a tax on Wall Street's speculation." We rated that Mostly False.
"It's valid to say the program isn't 100 percent funded, so I don't think a True is warranted. However, a vast majority is funded by this program, and when asked in an interview, he can't stipulate every individual contribution to every program. For example, if I am asked, ‘How are schools in America funded?’ and I say ‘property taxes,’ I would argue that’s Mostly True. Sanders should have been given a Half True or a Mostly True."
Several readers said we were too soft on Clinton for her statement that Sanders "wants higher standards for toy guns than real guns." We rated that Half True.
"It seems the experts you asked thought Clinton's claim was a big stretch, yet you gave her a rating of Half True as opposed to Mostly False. You also didn't use as much information about Sen. Sanders’ intentions as you might have. He has been on record as saying that he does not think gun shop owners should be sued, which was his reason for voting yes. He also proposes a ban on assault rifles. I'm certain Sanders would likewise not fault a toy store owner for selling a toy gun, and I don't think there's a parallel for the assault rifle. You also mentioned that the Sandy Hook lawsuit is attempting to sue the manufacturer, but it is also an attempt to sue everyone else involved in the sale, including the store and the person who physically sold the weapon. I don't know why you would leave that out, given that it lines up perfectly with what Sen. Sanders wanted to prevent."
One reader thought we should have stuck with the numbers in giving a Mostly True rating to Sanders for saying that "almost every poll has shown that Sanders vs. Trump does a lot better than Clinton vs. Trump … and that’s true nationally."
"You write, ‘However, polling experts say such results should be taken with a grain of salt, since polls taken well before the start of the general election contest have historically not been very accurate predictors of the November results. The statement is accurate but needs additional context, so we rate it Mostly True.’ Actually, the statement is accurate if you look at the data. Your layering on of pollster interpretations and opinions has nothing to do with the validity of the statement. Its impressive how contorted your response becomes."
A few readers took issue with a check from PolitiFact Pennsylvania of Clinton’s statement referring to Villanova’s buzzer-beating win in the national championships, in which she said: "I love those come-from-behind victories." We rated that Mostly False.
One questioned why we checked this statement at all: "When I read that you were rating Hillary Clinton's misstatement on Villanova, I did a double-take. I mean, it was a simple misstatement by a person that has zero relevance to her honesty of dishonesty. Sure, it was sort of inaccurate. But holding Clinton's feet to the fire for calling the victory ‘come-from-behind’ is preposterous. In the future, I'd hope you keep to substantive matters and not devolve into a blog-like scramble over stupid miscues to get a story."
Meanwhile, another reader took issue with the substance of our ruling. "Villanova won the game. They were down at the half. Therefore they came back to win the game. At a minimum, this should be considered Mostly True or Half True (no pun intended)."
A few readers took issue with our False rating for Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz when he said, "Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons because the United States of America" said it would "ensure (its) territorial integrity from Russia."
"You could not be more wrong in issuing an exculpation of recent U.S. foreign policy blunders with respect to Ukraine. Your split hairs over whether ‘assurances’ are the same as ‘guarantees’ is shameful in light of the terrible loss of life that has ensued and America’s weakness in allowing the Kremlin to wage war against Ukrainians with impunity. We cheated them. We effectively lied. I am not a supporter of Ted Cruz, but the essence of what he said is 100 percent correct."
Another reader expressed a concern about our fact check of Cruz saying that President Barack Obama has "been presiding over our jobs going overseas for seven years." We rated that Mostly False, noting that while the pattern has been occurring under Obama, it is hardly new or unique to him.
"This may be a bit of nitpicking, but Cruz said that President Obama ‘presided over’ the outflow of jobs. Nothing in that statement says or implies the problem started under President Obama. I just don’t agree with your interpretation that a reasonable person would take it to mean the problem began under President Obama."
Finally, a number of readers also wrote in to thank us for our work.
"I'm going to turn 18 in time to vote in this election. At first I was kind of worried because I'd never done enough research to form an actual opinion on anything political. When I went to do that research, it was hard to find a source that didn't distort facts or history towards a left or right bias. So I wanted to just thank you guys for being a reliable source of information about the election. It has genuinely helped me a lot, so I just felt I needed to thank you guys. Keep it up!"
"What you are doing is vitally important for this nation of undereducated voters. There are almost no other sources of truth. My guess is that the political class will try to legislate against you in the near future. If so, there are millions of us out here that will support you and hopefully help defend you. Your really are the only light in a deliberately dark room."
In addition, several readers took to Facebook to share their appreciation:
"I appreciate that you offer a balanced look at the arguments presented by both ends of the political spectrum. People seem to have such vehement allegiances to their politician of choice that they don't consider varying perspectives in any way. I will continue to look to PolitiFact, but it is my job to simply dig deeper if I disagree with your assessment of some of the issues."
"The fact that both conservatives and liberals complain that your fact-checks are biased in roughly equal measure is the ultimate proof that you guys are doing a good job. Thank you for holding politicians accountable to their statements!