Mailbag: 'Your analysis is pathetic'
It’s been a long, hot summer, and some of our readers have expressed their frustration with us about our recent fact-checks. Here’s a sampling of reader comments, edited for space and clarity.
Many readers took issue with our Mostly True rating for Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus’ statement that Hillary Clinton "is the one that labeled African-American youth as ‘superpredators.’ " We wrote that "Clinton, in the midst of championing her husband’s 1994 crime legislation, did use the term "superpredator" when referring to "gangs of kids." She did not specifically label superpredators as African-American, but the context of her speech and her subsequent apology decades later suggests it was a reasonable inference."
"I viewed the video of Secretary Clinton's comments from 20 years ago and she did not attach the term to any specific ethnic group but instead applied it to all violent gangs, especially those associated with drug cartels. Many politicians and policymakers issue apologies when challenged by Black Lives Matter activists, whether or not one is actually called for. Given that Clinton never linked the term to African-Americans, it's quite possible her apology was simply made to get the activists to back off. I hope you'll revisit your rating and the justification for it."
Another reader agreed:
"She was not referring to the group ‘African-American youth,’ which is what Mr. Priebus wants us to believe based on his wording. She specifically referred to youth in gangs, and then particularly those who had seemed at the time to have become hyper-activated toward violence. She did not mean to sweep all African-American youth into her statement, and to allow this to remain unchallenged is to help perpetuate a false statement. Your rating is incomplete and therefore quite unfair."
Several readers took issue with portions of our Pants on Fire for Donald Trump’s statement that Barack Obama "founded ISIS. I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton." One reader pointed to a quote in the article by Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, that Clinton’s "vote for President Bush's misguided policy to build democracy in Iraq directly assisted the Republican decision that opened the door to the radicalization of Iraq and destabilization of the Levant."
The reader countered that Clinton "didn't vote for what President George W. Bush ended up doing. She voted for an invasion if and only if two criteria were met: if we still thought that Iraq had viable weapons of mass destructions that they could use against their people and their neighbors, and if there was no possible diplomatic pathway remaining to get Saddam Hussein to cooperate. But Bush invaded anyway. She expected the president to behave honorably and reasonably. It's not her shortcoming that he didn't, so to blame her for Bush's attempt to build democracy in Iraq is totally bogus and unsupportable."
Another reader wrote:
‘It’s ironic that in debunking Trump's libelous charge that Obama and Hillary cofounded ISIS, you perpetuated another myth. In case you did not hear about it, there was something that was called the Arab Spring. Remember? Libya was already destabilized with an east-west revolt when Clinton, in agreement with our NATO allies, decided that if Libya was going to be in turmoil anyway, we ought to come down in favor of the people. Likewise, you might want to refresh your memory about Syria. As part of the Arab Spring, there was an indigenous movement to oust Bashar al-Assad. Unlike Libya, this was originally non-violent; the rebels explicitly requested that the U.S. and NATO not send arms because they hoped to resolve things by civil disobedience. It was the Assad regime which, over a couple of weeks escalated to extreme destabilizing violence. Your debunking was seriously incomplete."
A third made this argument:
"Giving Trump a Pants on Fire for his ridiculous assertion was appropriate, but you give oxygen to the claim that it was Obama's or Clinton's decision not to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq. It was based on an agreement in 2008 that President George W. Bush engineered with Iraq. What could Obama have done? Iraq did not want the U.S. there. To make the argument that Obama could have done anything else is unfair and ridiculous. He would have had to have overruled a sovereign country in order to do that.
Referring to a Hillary Clinton statement that undocumented immigrants "pay $12 billion a year into Social Security," Martin S. Andersen, an assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, wrote in to remind us of a distinction most economists make. (The statement earned a Half True.)
"You are right that the taxes are legally shared between employers and workers. However, every economist would tell you the same thing: Workers actually pay the entire tax in the form of lower earnings."
A reader who identified themselves as a retired CEO said we could have been tougher on an assertion by a pro-Donald Trump super PAC that through the Clinton Foundation, "the Clintons are now worth in excess of $100 million." We rated that Mostly False.
"I have gone through three years of their 990s. I have some criticisms, but there is not a shred of evidence that the foundation has ever provided any wealth to the Clintons. Meanwhile, they get no credit for providing hundreds of millions of dollars to worthy causes."
One reader took issue with one of the characterizations we made in our fact-check about Trump’s assertion that "as usual, Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig the debates so 2 are up against major NFL games." We rated that Pants on Fire.
"The Commission on Presidential Debates is referred to twice in your article as being bipartisan. This is not accurate. The commission is nonpartisan. This is important because its impartiality hinges on the fact that no political party is involved in the debate creation process. If both parties were involved, Mr. Trump might have a better case. But his argument is invalid because the commission is nonpartisan and starts its work more than a year before the debates take place."
A reader said that PolitiFact Texas got it wrong when it gave a Mostly True to Trump’s statement that the U.S. has to go to "plane graveyards" and museums to get parts for its 20-year-old jet fighters while it sells new jets to other countries.
"The problem is that PolitiFact chose to quote the part about ‘plane graveyards’ in his speech. As your analysis points out, that isn’t the controversial portion of his statement. The controversial portion is ‘has to,’ a phrase that means the U.S. has no choice. In fact, it is simply cheaper and quicker to salvage parts from old planes than to manufacture and wait for new parts. If you emphasize the actual controversy in his statement then your analysis shows that Trump made an incorrect statement."
One reader thought we went too easy on Hillary Clinton for her statement that Trump "has been talking about the option of using a nuclear weapon against our Western European allies." We rated that Mostly False.
"Your analysis is pathetic. He never intimated that he would attack our allies. We in the public are not looking for interpretations and nuances crafted by your biases. Your warped reasoning, half-truths and rationalization only serve to make him into a sympathetic character, to the extent that it is possible to do so, and leaves your reputation in tatters. Please reconsider the path you have taken as the public needs good, objective fact checking, not partisan dissembling."
One reader said that the 2016 campaign has been such a crisis for the accuracy of political claims that we need to offer a rating even worse than Pants on Fire.
"My suggestions: Head-Explodingly Wrong. Granite-Meltingly False. Patently Prosecutable. 15 to Life. 25 to Life. Life Without Parole."
Finally, a few readers offered appreciation for the work we do.
"Your depth of attention to political discourse is invaluable. Thank you."
"Your Obameter was and is a great idea, and I appreciate that you have kept it current over the years, changing your individual ratings when necessary, and maintaining a summary chart. I hope you will maintain a similar meter for the next president." (Editor’s note: We will.)
"I can't tell you how I look forward almost daily to reading your data-driven, even-handed analyses of events that matter! I learn a little bit more with each analysis I read. I am grateful to live in a society that fosters conversations such as yours."
"You get a lot of negative and goofy stuff. I just wanted to email you a genuine thank you for the great public service you provide."