Mailbag: ‘Please clean up your act’

The snow is piling up, and so are the missives from PolitiFact readers.
The snow is piling up, and so are the missives from PolitiFact readers.

It’s the holiday season, and our email inbox has been filled with lumps of coal -- as well as the occasional treat. Here’s a rundown of recent reader critiques, edited for length and clarity.

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Several readers criticized our coverage of the debate over the tax bill, which included a lot of Half Tues rather than full True or False ratings. One reader cited our Half True for Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who said that in the House Republican bill, "70 percent of the tax relief goes to those families making less than 200,000."

"How and why do you give him credit on his statement when even your research shows people making under $200,000 a year won't even come close to his 70 percent benefit statement? To say it's Half True is misleading. Just give a clear honest answer, not one clouded by your over-manipulating the evidence. You have been sounding like a politician for the last few years, always hemming and hawing. I will call you out on every post you put if your research shows one thing but only come out with a half-measure decision. Please clean up your act. The people deserve it."

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One reader took issue with a Mostly True rating from PolitiFact New York, in which Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan, a Democrat, said, "Simply being in this country without documentation is not a crime." We concluded that while undocumented immigrants may have broken other laws, the simple fact of living in the United States without documentation is a civil violation, not a crime.

"Your conclusion that the statement is Mostly True gets an eight out of 10 on my ‘You Are Being Deliberately Misleading’ meter. One could make the argument that it was never illegal to drink alcohol during Prohibition because the law speaks to the production, sale, and distribution of alcohol. But it’s obvious: If you drank during Prohibition, you were doing something illegal. And if you enter the U.S. without permission or under false pretense, then you are doing something illegal. Please, there is an enormous need in these times for genuine, thoughtful examination of statements by politicians, but your decision to slant something hurts the cause of correctly assessing statements by political figures."

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One reader took issue with PolitiFact New York’s Half True rating for Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said that congressional Republicans "want to take health care from millions of Americans in order to pay for" a tax bill. We noted that ending the individual mandate isn’t the same thing as stripping away health insurance away for a large number of Americans. While some would lose access to health insurance due to increased premiums, many others would drop their coverage voluntarily.

"Sorry, but you seem to have drunk deeply of the GOP Kool-Aid. You acknowledge that millions will not have coverage and you cannot tell how many are voluntary, but you also acknowledge that the number of involuntary losses could well be in the millions. This sounds like more than Half True. The Republicans clearly aim to destroy Obamacare piecemeal if they cannot do it in one act. The intent is clear, and the numbers are not out of line. What is your problem?"

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Multiple readers criticized us for fact-checking a post from the Duffel Blog, specifically one headlined, "Bowe Bergdahl wanders off during court-martial." We rated it Pants on Fire. We noted in the fact-check that a disclaimer on the Duffel Blog says that "we are in no way, shape, or form, a real news outlet. Everything on this website is satirical and the content of this site is a parody of a news organization." But that wasn’t enough of a clarification for many readers.

One wrote, "You do realize Duffel Blog is a satire website, right? And they make it painfully obvious. The entire veteran community is laughing at you."

Another wrote, "I find it incredibly disingenuous and frankly sad that you dedicate time and energy to debunking satire. Would you rate Jonathan Swift as Pants on Fire for claiming that ‘I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child, well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food’? The fact that this site can't discern the difference between ‘fake news’ and satire and doesn't get the time-honored, necessary role that satire plays in political discourse just speaks to the insanity of our current age."

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One reader thought that PolitiFact Missouri was being overly generous when it gave a Mostly True rating to a statement by Republican Missouri state Rep. Nick Schroer. He had said that the "FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2016 shows more than four times as many people were stabbed to death than were killed with rifles of any kind."

"Shame on you guys. These kinds of massive factual distortions are used over and over by the NRA and gun enthusiasts to continue to push back on any kind of gun safety. I see this crap in my Facebook feed all the time. Your article even states "the number is staggeringly different" when you look at firearms murders overall. Yet you still give it a Mostly True? Misleading garbage like this will be used to continue the slaughter of innocents here in the U.S."

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One reader offered some context to our article about how early media reports wrongly said that President Donald Trump had dumped his fish food all at one when visiting a koi pond with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"The real fact everyone is missing is that Prime Minister Abe probably has a worse environmental record than Trump when it comes to fish and the environment. Whale Hunts? Net castings? Over-fishing the oceans? Just because he's Japanese doesn't make him Francis Assisi. I like your work otherwise."

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And a reader offered some alternative advice to that published in our article, "How to avoid a political food fight this Thanksgiving."

"Your article is based on the false assumption that facts actually matter to relatives who are convinced that whatever they see on -- insert relative's preferred cable news channel here -- couldn't possibly be wrong, even if the thing they believe was stated on an opinion show, or by a politician who is less than honest. You can show them all the evidence you want, but it's all going to be dismissed out of hand. I work in a casino, where politics and religion are no-go conversations for employees, even though some of our guests insist on talking about it. So that's how I avoid arguments. It's not easy to pretend to have no opinions, and there are times where silence is just as bad as agreement when it comes to a thing with which you vehemently disagree. But if the goal is to keep the peace in that particular moment, like at Thanksgiving dinner, non-committal responses work best."

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Finally, several readers wrote to thank us for the work we do.

One graduate student in international economics and regional studies wrote, "I thoroughly appreciate and value the way that you consistently cite your sources of data in all of your articles. I find that large news sources avoid any citations, and I value your place in the market for consumer transparency. Know that you are making an impact on the world, one reader at a time."

Another reader wrote, "It is refreshing to read about your efforts to keep honesty in the equation! I am so sick of dishonesty and lies. Thank you for all that you do so we can stand strong and truthful."

A third wrote, "Thank you for all your hard work in the pursuit of truth! The commitment to objective reality is essential to the functioning of a democratic system. People of good faith are confused and confounded by the constant assault on their perceptions and interpretations of what is projected in the public arena. What you do is crucial and gives us ‘reality-based’ folks a lifejacket to keep us afloat in these turbulent currents of untruth, fabrication, obfuscation, distortion, denial, and distraction. Carry on. I support you!"

And a fourth thanked us for a "quick and informative response" to one of his questions about an article: "You guys are the professionals, and you prove it by having the relevant information prepared if the integrity of articles is questioned. Thank you for your work in this ‘post-truth’ period."

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