Mailbag: 'You look ridiculous'
Once again, President Donald Trump has been the dominant topic in reader emails to PolitiFact, though we’ve found that Hillary Clinton remains on the minds of some readers as well. Here’s a sampling of reader emails over the past few weeks, edited for space and clarity.
Several readers wrote about our fact-check of MSNBC host Joy Reid. We gave her a Mostly False rating for saying, "The idea of putting up (Confederate) monuments actually didn’t happen right after the Civil War. It happened during the 1960s. It happened over the fight for desegregating schools."
A few readers found fault with our graphic showing when monuments were erected over time.
"The graphic in the story omits the period in question, namely the period after Brown vs. Board of Education. Admittedly, the spike immediately after the Civil War is much larger than the one between 1954 and the mid 1970s, but isn't that important information? In particular, there was a sharp increase in the number of schools named for Confederate generals, in direct response to desegregation efforts. This might not change the Mostly False determination, but the story seems to have unfairly selected its data presentation in a manner that supports the conclusion."
Another reader said they found our article useful, but added that they recalled "a period around the centennial of the Civil War that sort of celebrated both sides. I was a child then, but I remember trading cards and toys and postage stamps, many of which venerated both sides of the Civil War. And indeed, it is one of the reasons I'm a little skeptical about some of these efforts to bring down the statues and all symbols of the Confederacy. My sense is that as terrible as the war was, this country as a whole had transformed the event somehow into something cultural and historical. Is it possible that those statues that were made in the 1960s might have grown out of renewed interest in the Civil War because of the centennial?"
Several readers were not satisfied with our reassessment of our previous True rating for Hillary Clinton’s assertion that "we have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election."
As we had initially noted, the 17 separate agencies did not independently declare Russia the perpetrator behind the hacks; however, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence speaks on behalf of the group. We asked experts again whether they thought Clinton’s claim was correct, and they generally agreed that it was. In addition, in the case of the Russia investigation, there was no evidence of disagreement among members of the intelligence community.
A number of readers said we should have changed our ruling to be less favorable toward Clinton’s original statement.
"Admitting when you're wrong are hallmarks of integrity and credibility, but you just couldn't do it, so you have had the opposite effect. Do you really expect us to believe that Clinton and her vaunted team were so stupid that it was a ‘reasonable inference’ for her to think the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Coast Guard, the Treasury Department, the Energy Department and others were all involved in this conclusion? You look ridiculous."
Another wrote, "Anyone who knows anything about our intelligence community would know that only a few of those agencies would have primary data on Russia's meddling. The other agencies would have received this data, but would be relying on the few for accurate intelligence. The mainstream media would have known this, so proceeding with the ‘17 intelligence agencies’ was purely political. Don't give them an out."
One reader said we were being too literal when we gave a Pants on Fire rating to one website’s description of Irma as a Category 6 hurricane.
"It wasn't wrong for you to point out that there is no Category 6 for hurricanes, and very helpful to explain how the scale was developed and how it is used. However, an exhaustive discussion of the situation would have taken into account the speaker's creative use of language. Without that, your article seems to be missing the point."
Another reader felt that we were also too literal in our fact-check of commentator David Frum, who said, "No president in history has imposed larger personal lifestyle costs on the taxpayer than Donald Trump." We rated that Mostly False, noting that "it’s too early to call Trump’s personal travel itinerary the costliest in presidential history, as he’s only a few months into the job. It’s also a bold claim to make in the absence of definitive data on the costs of presidential travel, which is generally not disclosed."
"It’s quite obvious that Mr. Frum is talking about the pace at which money is being spent. You yourselves said that he has already spent a third of what it is believed was spent during eight years in the Obama administration, and he has only been in office seven months. That means he is on track to spend more in two years than Obama spent in eight years."
One reader who had written a dissertation about anti-Muslim prejudice in the Philippines appreciated our debunking of Trump’s suggestion that Americans "study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!" We rated that Pants on Fire, but the reader offered an additional nuance we hadn’t addressed.
"You didn't touch the idea that the people Pershing was fighting were ‘radical Islamic terrorists.’ Seems a bit unfair to invade a country and call the people who resist you terrorists. In addition, the concept of ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ as it is used politically today, with a goal of a global Caliphate, was certainly not evident in the southern Philippines at the time. I did appreciate your noting that the resistance of people in the southern Philippines to occupation was not demonstrably about only religious issues."
One reader suggested a tweak to our discussion of presidential impacts on gasoline supply. They were referring to a fact-check of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who had said, "When the price for oil goes up on the markets, it goes right up, but it never goes down." We rated that False.
"You said that the only president who had an impact on gas prices was Jimmy Carter, by instituting price controls in the 1970s. In truth, it was Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford who instituted those price controls. (I was around then and remember it well.) They stayed in place for part of the Carter administration, but Carter later waived most of them. Ronald Reagan did away with the rest."
One reader wrote to offer an addition to our discussion of how much a single-payer health care plan would cost.
"I enjoyed your article. However, you missed a large number in your calculations on government spending on health care. The federal government also contributes 27 percent of federal employees’ health premiums."
Several readers took issue with recent ratings in our Trump-O-Meter, which checks campaign promises by Trump.
"You gave a Promise Kept for keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open. But that’s like giving me a Promise Kept if I said I promised the sun would rise in the east every morning. It was already open when he became president. His predecessor failed in his promise to close it, but he actually tried and failed. Trump didn't have to exert a micro-ounce of effort to keep it open. It’s a nonsensical rating."
Another took issue with our Promise Kept for Trump’s pledge to slash federal regulations.
"There is a vast difference between Trump ordering that two regulations be eliminated for every new one introduced and the actual promise of a 70 percent or 75 percent reduction in total regulations.In addition, simply ordering something to happen does not by itself make it happen. Until it actually happens, the Promise Kept rating is simply wrong."
A third reader was flummoxed by our In the Works rating for Trump’s pledge that "if I'm elected president, I'm accepting no salary."
‘Take no salary’ is different than ‘donate my salary.’ With the latter, he gets a tax write-off."
Finally, a few readers thanked PolitiFact for our efforts.
"I wanted to thank you for all the wonderful work you do. It is vital that we have people like you doing incredible research and making sure people get accurate information."
Another wrote, "Love the work you guys do. In this age of misinformation, half-truths, shameless liars and entrenched opinions formed in the space of the couple of seconds it takes to read a Facebook headline or a Twitter post that confirms one’s own bias, the services that you and others like you are providing are absolutely vital to the causes of freedom, sanity, accountability and truth."
And a third wrote, "Thanks again for being a journalist! I’m not sure if we in the public ever thank you enough, even now."