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The last weeks of summer brought closure to major political story lines in the United States: The military pulled out of Afghanistan, and a GOP-led review of ballots in Arizona's largest county affirmed President Joe Biden’s win. The events brought out a lot of claims to fact-check — with thoughtful reader critiques and compliments along the way.
Here’s a selection of our reader reactions in emails, over the telephone and on our Facebook page to our fact-checks, lightly edited for length and clarity. Readers can email us fact-check ideas and feedback at email@example.com
"Your fact-check about the U.S. weapons left behind in Afghanistan stated that the Taliban might not have the ability to use some of them, which is likely true. However, it misses two important points. The first is that they can sell what they can't use, likely for billions of dollars. The second is they can probably get help from China to use some of the US material.
The reader added:
"Did any other Western militaries leave material behind? The fact-check does not address that issue. If they did, that means the Taliban has even more than what the U.S. left, which makes things worse. If they didn't, that makes the US look pretty incompetent compared to the other armies."
We fact-checked a statement by Gov. Ron DeSantis that people who "have recovered (from COVID-19) have very strong immunity." We rated his statement Mostly True.
"Your conclusion is a non sequitur," wrote one reader. "Not one thing that you referenced regarding DeSantis’ comments was false, yet you say it is Mostly True. Not fair."
We rated it "Mostly True" because there was additional information that helped flesh out the question of protection. In this case, it’s useful for readers to know that the best protection comes from getting vaccinated after you've recovered from COVID-19.
Here's how we rate claims. We never expect everyone to agree on our ratings, but we hope they understand our process.
We fact-checked a Facebook post that claims that a worker can compel their boss to sign a "Liability Warning Acknowledgement Form" that allows them to sue their company if they report an adverse reaction after getting the COVID-19 vaccine that prevents them from working. We found no such form exists and rated it False.
A reader wrote "I was surprised this morning to wake and see that a meme I shared on Facebook was flagged by your organization as misinformation. Perhaps not as surprised as I was to realize that you obviously didn't take the time to consider the context of it." The reader said that PolitiFact "is slanted to a particular political bias."
"The post that I shared is meant to express the frustration of myself and others that feel that we are being deprived of the right to make our own health choices as of late," the reader wrote. "When I'm personally told by an elected official in this country that I have to do something ‘for my own good’, I tend to question it. The way I question it is through memes that I share with others. It seems to me that your organization doesn't wish that to be the case. If it were, memes from the other side of the vaccine debate would be scrutinized as much as the one I shared."
Social media posts said votes "disappeared" in CNN’s coverage of the California recall for Gov. Gavin Newsom (which he survived). Our fact-check found that the on-screen drop of 350,000 votes was not the result of nefarious wrongdoing, but a human error. Edison Research, a polling firm that provides election data to CNN among other news organizations, said that the votes were erroneously reported and then corrected.
"Thank you for investigating this claim. I'm curious though, as to how we can believe them when they say it was ‘just human error’? Is there any hard evidence, or are we just supposed to take their word for it? "
We fact-checked an Instagram post that said the audit of the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County, Ariz., "cost the taxpayers $6 million." We rated that statement Mostly False. Trump supporters covered nearly all of the cost to review the ballots cast, but the county will pick up the cost of replacing the machines.
"Well it’s costing taxpayers of Maricopa County $3 million for new voting machines as you point out. So I’d say it may be somewhat false as far as actually paying for the audit but it’s not false as far as costing the taxpayers a hell of a lot of money. … Cyber Ninjas should pay for the machines they ruined."
A viral image claimed that "the vaccination campaign" increased COVID-19 deaths by 175% in one year. It reaches that conclusion by comparing death figures for Sept. 28, 2021, and the same day a year earlier, before vaccines were available. We rated that statement False.
Some readers said we should have been more harsh with our rating.
"What's the standard for ‘Pants on Fire’ these days? Doesn't this seem like a no-brainer ‘Pants on Fire’ rating?"
"You really need to use the Pants on Fire rating more often. This one is a prime example; it’s deliberately misleading. It’s not an error, it’s a blatant lie, intended to mislead."
A Facebook post claimed that the Biden infrastructure bill contains a provision establishing a per-mile driving tax. This is inaccurate. The infrastructure bill would create a pilot program that would study the effect and viability of a per-mile driving tax among a group of volunteers. The post’s image was a screenshot of a TV graphic from Newsmax that stated "Biden tax increases." We rated the social media post False.
Some readers said that even if the program starts as a pilot among volunteers, it could grow in the future.
One reader pointed to more details from a Newsmax article: "Buried on page 508 of the recently released 2,700-plus page $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, is the National Motor Vehicle Per-Mile User Fee Pilot. While the pilot itself does not institute a tax, it sets in motion the process whereby one could soon follow." The reader wrote, "That is 100% true. But you won't hear that from PolitiFact."
Another reader said: "Either way, it's leading up to a new tax. So how is it false? Gotta do better with the fact-check."
We wrote a story explaining the debt ceiling as the U.S. government approached the legal limit on its borrowing capacity.
"Thank you for an excellent explanation of our debt ceiling and its implications! You rock!!!!"
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said Democrats alone are responsible for the rising debt. We rated that Mostly False, because both parties have voted for spending that has increased the debt. A reader on Reddit offered this reminder:
"Maybe PolitiFact should check whether the national debt is a factor of concern, when the cost of servicing debt is below where it was in the 90s," another reader wrote. "We'd be stupid to not leverage this environment for infrastructure, tax raises or not."
We received a phone call from an Appleton, Wis., reader in response to our fact-check of a social media claim that said: "Stunning report: Nearly 15 million mail-in ballots were not counted in the 2020 election." The post leaves the impression that these ballots should have been tabulated but were not. That wasn’t the case, so we rated the claim Mostly False.
The voter told us that his wife received her mail ballot but never cast it because she was in the nursing home with COVID-19 and died 10 days after Election Day. He, too, got a mail ballot but decided with "all the screaming about ‘voting is illegal’, a lot of information about drop boxes, all those things why let them bother me I am just going to go vote in person." He said maybe other voters didn’t cast their mail ballots for these same reasons.
"I do enjoy your fact-check organization," the Wisconsin reader told us. "It does a good job. Thank you for answering the phone. It surprised the heck out of me."
We end with a Facebook comment from a reader in response to our fact-checks of claims related to the Arizona election and the GOP-led review of ballots in Maricopa County.
"Thank you for your service, PolitiFact, and for posting information that can be independently verified."
Reddit, Comment, Sept. 27, 2021
PolitiFact’s Facebook page, September-October 2021
Reader emails and phone call, September-October 2021