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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Sept. 22-Sept. 28

This week, readers sent us comments on COLA, Michael Moore and how much they like FactCheck.

In the FactCheck Mailbag we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.


Killing the Messenger

I was just reading your piece on the lack of a Cost of Living Adjustment increase for Social Security recipients for the next two years ["Social Security COLA," Sept. 23]. While it may not be Congress’ fault that there will be no COLA for seniors for the next two years, they are the ones who will catch the heat. Why? Because they COULD do something about it and if they don’t they very well may pay the price in November 2010. To expect seniors to accept that their checks will remain stagnant for two years, while we all know prices won’t, is unrealistic. Seniors are going to be very angry and what better way to vent that anger than to oust their representatives if they fail to take action?

Barbara E.
Nitro, W.Va.


Payment Is the Problem

Seems to me the research ["Dying From Lack of Insurance," Sept. 24] assumes an answer and then attempts to support it. The problem is not lack of insurance or even a single-payer issue. The problem is lack of free health care. If we had a fully subsidized walk-in health care system, anyone could walk into any facility for any problem and have full access to all possible preventive or curative measures. So, if 100% of the population has 100% access to 100% of available services – problem solved. Now if we can just convince everybody on the supply side to work for free – but that’s another story.

Paul Tyler
Orlando, Fla.


FactCheck the Media

Why does FactCheck not post "Truth vs. Myth" on Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck or Fox News? Fox News with Chris Wallace is different than talking points from the mentioned. Can you provide FactChecks for the public? Don Hall Woodbridge, Va. I know that Michael Moore is not exactlly a politician, but he is very political and about as trustworthy as any politician. (If that?) He has been on television a lot lately promoting his newest movie. I’ve always avoided his stuff because I don’t know what to believe so why bother, but he’s made some pretty bold claims and I would be really interested to find out how valid they are. (Ex. He said "The number one reason that people have ended up having their homes foreclosed is because of medical bills," on the Colbert Report. I saw it at 1:00pm on 9/28/09 but it had to be a rerun.) Unfortunately I don’t know where to look up information to verify or disprove his claims because as much as I don’t trust him, I have a hard time trusting most media sources (including websites) because everyone is biased and only presents the facts they want you to see. (If they don’t outright lie.) I find your website to be pretty trustworthy because you seem to present both sides of the story. I’ve read articles claiming that a Republican told the truth here, lied there, stretched it there, and others claiming that a Democrat told the truth here, lied there, and stretched the truth there. So unless you guys are just really creative I have to believe that what you’re posting is the truth. Can someone fact-check Michael Moore for those of us who don’t know what to believe?

Jodi Dornbusch
Minneapolis, Minn.

FactCheck.org responds: Our mission is holding politicians accountable, and so we rarely take on claims by filmmakers or media figures. Moore is a rare exception. In 2004 we criticized him for calling President Bush a military "deserter" while campaigning for a Democratic presidential candidate, and for a sensational but false insinuation in his movie Farenheit 9/11, after the claim was repeated as fact in a Democratic attack ad.

Now Michael Moore is repeating his claim about foreclosures, telling Bloomberg News, for instance: "The number one cause of foreclosures in this country are medical bills. And the number one cause of bankruptcy are medical bills." Given its relevance to the health care debate, we checked it out. This time, Moore is on somewhat firmer ground.

We found a 2008 study that interviewed homeowners going through foreclosure in four states and concluded: "Half of all respondents (49%) indicated that their foreclosure was caused in part by a medical problem."  We have looked at the bankruptcy claim before, finding that a 2005 Harvard study found about half of bankruptcy filers cited medical expenses, illness or a medical-related job loss as the reason for filing. An updated version of the study says more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in 2007 "were driven by medical incidents." The methodology has been questioned. And "medical bills" are just one aspect of "medical problems," some others being inability to work and earn an income, or being forced to care for a sick relative. So while we can’t endorse Moore’s current claims as proven, this time there is evidence to support what he says.


Sly Taxation

Regarding your article "Boehner and the Cost of Cap and Trade" [Sept. 22], it seems the Obama administration is being very clever. They have found a way to “tax the rich” without calling it a tax on the rich. They raise money to pay for liberal programs by selling allowances and then use the money to essentially “buy votes” by giving aid to traditional Democratic constituents. This is horrible policy but smart politics.

Mark Bourn
Burnsville, Minn.


A Big Week for Kudos

Thank you so much for the service you are providing. I was just lamenting the other day that I have no opinion on the health care reform package because I often don’t have time to feed myself on a regular schedule, let alone wade through the actual text of the bill. I trust news agencies as far as I can throw them, and they weigh a lot. Even more than this isolated issue, your example has given cause for a renewed spark of faith in the essential decency of people in a democracy. That when the system is failed a new one will be born to overthrow it gives me a bit of hope for our future. Sites like yours enable us to uphold our end of the deal. Namely, you make it possible to educate ourselves with information that is probably as unbiased as possible, short of directly reading the whole bill. Thank you again, I will be back often.

Benjamin Young
Kingston, R.I.

Nothing specific here, just a general "Thank You" for the good work that you do. In a world where hyperbole and distortions seem to rule the day, you are a calm, balanced, thoughtful voice of reason shining in the darkness. I always appreciate the historical details that you include in your write-ups, and I am thankful for the research that you do to uncover the actual truth behind some of the absurd claims that are voiced (seemingly by all sides) in the various issues that are in front of our country.

Eric Longman
Marietta, Ga.

Thank you for your continued coverage of political rhetoric. In an era of journalistic negligence, it is refreshing, grounding, and re-orienting to visit factcheck.org and to be able to rely on consistent, thorough and deep review of political claims. Also, thank you for making the information so accessible. While it takes time for the truth to be discovered, once exposed, the format allows for quick dissemination and correction of falsehoods. I wonder sometimes if there is any way to convince the many mass media market "journalists" to report with as much integrity and such a lack of bias?

Erik Bluemner
Verona, Wi

Thank you very much for your service. There is so much BS floating around in the ether that it’s a full-time job just to keep up with it. When I get chain e-mails, I always (try to) fact-check them. If I find that they are spurious, I respond back to the sender with a correcting reference. Your service makes it possible to do this.

Dwain E. Lowther
Riverside, Calif.