A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of April 5-11

This week, readers sent us comments about Donald Trump, the Massachusetts health care law and the FactCheck quiz.

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.


Trump and Birthplace Arguments

Thank you for a very clearly stated article ["Donald, You’re Fired," April 9] on Donald Trump’s lies about the president’s birth. Lately, I’ve been concerned that someone at FactCheck might have begun listening to Fox or the Tea Party because some of your recent articles seem to be slanted. This one, however, seems fair and unslanted.

Marilynn Wadden
Des Moines, Iowa

Trump reminds me of the well-known cross-examination story in which the witness is asked:

Q. Is such and such possible? (i.e., Is it possible President Obama was born in Kenya?)
A. "Anything is possible — if you don’t know what you are talking about."

Salem Spitz
Gilbert, Ariz.

As someone who uses your website to analyze representations made by politicians, etc., I commend you for some of your past work. I recognize that you lean to the left politically (as was noted by one of your readers last week), but I find you to be a generally good source for information. But given the absurdity of your arguments against Donald Trump on Obama’s claim that he was born in Hawaii, I will start looking elsewhere for real fact-checking. Here is your second point used to “debunk” his concerns: “He claims that no hospital in Hawaii has a record of Obama’s birth. Hospital records are confidential under federal law, but Honolulu’s Kapi’olani Medical Center has published a letter from Obama calling it ‘the place of my birth,’ thus publicly confirming it as his birthplace.” Are you really serious? So if I publish a letter calling the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, “the place of my birth” that “publicly confirms it" as my birthplace?

Later on, you contest another claim of Trump’s: “He says newspaper announcements of Obama’s birth that appeared in Hawaii newspapers in 1961 ‘probably’ were placed there fraudulently by his now-deceased American grandparents. Actually, a state health department official and a former managing editor of one of the newspapers said the information came straight from the state health department.” So we’re now supposed to believe that the state health department has enough time on its hands (and enough interest) to place birth announcements in local newspapers, and that the managing editor of one of those newspapers specifically recalls this announcement being sent to his newspaper by a state health department official 50 years ago?

I’m not taking a position on the validity of Obama’s citizenship, but that’s not the point. The issue is that you’re a well-respected fact-checking website (at least you were once), so don’t put forth the kind of arguments that could be made by high school students half-heartedly writing term papers. And while you’re at it, surrender your partisanship, and take your organization to a higher level!

Steve Barg
Ripon, Wis.

Whether Obama is a natural-born citizen or not, it is my opinion that Obama is the least caring, most hypocritical, and most lying president of the United States in the history of the United States. Since enumeration of and commentary upon the claims written above would take much more time than I care to dedicate and more space than you would allot to publication, I can summarize my opinion of his work and dedication by saying, "Mr.Obama, you’re fired."

Also, it seems to me, and probably others, that FactCheck goes to great length to be anti-birther, rather than to present the case and allow all to decide for themselves if your "facts" are sufficient evidence.

David R. Johnson
Geneseo, Ill.


The Facts on ‘RomneyCare’

The following statement in your "Romneycare Fact Check" [" ‘RomneyCare’ Facts and Falsehoods," March 25] is totally incorrect:

"The truth about premiums is that they’ve gone down for those who buy their own insurance (in what had been the so-called "individual market’), and…" "as much as 40%"

I buy my own insurance in Massachusetts and I can tell you my premiums for comparable coverage doubled under Romneycare. The actual rising premiums for like products are documented in the Massachusetts Department of Healthcare Finance and Policy (DHCFP) Key Indicators reports that you cite as your source for other "fact checking."

Why you depended on "other sources" for the 40% claim when the DHCFP quarterly reports are available I can only guess.

* And why did you depend on page 108 of the old DHCFP one-time report relative to the 18% decrease when page 108 specifically says: "This is likely due to… the reduction in benefit richness among products sold to individuals through the merged market compared with the non-group market," and the next page explains how this is all hypothetical. Why use hypothetical information when you could have used the DHCFP report cited in the bullet above.

I have only read your article quickly so far and I have found over a dozen other outright errors, obvious omissions of important facts, inclusion of irrelevant information, and misleading statements.

I think I understand why you made the 40% error about premiums going down. I think you depended on a "big lie" put out by the Journolister group two years ago. In fact most of your fact checking seems to depend on such old data, particularly the Mass Taxpayers claim about "1% of state budget share." Did you interview Sally Pipes of PRI, Trudy Lieberman of Columbia, the civil servant in the Massachusetts Department of Insurance who called Romneycare "a train wreck," or anyone else other than those quoted in your article, all of whom are proponents of the failed healthcare reform effort in Massachusetts?

It appears you came to Massachusetts simply to support the proponents. If not, if you are really "non-partisan," let me know and I will reply with a list of all of the other problems with your fact check and the public sources to which you can refer to check the actual facts.

Dennis Byron
Dennis, Mass.

FactCheck.org responds: We referred to the April 2010 Division of Health Care Finance and Policy report on premium costs because it compared average premium costs before and after the law was enacted. The November 2010 DHCFP report our reader mentions includes one chart on premium costs for the lowest level plans purchased through the state exchange since 2008. However, even if one looks at the August 2010 premiums costs in that chart, they are significantly less than the 2006 (pre-law) costs for the individual market. It is important to remember that the figures for overall premium changes are averages. That means a specific person’s premium changes could have been more or less than the average – or a specific person could have seen premium costs increase, as our reader says he has. Furthermore, we explained in our article that one reason for the drop in average premium costs for the individual market was that cheaper plans were being purchased. “Young, healthy people came into the market and bought less generous (hence, cheaper) plans than the sicker individuals who had been in that guaranteed issue market,” we wrote, citing MIT economist Jonathan Gruber.


We are often told that small business provides most of the jobs in this country, and that the elderly use most of the health care. The article claims that small business has seen annual health care cost increases of 15%, which would be disaster for many small businesses, and doesn’t even address the health care situation for the elderly, except to state that the health plan is supported by 67% of non-elderly residents.

So, the article tells us that this health plan is a disaster for the main job producing entity — small business, and by deliberate omission, a disaster for senior citizens.

Maybe next time you could present all of the facts, not just the ones that make the Massachusetts health care mess look good. A complete discussion is usually helpful.

Richard Gradle
Garner, N.C.

FactCheck.org responds: Senior citizens are covered by the federal Medicare program. As we said in the article, many have been disappointed that premiums for small businesses have continued to rise, as was the trend before the law was passed.


Not Crazy About Quiz

I love the work you do but do not like the quizzes.They do not inquire as to knowledge of what is happening but rather focus on minute difference in specific numbers of things.

Burt Klinger
Rensselaer, N.Y.