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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Aug. 2-8

This week, readers continued to send us comments on our articles about the debt limit, as well as letters on Ray LaHood's incorrect job numbers, the National Review and the importance of critical thinking.

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

Oil Companies and Corporate Jets

In your article ["FactChecking Dueling Debt Speeches," July 26] you give a quote from President Obama that compared the tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jet owners to cutting Medicare for senior citizens. Yes, I understand that cutting these tax breaks will not significantly reduce the deficit. But neither will cuts to Medicare. And given the choice between cutting back on Medicare or ending the tax breaks, I would prefer the latter. And I would appreciate you comparing those two options and not just saying that he's wrong because it won't help pay off the deficit. He never said that it would. He was just trying to explain that the $39 billion from corporate jets and big oil would help just as much (if not more) than cutting a similar amount from Medicare. I believe that is all he was trying to say, and I believe he is correct!

Ed Ogershok
Lake Dallas, Texas


While I generally applaud your efforts to clarify the misstatements being made in the political arena, I take exception to your comments in 2 articles regarding Obama stating that "Obama said Republicans would rather cut Medicare than get rid of tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jet owners. But voters should know that the revenue from raising those taxes wouldn't even amount to 1 percent of the deficit." Obama is using those 2 particular items as illustrative of Republican priorities. He did not claim that those particular breaks would have the same deficit impact as the Medicare cuts. The amount of revenue raised by the tax breaks is immaterial to the point that Republicans are pushing the pain on those least able to afford it and are not willing to raise taxes on those who can most afford it. In this case, your point appears to be a distinction without a difference, and comes across as an attempt to try and show criticism of all parties, even if you need to really reach to do so. Unbiased doesn't mean criticizing everyone, it means being sure the claims are appropriately compared against the facts. In general, though, you do a great job.

Dave Correll
Mansfield Center, Conn.


Debunking Default 'Danger'

Thanks, FactCheck!

Your recent article ["Default 'Danger' Revisited," July 28] just helped me avoid being misled by an article in my local paper, which repeated the claim that this was the first time we came to the "brink of defaulting." Thanks to your hard work, I've sent a letter to the editor concerning the issue, and hopefully it will be addressed and corrected. Keep it up!

Jonathon Volkmer
Lincoln, Neb.


Debt vs. Deficit

I've followed with interest for the last few months the ongoing debate between FactCheck and some of its readers on whether Social Security contributes to the national deficit. I have tried to understand the points on both sides. Today, as I was reading another round in the battle, I think I realized part of the problem: some readers are confusing the national deficit and the national debt.

The national debt constitutes all of the monies owed by our government to other entities, and has grown over many years. The deficit is the annual shortfall between income and expenditures by the government. I believe that each time FactCheck has covered this issue, you have reiterated that SS contributed to the most recent year's deficit. This is true, and it seems this should be hard to argue against. The problem occurs when people equate the deficit with the debt. The fact of the matter is that the debt is currently $2.5 trillion lower than it would have been without Social Security (at least on paper). Therefore, I believe it is incorrect to say that the Social Security program has contributed to the debt, but it has contributed and is contributing to the deficit.

Gordon Mancuso
Lafayette, La.

FactCheck.org responds: We thank our reader for a good description of debt versus deficit. And it is fair to say that the debt held by the public — which is now $9.9 trillion — is “currently $2.5 trillion lower than it would have been without Social Security (at least on paper).” But while the government did use Social Security surpluses to pay for other things, it now owes that money to itself. The total debt — which includes intragovernmental holdings — is nearly $14.6 trillion and includes about $2.7 trillion this year in Treasury securities held by the Social Security Trust Fund.


National Review Not News

Just read your piece on Mitt Romney/Chicago unemployment ["Romney's Windy Web Video," Aug. 3]. Toward the bottom, you had, "Some news outlets were even deceived by the campaign's sleight of hand. The *National Review *wrote* . . . ."*

I have been reading *National Review* occasionally for a couple decades, since before Wm. Buckley let go of control over content and attitude. Information source, yes. Opinion, analysis, synthesis, yes. But "News"? Not to my mind.

Richard Carter
Seattle, Wash.


FactChecking LaHood

Thanks for the correct numbers on the airport construction workers’ story, dated July 29 ["LaHood Pads Job Losses"]. CNBC corrected its numbers immediately after my call, but once that 70,000 figure was declared by Ray LaHood, it was everywhere and assumed as fact. As a former news assignment editor at CBS, I called and suggested copy editors take a look at your “LaHood Pads Job Losses,” before running the story again. LaHood was able to unfairly raise public ire with the incorrect higher figure. “Once you let the cat out of the bag…" Thanks for the thorough work you do. I mention you on my blog and in every media speech. Also suggest contributions for FactCheck. We need you!

Bill Deane
New York, N.Y.


Critical Thinking

Thank you for your work. I only wish more people would look at it before reaching conclusions. I try to teach critical thinking to all the students I teach. By the time they leave my class, I like to think that they are able to sort through the spin and find the truth for themselves. Sadly, our politicians were not well taught on this score and manipulate facts or outright lie far too often. Have you ever thought of ranking politicians based on the number of misstatements of fact they make each year and then give out awards? I think the publicity might encourage them, their staff, and their promotors to think more about whether the lies are worth it. I am worried that our politicians are starting to apply the "Big Lie" doctrine and that it is working as well here as it did in Germany in the 1930s. Again, thank you.

K. Thomas Shahriari
Houston, Texas