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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of March 13-19

This week, readers sent us letters questioning a comparison of false statements made by Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, and our decision to write about a quote President Obama attributed to former President Rutherford B. Hayes.

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.


Questionable Methodology

Your recent article on Romney and Santorum’s truthfulness had a serious deficit [“Romney: Foggy on FactCheck,” March 14]. The analysis of the FactChecker ratings was done well. You properly accounted for the fact that Romney has more false ratings than Santorum because he is rated more often, and adjusted it accordingly. Bafflingly, you did not do the same with PolitiFact. The fact that the proportion of false statements is more important than the number of false statements aside, I would think that a group whose mission is to promote truth would know the importance of using a common methodology when comparing statistics.

Romney received twice as many false or worse ratings than Santorum (30 vs. 15). But Romney has been checked 3 times as often (120 vs. 42). Properly adjusted, 35.7 percent of Santorum’s comments were false or worse, according to PolitiFact. Romney comes in much better at 25 percent. For what it’s worth, President Obama scored 16.5 percent false or worse.

Evan Zimmerman
Los Angeles, Calif.

FactCheck.org responds: The writer’s percentages apply only to the statements that PolitiFact chose to write about — not to all public statements by Romney, Santorum or Obama. This is just one more example of why — as we said in the item in question– we don’t think truthfulness can be so precisely measured, and why we avoid such attempts at numerical scorekeeping.

Time Not Well Spent

You must be scraping the bottom of the barrel to do an article on [“Obama’s Fake Hayes Quote,” March 15]. While the origins of the quote are unknown, I’m sure Obama used it in good faith, and his aim was to make a larger point about the folly of looking backward. Ultimately, the error has no material effect on people’s understanding of the issues. I suggest there are enough other misstatements that warrant looking into that time spent researching this might have been better spent.

Joan Tindell
Tucson, Ariz.