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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of July 24-30

This week, readers sent us comments about President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” quote and Mitt Romney’s claim that many of the weapons belonging to James Holmes were illegal.

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.


The ‘Build That’ Breakdown

Your post on Obama’s “you didn’t build that quote” is mostly fair [” ‘You Didn’t Build That,’ Uncut and Unedited,” July 23]. However, it must be said that any reasonable person who understood the context of Obama’s speech would easily conclude that the “that” in this (unnecessarily) contested quote was simply referring to the thought that had preceded this sentence. (“That” being a reference to roads, bridges, infrastructure.)

In your update you mention a campaign web video that mentions education, too. Okay, fine. It’s all the same point. But I didn’t need the president to explain it to me. I feel like a genius.

Clumsy as the sentence was, it is quite common in the English language for one to insert a pronoun such as “that” or “it” to reference the subject of the previous thought. To beat the dead horse, in Obama’s case, this (or that) was infrastructure.

You mention in your update that “we don’t know what the president had in mind when he uttered those words.” But here’s the thing: You do know what he had in mind, because you are smart, reasonable people who understand context, are able to link successive thoughts, and aren’t robots unable, or unwilling to make reasonable judgments when the evidence is unequivocally clear, and bursting with common sense to boot.

I’m afraid your concern of seeming overly partisan on an issue that the Republicans see as their poorly won golden ticket, is skewing your better judgement to just simply call this one straight up.

J. Tomme
New York, N.Y.

FactCheck.org responds: From a purely grammatical viewpoint, Obama’s remarks actually refer to “business.” Usually a pronoun’s antecedent is the noun nearest to it, in this case “business,” and not “roads and bridges.”

If the president didn’t mean to refer to “business,” he could have used “those,” a clearer, if imperfect, reference to the plural “roads and bridges.” Or the president could have simply said, “You didn’t build those roads,” if that’s what he was thinking. That would have left his critics no room for misinterpretation.



Illegal ‘Weapons’

In your article [“Gunman’s Weapons Already Illegal?,” July 27], you’re mincing Romney’s words, inferring that he didn’t differentiate between firearms/ammunition and bomb/explosive devices in his defense of Second Amendment rights, and stating that many of the things possessed by the shooter were already illegal.

Okay, I can accept that as a legitimate criticism of his statement. But, at that same time, you don’t mince the words of Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates in that “All the weapons … ammunition” was purchased legally. The last time I checked, explosives or bombs were also “weapons,” or certainly could be used as such. So, technically, the sheriff’s statement was false, and Romney’s statement, while incomplete, was mostly correct.

Could it infer that Romney wasn’t aware of the expiration of the assault weapons ban or state laws regarding high capacity magazine and clips? Yes, it could. But FactCheck.org should not be in the business of making those types of inferences. Just the facts please!

David DeZan
Boston, Mass.