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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Oct. 2-8

This week, readers sent us comments about our analysis of the first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

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.


Romney’s $5 Trillion in Tax Cuts

In [“Dubious Denver Debate Declarations,” Oct. 4], FactCheck.org wrote:

Obama accused Romney of proposing a $5 trillion tax cut. Not true. Romney proposes to offset his rate cuts and promises he won’t add to the deficit.

I am getting so tired of the shoddy debate fact-checking on these sites. Your fact-check of this important fact is so superficial that you may as well have not done it. You rely on Romney’s “promise” to offset the $5 trillion in tax cuts, that he doesn’t backup with specific offsets in cutting deductions, etc.

The real truth is that Romney did propose a $5 trillion dollar tax cut (plus $2 trillion more in additional defense spending), which is what the president said. While Romney does say he’ll offset this $7 trillion in spending, he gives little in the way of specific plans to do so. As the president said, closing all of the loopholes/deductions for the wealthy wouldn’t come near to what is needed to offset the tax cuts and spending proposed, so we would either have to add this to the deficit or cut deductions for the middle class. If you’re just going to go on candidates’ “promises,” especially when their word has not been good, why bother?

Linda Rogatz
Miami, Fla.


Fairness Bias?

Your recent page on the first presidential debate leads with a list of alternating bullet points charging each candidate with misstatements. This provides an appearance of balance, but I am concerned that there is a perverse incentive, creating an outcome you may not intend.

All of us readers want unbiased coverage, and we are grateful to the Annenberg Public Policy Center for your careful work. Unfortunately, as long as balance is preserved by leveling equal numbers of accusations at each candidate, there is little motivation for candidates to restrain themselves when tempted to lie. Mr. Romney’s campaign, for example, has explicitly stated that they have no intention to be bound by fact checkers.

Your list, which overtly alternates objections to the candidates, crystallizes fairness bias into a graphically obvious form. This can only reassure someone like Mr. Romney that no matter what he says, he will have authoritative sources such as yourselves to assure the public that Mr. Obama is equally misleading. Why should anyone bother to consult your evaluations, either before the fact or after? There is nothing to lose by lying with abandon.

We need your work. Your analyses do provide helpful details. American political discussion needs reliable information more today than ever before. Our society is more complex than ever, and expertise is more fragmented among specialists. This creates more opportunities to mislead uninformed voters. We need your help to reduce the incentive to mislead.

Your page implies that Obama and Romney were equivalent. If that is in fact your conclusion, then I suggest you owe it to your readers to state that conclusion explicitly and defend it, with reference to divergent reviewers such as ThinkProgress.org or Fox News.  As it stands, your page is giving aid and comfort to deception — the opposite of standing up for facts.

Ken Presting
Cary, N.C.


Keeping Folks Sane

I cannot begin to express my thanks to you and the Annenberg Foundation for your service. In these stressful political times, you guys keep me sane! Thanks again for your great work. Please don’t stop.

Scott Rucker
Louisville, Ky.


I want to thank everyone that helps run FactCheck.org. I’ll be honest, I haven’t cared about politics much, and a big reason for it is that it’s frustrating to deal with all the lies. Newspapers lie, campaign ads lie, even the presidential candidates make statements before checking their facts, and many people cannot see past the side they are with.

Several months ago, I was thankfully corrected by a friend about a rumor passing around on tumblr.com, but I then wondered exactly how many of the “facts” I know are actually fiction. One day ago, someone mentioned FactCheck.org in their blog, and I’m ever so grateful for a website that is truly neutral. Thank you again, and I’ll be sure to pass this website on to as many people as I can.

L. Yang
New York, N.Y.