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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Sept. 25-Oct. 1

This week, readers sent us comments about the percentage of Americans not paying federal income taxes and “inadvertent bias” in our articles on the presidential candidates’ stump speeches.

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 47 Percenters

While I do appreciate much of the clarification presented, I was a bit annoyed with the following statement [“Dependency and Romney’s 47 Percenters,” Sept. 18]:

Romney is a bit out of date with his claim that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. That was true in 2009, but the number is lower now, and falling as the economy improves and more people are working and getting paychecks.

Figures come from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, and its most recent analysis in July 2011 put the figure for that year at 46.4 percent.

Really? You’re presenting this information in a way that substantially faults Romney for rounding to 47 percent from 46.4 percent? Yes, he didn’t say 46.4 percent, so that is untrue, but I feel that the author of this article presented it in such a way that makes Romney appear to be some kind of fraud. It made me significantly question how unbiased your journalists — and hence your organization — are.

Later in the article, it referenced Romney’s numbers not jibing with polling numbers. That further annoyed me because we all know polling numbers are accurate entirely in and of themselves (hence why they are just estimates). While I also highly endorse Gallup polls as an accurate source, the discrepancy in your presentation here is the demographic polled. As specified, the poll represents registered voters. The percentage Romney references does not take voter registration into consideration. That to me is a huge fault.

I think to be fair, FactCheck needs to explain the scenario in which speeches are delivered. This address, for example, was presented at a fundraiser. A more casual setting, in my opinion, (perhaps that is why Romney didn’t feel like quibbling about the .6 percent that he was off?) where he is rallying financial supporters behind him. That sheds an entirely different light on his comments than if he were delivering the address at a political rally in Iowa, or even over the podium in the National Convention.

I hope this letter will be given serious consideration and that FactCheck’s journalists will continue to push themselves to the highest level of unbiased truth. Between CNN and FOX News, not to mention the myriad of other sources constantly in the public eye, our society desperately needs you! Please continue to rise to the occasion.

Kimberly Flack
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.


‘Inadvertent Bias’

We depend on you guys. Not being tied to the media, but rather to academic institutions, you guys start with more credibility than many other fact checking organizations. But, when I read intros like those to your stump speech analyses, I wonder about your expressing inadvertent bias.

Looking at the two paragraphs leading into the summaries on each:

Romney [“Romney’s Stump Speech,” Sept. 20]:

While the Nashua stump speech was very much a local event, presidential candidates tend to deliver very similar versions of the same speech over and over as they make their long-form pitch to audiences around the country. Just as with our previous analysis of Obama’s stump speech, we found numerous instances of candidate spin in what Romney had to say. For example:

Obama [“Obama’s Stump Speech,” Sept. 19]:

There’s plenty here to criticize. Like any candidate, Obama is not pretending to give a detached or balanced picture to his audience. He’s making a sales pitch, leaving out or glossing over inconvenient facts, twisting others and sometimes stating things that aren’t so. To cite just a few examples:

While Romney had “numerous instances of candidate spin,” Obama had “plenty here to criticize.” He wasn’t detached or balanced. He glossed over and twisted facts. Do you guys find this balanced? Am I supposed to read into this that Obama’s speech is more distorted, less credible than Romney’s? Or am I supposed to infer that Romney did the same because, “just as with [your] previous analysis of Obama’s stump speech,” you found spin?

Gary Beberman
San Francisco, Calif.