Mailbag, week one: Good, bad but certainly not indifferent
By Ellie Harvey
Published on Monday, May 20, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
Since we launched we have received lots of lively feedback from readers on Facebook, Twitter, and via email. Here's an edited selection of emails and Facebook comments on some our most talked about items. Comments are edited for style and length. You can view our page at Facebook.
In our first week, more than 2300 people have liked our page. Many respondents were excited about bringing fact-checking to Australian politics.
About bloody time! Election2013 just got a whole lot interesting.
- Tuhin Abhyankar
Thank you. Its about time someone shine some light on all that has been said.
- Ben Smith
Really impressed with PolitiFact. It's well balanced and a breath of fresh air from other media outlets. Keep it up!
- Justin Lund
But we didn't keep everyone happy. Far from it:
So disappointed with this exciting website concept and potential. Please radically revise to cover only significant statements probably right or wrong - not conjectural, especially into the future. For example, whether we can feed ourselves as a nation in 3 years time.
- Brenda Rudolph
Others said we were biased, accusing us of hidden agendas:
Very confused, I thought you were presenting PolitiFact as independent fact checkers. This honestly reads like a round about way of softening the electorate for a deal. Very strange decisions in your first week.
- Francesca Newby
But for now we’ll leave the final word on that issue to Stephen Hulbert:
Hey, people, get used to the fact that, being neutral, you need to expect that both sides of politics are going to get pinged by this site - if you can't cope with that, then you aren't going to be happy.
What of the discussion around our specific rulings? Here’s a selection of what was said, referencing, in PolitiFact style, the person making the claim first.
Abbott: Julia Gillard broke her promise that there would be "no carbon tax under the government I lead".
She said there would be no carbon tax, now there is.
- Sean Quinn
The Prime Minister said there would be no carbon tax and there is NOT one. The Prime Minister said she was determined to put a price on carbon and she did.
- Jessica O'Neill
Some took our ruling to be a judgment on whether Gillard lied.
A lie is a *deliberate* intention to deceive. You have completely overlooked this fundamental fact. The PM did not say there would be no carbon tax while fully intending to implement one. Therefore she did not lie... Gillard adapted to a new negotiated reality to form a minority government and as a step towards the ETS.
- Kathleen Lazzari
Others made the distinction for us:
Big difference between a lie and a broken promise. The promise was broken, hardly big news in politics. To say JG lied is a lie.
- Andrew Barratt
Your writer examined the question of whether Gillard "broke her promise". It does not examine the proposition that "Julia Gillard lied about the carbon tax". It does not "pick apart" the question of "when a lie is a lie". It is misleading and disingenuous to conflate "broken promise" with "lie".
- Minh-Quan Hussein Nguyen
However, Minh-Quan Hussein Nguyen went on to say that our logic was flawed:
The public believes that Gillard broke a promise; therefore Gillard broke a promise; therefore it is correct for the public to believe that Gillard broke a promise. Fallacy, thy name is....
Several readers suggested undue weight was given to what the average Australian might have understood from Gillard’s pre-election promise:
So... no one whose opinion you sought said it was a true tax, yet because the "average australian" can't comprehend a damned thing, that means Gillard lied?
- Irene Hiphopoulos
Still, others thought more should have been made of the impact of the minority government:
The fact is that our PM negotiated with Greens to form a minority govt. Under those conditions the "carbon tax" was introduced. So, personally our PM didn't lie or break a promise, it was the cost of forming a minority govt. I recommend that you revisit this topic and change the ruling to "neutral" because your current ruling doesn't reflect reality.
- Peter Parker-Smythe
Out first Pants-on-Fire, reserved for ridiculous claims, brought a mixed reaction too, prompting suggestions that we were being too literal.
Briggs: "Federal government public servants are purchasing gold-plated coffee machines."
Aren't you being a little too literal about this? Surely no-one is stupid enough to believe they *are* actually gold plated. Another fail like the "Can't be stripped away" ruling, just how stupid do you think your audience is?
- Ashley Hinds
I think it came across very clearly as a metaphor, though I'll acknowledge that it eventually became a little more clouded and the message was lost. Nonetheless, it appears to be the initial statement ruled as 'pants on fire'.
- Nathan Runge
Not sure this deserves a PoF rating. Shouldn't that be saved for the really big ones?
- Sally Piracha
Yet, when we rated Bob Katter's claim about the risk of the country running out of food as false, we were being too soft for some.
Katter: Within three to eight years Australia will be a net importer of food and "will not be able to feed itself".
I think this actually belongs in "Pants on Fire" territory! Especially if the defining characteristic for "Pants on Fire" status is either willful dishonesty or unreasonable carelessness in gathering and/or selecting data.
- Derek McLarnen
However, others, agreed with Katter’s sentiment, acknowledging his poetic license:
We do already import a large amount of of food and climate change could be very harsh on Australia - prolonged droughts in some places, unseen before flooding in others - but 3-8 years is an exaggeration.
- Jan Tendys
Abbott: The public sector payroll has grown by 20,000 since 2007.
On this ruling, readers debated whether defence force personnel are public servants, and if they are, whether we should take into account what an average person would think. (We have also returned to the issue since Abbott has discussed "20,000 bureaucrats" rather than the public sector payroll.)
What a load of BS you've just given Abbott a pass on. Tell me any other time when soldiers are counted as public servants?
- Phil Ryan
Politifact makes it clear that Abbott chose his words to perhaps mislead. They are not meant to offer editorial comment, just verify the accuracy of the words Abbott deliberately chose. Abbott chose the highest number he could get away with and in my opinion the article gets as close as it can to saying so.
- Osk Archer
I think that you also need to evaluate the intent of the statements. For example when Tony Abbott says that the public sector has grown by 20,000, yes it's mostly true but what he wants people to hear is that the public service has grown by that amount, which is pants on fire territory. It's the ambiguity that makes the statement misleading.
- Lihp Retals
The figures quoted by Abbott are for Commonwealth Payroll NOT public servants.... that's been confirmed... I can't see anything 'misleading' in this. If you speak English there's nothing misleading - he stated facts. My ex was in the RAAF when we were married and we always considered ourselves to be commonwealth public servants... If they aren't then what are they - they are employees of the Department of Defence.
- Cherrie Cran
Camo JustCamo offered a solution to avoid all the ambiguity in these sort of rulings:
This - especially in Australia - needs a new category: Politically expedient. Not demonstrably false, based on "an" interpretation of the underlying facts... but an interpretation that is not normally used by non-politically-aligned descriptors.
One of our most contentious rulings was about penalty and overtime rates, citing a statement on the Labor party website. It read: Labor’s overtime and penalty rates protections "can’t be stripped away".
Day one of PolitiFact Australia was overrun by feedback about this ruling, and we blogged about it. Many readers thought there was an implication in the statement that we ignored:
Politifacts gave a rating on an ALP statement that was "False". The only way that this statement could be construed as being false was through unambiguous (and at the very least extremely disingenuous) misinterpretation (that the ALP were implying that parliament can't reverse legislation). Blind Freddy can see that the ALP in no way wants to give the impression that parliament couldn't overturn their workplace protections (particularly under Abbott).
- Obese Andy
This is indeed an absolute no-brainer... It's quite clear that the claim was referring to *employers* stripping away entitlements, not future Governments. Please fix this.
- Kev Martin
Any response to the issue raised, PolitiFact? Stripped away clearly refers to employers. Any law can be changed by successive governments, constitutions can be amended, nobody would claim or believe there was a law that could never be stripped away.
- Francesca Newby (again).
We have also had plenty of feedback and publicity in the media, including from News Limited columnists Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt. Citing our Pants-on-Fire ruling on the gold-plated coffee machines, Bolt writes: "A lack of irony, humor and a sense of proportion is a dangerous thing. Also, boring."
We will keep that in mind.
Thanks for all your feedback. Keep it coming.
Researchers: Ellie Harvey
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PolitiFact Australia wants to help keep our politicians honest. We fact-check the accuracy of claims by elected officials and other influential people in the Australian political debate.
We research and rate statements with our Truth-O-Meter. Its goal is to reflect the relative accuracy of a statement. The meter has six ratings, in decreasing level of truthfulness:
TRUE - The statement is accurate and there's nothing significant missing.
MOSTLY TRUE - The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
HALF TRUE - The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
MOSTLY FALSE - The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
FALSE - The statement is not accurate.
PANTS ON FIRE - The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.