Fact checks about the Affordable Care Act continue to dominate our monthly roundup of the most widely read fact checks. In fact, second place goes to a column first published in October — our Four-Pinocchio rating of President Obama’s pledge that people could keep their health plans if they liked them. That column continues to be avidly read through social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
But the first-place ranking goes to a fact check of a comment made by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Some readers wondered why we still bother to vet her statements, but certainly there continues to be intense interest in what she says.
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We focused on Palin’s comment that U.S. debt holdings by China would leave future generations “beholden to a foreign master” because her remarks do reflect some common misunderstanding about foreign holdings of Treasury securities. (We noted that Obama, as a candidate in 2008, had made similar comments.) China owns the most public debt, but even so that only represents about 10 percent of all publicly held Treasury securities. Rising debt is a big risk to the long-term health of the U.S. economy, but not the fact that foreign governments may own a portion of that debt.
Second place goes to our lengthy examination of the president’s memorable pledge that, under the Affordable Care Act, “no one will take away” your health plan. Though the White House has since backed off this claim — made repeatedly by the president during the crafting of the law and in recent months — we concluded that it was worthy of Four Pinocchios because of the frequency with which he made it and because of the impact of regulations crafted by the administration. As we noted, this was also the most popular fact check of October.
Here, we dug deeper into the administration’s effort to extricate itself from the controversy over the president’s pledge — such as accusing insurance companies of stripping away benefits. But as we explained, the main culprit is not whether or not an insurance company had changed a plan that ran afoul of the administration’s regulations, but the law’s effective date. In fact, we calculated that as many as 95 percent of people now getting cancellation notices likely purchased their plan after the effective date of the law.
Republican efforts to probe the disastrous rollout of the health-care law took a detour when GOP lawmakers touted a memo as showing that the personal information of millions of Americans was at risk. It turns out there was much less to the memo than originally claimed, but that did not stop lawmakers from repeating their claims on television after the hearing. Information may yet emerge about the law’s protection of personal information, but lawmakers need to learn to adjust their talking points before going on TV.
This history lesson about Al Gore’s famous gaffe generated surprising interest, demonstrating that it still has resonance. We noted that his statement never said he “invented” the Internet, but it was so self-centered that it obscured the fact that as a legislator, he did help advance funding for research that helped foster the Internet. A gaffe sticks if it somehow validates preconceived notions about a politician. So even though Gore was one of the first politicians to grasp the importance of interconnected computers, with one awkward phrase, he managed to obscure his accomplishments and instead become a recurring punch line. No Pinocchios were awarded, which some readers thought was a mistake, as the column was pegged off a recent reference by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).
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