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When the truth is deemed 'half-true'

The Obama campaign released an ad with an easily supportable claim this week. "You work hard, stretch every penny," the voiceover says. "But chances are, you pay a higher tax rate than him: Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010, but paid only 14 percent in taxes -- probably less than you."

What's wrong with this? Nothing. Romney freely admits he made $20 million in 2010, and acknowledges he took advantage of various loopholes that allowed him to pay only 14 percent on his millions. Is this "probably less than you"? Absolutely -- the vast majority of working people pay a rate higher than 14 percent. (Team Obama even included the word "probably" just to cover its bases.)

So, the Obama campaign made a claim, it's is fully supported by the facts, and the Romney campaign never questioned the accuracy of the claim. What's the problem? PolitiFact concluded the accurate claim is only "half-true."

There are two main ways to make this calculation, and they lead to opposite conclusions. While we believe that including payroll taxes in the calculation offers a more accurate picture of what the American public pays the IRS, it's also true that the Obama ad didn't specify which measurement it was using, and in fact used a figure for Romney -- 14 percent -- that was based on income taxes alone. On balance, then, we rate the claim Half True.

Let me get this straight. Obama says Romney paid 14 percent in taxes. Romney says Romney paid 14 percent in taxes. PolitiFact says the most "accurate picture" of what Americans pay in taxes would show that Romney paid 14 percent in taxes, less than most American workers.

But the fact is nevertheless "half-true" -- and presumably half-untrue? -- because the Obama campaign included payroll taxes among the taxes Americans pay, because payroll taxes are included among the taxes Americans pay.