“Number of House members who voted in 2011 that climate change was a ‘hoax’: 240”
— text of a new video by Obama political arm, Organizing for Action
President Obama’s new political group, Organizing for Action, last week released a new video that mocks Republican lawmakers for appearing to play down or dismiss concerns about climate change. Some of the clips are fairly interesting — or amusing, depending on your perspective. It has already been viewed more than 225,000 times on You Tube.
We’ve written before about the growing consensus among climate researchers that climate change is the result of human activity; there’s little debate about that among scientists, though surveys show increasing skepticism among the American public. But we were intrigued by the video’s claim that 240 House lawmakers had declared climate change to be a “hoax.”
Officials at OFA did not respond to repeated queries about the video, but our colleagues at FactCheck.Org report that the “240” number refers to a vote on an amendment offered by House Democrats, which failed 184 to 240, to a Republican-crafted bill on regulating greenhouse gases. So let’s dig into what actually happened.
The underlying bill, known as the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, was intended to thwart an effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate gases believed to affect climate change. It would have amended the Clean Air Act to prevent the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide, methane and at least five other gases, instead leaving such policy decisions in the hands of Congress.
“President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg are pushing gun control. America’s police say they are wrong. Seventy-one percent of police say that Obama’s gun ban will have zero effect on violent crime. Eighty percent of police say that more background checks will have no effect. Ninety-one percent say the right answer is swift prosecution and mandatory sentencing. Tell your senator to listen to police, instead of listening to Obama and Bloomberg.”
— voiceover of a new ad by the National Rifle Association, citing a new “national survey” by PoliceOne.com
The NRA’s new ad caught our attention, given that it was featured prominently on the Washington Post Web site Wednesday.
But there are polls — and there are polls.
Regular readers know that we have urged caution against relying on opt-in Internet surveys that appear to make broad claims about estimating population values. Indeed, the American Association for Public Opinion Research's 2010 task force, in its top recommendation, warned researchers to avoid “nonprobability online panels” when trying to accurately estimate population values.
For that reason, we gave Two Pinocchios to President Obama in 2012 for claiming that a majority of millionaires support the Buffett rule. He was relying on an opt-in Internet poll.
Let’s find out more about this survey, and whether it justifies the language used by the NRA.
PoliceOne.com is a Web site that caters to law enforcement and is part of San Francisco-based Praetorian Group, a family of Web sites for first responders. The headline on the news release announcing the poll last week said: “PoliceOne.com Releases Survey of 15,000 Law Enforcement Professionals about U.S. Gun Control Policies.” PoliceOne’s Web site describes the survey-takers as “more than 15,000 verified law enforcement professionals.”
The online banner ads being run by the National Republican Campaign Committee — targeting 20 Democrats — are examples of how the political parties are turning the sequester into another political blame game.
NRCC communications director Andrea Bozek suggested the ads were in response to robo-calls launched by the NRCC’s opposite number, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which she said contained “lots of Pinocchios.” These calls target 23 Republicans:
Hello. This is Jennifer calling from the DCCC. On March 1st, America’s middle class is going to pay a terrible price because Congressman _____ backed a sequester plan that will eliminate more than 2 million jobs, slow our economy and may drive us back into a recession.
But Congressman ________ refuses. He won’t compromise on a solution for the middle class because he is protecting tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected. These cuts will be devastating and could set us back for a generation.
Unfortunately, Congressman _______ is siding with the worst kind of Tea Party dysfunction and partisanship in Washington, instead of solving problems and protecting the middle class.
Press 1 right now if you’d like me to connect you directly with Congressman ________ to demand that he gets behind a plan to end the sequester and put the middle class ahead of millionaires and corporate special interests.
Note how each side wants to tag the other with the origin of the sequester, with the NRCC calling it “Obama’s sequester” and the DCCC saying the Republican lawmakers “backed a sequester plan that will eliminate 2 millions jobs, slow our economy and may drive us back into recession.”
At this point, it’s really a fairly useless discussion. We have previously ruled that the sequester was suggested first by the White House, but the final deal has bipartisan fingerprints, as lawmakers in both parties supported it.
Let’s take a look at other elements of each side’s attacks.
First, the DCCC robo-call claims that 2 million jobs are at risk. The DCCC cites a study by George Mason University, but that study is a bit out of date (it studied the effect of the higher, pre-fiscal cliff sequester plan), and it covers a two-year period, making it much larger than the official Congressional Budget Office estimate of 750,000 jobs potentially lost. Interestingly, the official release by House Democrats on their alternative bill also cited the CBO’s 750,000 figure.
“In the race to replace Jessie Jackson, watch out for Debbie Halvorson. When she was in Congress before, Halvorson got an A from the NRA. The NRA: against comprehensive background checks, against banning deadly assault weapons, against banning high-capacity ammunition clips. Halvorson even co-sponsored a bill that would allow some criminals to carry loaded, hidden guns across state lines. Debbie Halvorson: when it comes to preventing gun violence, she gets an F.”
— voiceover of a television ad by the Independence USA PAC
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has weighed in dramatically in the House special election to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., with his political action committee, Independence USA, spending more than $2 million on the race. Many of his ads target former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who had taken pro-gun stands as a Democrat from a largely rural district but is now trying to make a comeback in a more urban area of the state.
These ads are hard-hitting and negative, with similar themes. The messages has been further reinforced through attack mailings. Let’s check their accuracy. (All are variations on the theme expressed in the text above.)
As is typical with negative ads, there is a big difference between the literal text of the ad and the images and messages that it sends. For instance, the ad notes that as a member of Congress, Halvorson received an A rating from the NRA. Then the ad describes some of the NRA’s positions on proposed gun laws, while displaying a photograph of Halvorson.
“Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama. Fact checkers confirm that his attacks on Mitt Romney are false. The truth? Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry. He is supported by Lee Iacocca and the Detroit News. Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”
— voiceover of a Mitt Romney ad that ran in the final week of the 2012 campaign
The Fact Checker received a letter earlier this week from Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for the Mitt Romney campaign. He asked us to reconsider a Four-Pinocchio ruling for Romney’s ad on Chrysler and China, which aired in the campaign’s last week.
Stevens said his note was prompted by Chrysler’s announcement that it would begin building Jeep models in China.
“I would hope that you would take another look at this and stress test it for accuracy away from the heat of a campaign,” Stevens wrote. “I've been doing campaigns and writing about campaigns for some time and I believe that the ad and Romney's statement were completely accurate, unusually so by any standards.”
As Stevens put it: “It seems that the crux of the argument revolves around the question of Chrysler (Fiat) moving production from the U.S. to China. That question has been answered. They are moving production to China and other countries.”
Several other readers had written us about this issue, asking if Romney’s assertion had turned out to be right. So, given those questions, we thought it would be worthwhile to review what we said, and what actually happened.
First of all, we should note that our critique of the ad covered more than the Jeep issue. We also faulted the ad for incorrectly citing a PolitiFact column to suggest all fact checkers were critical of Obama’s comments on the bailout. And we noted the Detroit News endorsement cited in the ad was highly critical of Romney’s position on the bailout — and lauded Obama for his “extraordinary” response to the auto industry crisis.
“Shame on you, Congressman John Barrow . . . Tell Congressman John Barrow to Reject NRA Blood Money”
— video ad by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
There is something about the gun debate that inspires heated rhetoric on both sides.
Last week we looked at a National Rifle Association ad that made misleading claims about security at Sidwell Friends School, which President Obama’s children attend. Now let’s look at a tough anti-NRA ad sponsored by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, an umbrella organization of 48 religious and other organizations.
The target of this ad is Rep. John Barrow of Georgia — the last white Democratic member of Congress from the Deep South. The CSGV video intercuts scenes from a campaign ad that Barrow ran in 2012 with television footage of the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It certainly packs an emotional punch — but is it fair and accurate?
Barrow’s original ad was part of an ad campaign that The Washington Post’s The Fix lauded as “novel” and “one of a kind.” The Fix noted that the ad was cleverly designed to appeal both to white conservative voters and liberal African-American voters. Here’s the ad, and then the full text.
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”
— voiceover of a new National Rifle Association television ad, released Jan. 15, 2013
The National Rifle Association, in a tough television ad on gun-control measures and in a longer 4-minute video presentation, has highlighted what it see as “elitist” hypocrisy by President Obama because his children are “protected by armed guards at their school.”
After some blowback for involving the president’s children in a political debate, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam insisted that the ad was not about Malia and Sasha Obama: “If anyone thinks we’re talking specifically about someone’s children, they're missing the point completely. This isn’t an issue about comparing the president’s kids. This is an issue about school safety and protecting all our children, regardless of tax bracket and how important their parents are. The intent of our ad is to make sure that we point out that there is a double standard that exists.”
Still, the ad features an image of NBC newsman David Gregory, whose children also attend Sidwell Friends School, which is a selective Quaker private school. And the longer version of the ad quotes a conservative Web site as saying: “Armed Guards — Good enough for the David Gregory’s kids’ school, not for the rest of us. …[The] school Obama’s daughters attend has 11 armed guards.”
While some news organizations reported that the ad was referencing the Secret Service protection provided to the Obama family — as required by federal law — the longer ad makes it clear that the NRA is specifically referring to the security force at Sidwell Friends.
Indeed, it would be remarkably odd for the NRA to suggest that Obama ignore the law and refuse Secret Service protection for his children. Moreover, those Secret Service agents are there only to protect those children — and no one else at the school.
In an interview with The Washington Post, however, Arulanandam brought up the Secret Service: “The president and his family enjoy 24-hour-security from law enforcement at taxpayer expense, and this ad asks very real questions: If it’s good enough for the president, why shouldn’t it be good enough for the rest for us?”
The NRA ad notes that Obama said he was skeptical about armed security in schools, which the organization has touted as a solution to mass shootings such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. Obama did use the word skeptical, in an interview with Gregory, but the NRA has clipped the full meaning of his words.
Virtually all of this year’s fact checking was focused on the presidential election. So, in selecting our biggest Pinocchios of the year, we spent days going though old columns and reliving an election that seems rather distant now.
In many ways, it was depressing reading. So much of the campaign was fought over trivial or inconsequential issues. For instance, we wrote nearly 20 columns dissecting every possible claim about Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital, which came under attack both from his Republican rivals and the Obama campaign.
Romney left himself open to scrutiny because he incorrectly claimed that he helped create more than 100,000 jobs at Bain — he mainly created wealth for his investors — but the attacks often were equally false. A candidate’s experience and background is certainly worthy of debate, but all too often in 2012 it just turned into a game of political gotcha.
In this election, fact checking certainly became part of the conversation, with many additional news organizations joining FactCheck.Org, PolitiFact and The Washington Post in scrutinizing politician’s statements, especially during the debates. Since fact checking is a relatively new genre of journalism, however, it is frequently misunderstood.
It’s hard to believe this nasty and brutish presidential campaign has come to an end.
According to our Pinocchio Tracker, through most of the race President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney were neck and neck for the average number of Pinocchios, averaging about 2 Pinocchios each. But then, in the final months, Romney suddenly pulled ahead (so to speak) with a series of statements and commercials that stretched the limits. Obama’s average also got worse — and was nothing to be proud of.
In the end, Romney finished with an average ranking of 2.4 Pinnochios, compared to 2.11 for Obama. Not counting debates (when we awarded no Pinocchios), we rated 92 statements by Obama and 77 by Romney, as well as more than 200 claims made by surrogates and interest groups, as well as Republican presidential contenders.
Among the primary aspirants, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) finished with the worst rating overall of any candidate — an average of 3.08 Pinocchios.
Here are some of the lowlights of the 2012 campaign.
Four Pinocchios for a Virginia Democratic party mailer: Romney proposed ending health care for wounded vets
“Our veterans sacrificed everything for our country …But Romney suggested ending guaranteed health care for wounded veterans.”
“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan back a plan that cuts health services for veterans by 19%.”
— A mailer from the Democratic Party of Virginia
The Virginia Democratic party circulated this mailer during the waning days of the election, painting GOP candidate Mitt Romney as a sort of monster who proposed terminating the guaranteed health-care benefits for wounded veterans. Such a policy move would be tantamount to political suicide, so this type of claim should raise a red flag for readers.
Democrats have also accused Romney of wanting to increase defense spending by $2 trillion — a number we have found a bit dubious — so voters might be a little confused at this point. Which is it? Would he slash funding for veterans and the military community or throw heaps more money at them?
The defense budget is separate from Veterans Affairs spending, so these assertions are not as contradictory as they may sound. But these Democratic claims send mixed messages about how a Romney presidency would affect current and former service members.
Both parties resort to political gamesmanship when it comes to budget matters, but let’s take a closer look at the Virginia mailer to determine how much truth it contains.
The claim about “ending guaranteed health care for wounded veterans” refers to comments Romney made during a November 2011 roundtable discussion with veterans in Mauldin, S.C. The Republican candidate was responding to a veteran who complained about the difficulties of navigating Veterans Affairs bureaucracies.
“Mitt Romney’s plan… …rolls back regulations on the banks that crashed our economy.”
“Catastrophic cuts to education”
“Millionaires will get one of the largest tax cuts ever…while middle class families pay more.”
— voiceover from a new Barack Obama ad, “Remember”
Just as Mitt Romney recently released an ad with a “greatest hits” of misleading claims, so too has the Obama campaign. Let’s spin this record again too! As we shall see, one song is more or less on-key, but others are off-kilter.
“Mitt Romney’s plan… …rolls back regulations on the banks that crashed our economy.”
This statement, by itself, is relatively correct. Romney has said he would repeal the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, saying the regulations are “overwhelming,” but he has been vague about what he would replace it with.
DEBATE MODERATOR: “Welcome to the first debate between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. President, we’ll start with you.”
OBAMA: “I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.”
MODERATOR: “Mr. President, thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, your response.”
NETANYAHU: “The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.”
MODERATOR: “Mr President, your rebuttal.”
OBAMA: “Obviously there are some differences between us.”
ANNOUNCER: “Friends, Americans and Israel cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama. This call was paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel because your vote will make the difference in this election.”
— Text of a “robocall” message sponsored by the Emergency Committee for Israel
The Fact Checker was surprised to hear this “debate,” using the actual voices of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, when he answered his home phone earlier this week. We did a little digging, and this has got to be one of the most ridiculous attacks in an increasingly bitter campaign. Let’s see how the Emergency Committee for Israel cut and snipped this call together.
Obama’s first statement sounds rather weak and feckless during the robocall, but it changes dramatically when viewed in its proper context — a presidential news conference held on June 23, 2009, to condemn the attacks by the Iranian government on pro-democracy demonstrators. Obama’s point is that the pro-democracy activists were not being directed by the United States, as the Iranian government had claimed. The sentence used in the call is highlighted in bold.
“Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama. Fact checkers confirm that his attacks on Mitt Romney are false. The truth? Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry. He is supported by Lee Iacocca and the Detroit News. Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”
— voiceover in unannounced Mitt Romney television ad running in Ohio
When a campaign does not announce a television ad, it’s a good sign that it knows it is playing fast and loose with the truth. Indeed, this is an excellent example of an ad that has a series of statements that individually might be factually defensible, but the overall impression is misleading.
The ad also comes on the heels of Mitt Romney’s mistaken claim in a speech last week that Chrysler was moving Jeep production to China — a statement immediately denied by the auto manufacturer. Yet the story apparently was too good for Romney to give up, because the ad repeats the claim, tweaked slightly to make it more accurate.
Here’s what Romney said last Thursday in Ohio: “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China. I will fight for every good job in America, I’m going to fight to make sure trade is fair.”
“Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917.”
— Mitt Romney, in a new television ad
“The president began an apology tour of going to various nations and criticizing America.”
Mitt Romney, in another new television ad
When readers ask whether we get annoyed that politicians often ignore fact-checking criticism, our answer is always the same: We write for voters, not politicians. Politicians are not going to change their behavior unless voters begin to make choices based on adherence to the truth.
But this is an interesting case in which Mitt Romney has taken two moments from the third presidential debate — both of which were faulted by fact checkers — and turned them into television ads.
In both cases, Romney also misspoke, making his statements even less accurate. The campaign commercial for the “apology tour” selectively snips out Romney’s errors, but apparently it was impossible to clean up Romney’s error on the size of the Navy.
When Romney talks about the size of the Navy, he generally uses the year 1916. But in the last debate, he used “1917.” (You can tell that Obama’s response was precooked because Obama actually refers to the year 1916.)
“President Obama ended the Iraq War…Mitt Romney would have left thirty thousand troops there … and called bringing them home ‘tragic.’ Obama’s brought thirty thousand soldiers back from Afghanistan. And has a responsible plan to end the war. Romney calls it Obama’s ‘biggest mistake.’”
— Voiceover from a new Obama campaign television ad
On the eve of the final presidential debate — which focused on foreign policy — the Obama campaign released a new television ad that uses Mitt Romney’s words to indict how he would have handled the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the president echoed some of those claims during the debate:
“What I would not have had done was left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. And that certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”
“I’m sorry, there was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement, and I concurred in that, and said that we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with.”
But both campaigns have often taken their opponent’s words out of context. Is that the case here as well?
Ending the war in Iraq was a central Obama campaign promise in the 2008 election. But Romney is correct that the Obama administration tried to negotiate a “status of forces agreement” (SOFA) with the Iraqi government that would have allowed the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq after an earlier agreement reached by the Bush administration lapsed at the end of 2011.
“Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”
“So, if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, it’ll bankrupt them.”
-- Excerpts of Barack Obama interview featured in an American Energy Alliance ad
This ad uses cropped comments from a January 2008 interview between then-Sen. Barack Obama and the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board.
The president’s critics have cited these same comments as proof that the current administration is bent on destroying the fossil-fuel industry and the jobs that go along with it. The American Energy Alliance, a fossil-fuel advocacy group that produced the ad, said on its Web site that “President Obama is waging a war on affordable energy.”
Generally speaking, taped comments are factually accurate, barring any editing to manipulate language or splice together unrelated remarks. But we’re always suspicious when an ad strings together snippets of a discussion. After all, cutting at just the right place can leave a thought incomplete, giving viewers the wrong impression.
Let’s examine Obama’s 2008 interview and his coal-industry policies to determine whether this video provides adequate context. Is the president preventing energy prices from dropping? Has he failed to protect jobs in the coal industry?
The comments in this ad appear in reverse chronological order. The remarks about coal-fired plants came first, as the candidate was responding to a question about how he squares his previous support for the coal industry -- including a bill he introduced in 2007 to promote coal-to-liquid fuels -- with his call to fight global climate change.
“If Barack Obama is reelected, what will the next four years be like? One, the debt will grow from 16 trillion to 20 trillion dollars. Two, 20 million Americans could lose their employer-based health care. Three, taxes on the middle class will go up by $4,000. Four, energy prices will continue to go up. And five, $716 billion in Medicare cuts that hurt current seniors.”
— Voiceover in new Mitt Romney campaign ad titled “The Obama Plan”
We have often said that politicians in both political parties will stretch the truth if they think the misleading claim will move voters. As we enter into the final weeks of this bruising presidential campaign, we expect to hear all sorts of poll-tested, factually-challenged messages again and again — simply because the campaigns have data that shows these claims resonate with votes.
In that vein, a new ad released by the Romney campaign is almost a “greatest hits” version of claims that have been thoroughly debunked by fact checkers, including this column. Let’s spin the record once again!
“The debt will grow from 16 trillion to 20 trillion dollars”
Here, the Romney campaign is using “gross debt,” which includes U.S. Treasury bonds held by Social Security and Medicare. Generally, what matters for the federal budget is the publicly held debt, particularly the percentage of debt compared to the overall economy (gross domestic product.) The House GOP budget plan authored by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, for instance focuses on its impact on publicly-held debt, no gross debt.
“Let me tell you how I will create 12 million jobs when President Obama couldn't. First, my energy independence policy means more than 3 million new jobs, many of them in manufacturing. My tax reform plan to lower rates for the middle class and for small business creates 7 million more. And expanding trade, cracking down on China and improving job training takes us to over 12 million new jobs.”
— Mitt Romney, “in his own words,” in a campaign television ad
Romney’s 12-million-jobs promise has garnered a lot of attention. We became interested in this ad after a reader asked whether the campaign had provided much detail on how he would reach this total. This television ad is also prominently featured on the Romney campaign’s “Jobs Plan” Web page.
The math here appears pretty simple: 7 plus 3 plus 2 equals 12. But this is campaign math, which means it is mostly made of gossamer. Let’s take a look.
As we have noted before, the 12 million figure is not a bad bet by Romney. Moody’s Analytics, in an August forecast, predicts 12 million jobs will be created by 2016, no matter who is president. And Macroeconomic Advisors in April also predicted a gain of 12.3 million jobs.
Pity the poor voter in a swing state in the final weeks of this campaign. Whenever you turn on the television, there is yet another campaign ad from either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — and most of the time they are bashing the other guy.
We have reviewed and rated many of these ads over the past months, but as the ad spending reaches a crescendo, we thought it would be useful to once again examine some of the most frequently aired ads. With the help of Kantar Media, we identified the 10 ads from each campaign with the greatest spending on them. We then selected five from each side, with a bias toward picking ads that were released recently. (There is one additional Romney ad that we note — but do not rate.) Where appropriate, we also include links to our original column on the ad.
Looking at these ads, we are struck by the consistent themes, with Obama portraying Romney as a heartless corporate raider and Romney portraying Obama as a hapless president.
Obama campaign ads
This sly, almost wicked ad features Mitt Romney signing “America the beautiful” while images flash of his alleged connections overseas — his Bain Capital firms shipping jobs to Mexico and China, outsourcing jobs to India as governor, and his use of a Swiss bank account and tax havens overseas. We did not rate this specific ad, but have investigated most of these claims and they are exaggerated or lack evidence.
“Tim Kaine: Four years as governor, billions in proposed tax increases, bitter debates nearly shutting down state government, tax hikes for anyone earning as little as 17 thousand a year. And now: ‘I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone.’”
-- Ad from the George Allen campaign
This column follows up on our examination of an ad from Timothy Kaine, who is battling fellow political veteran George Allen in a Virginia Senate race that could help Democrats maintain their majority in that chamber of Congress or give Republicans one of the seats they need to shift the balance.
In this ad, Allen resorts to his go-to message of recent weeks: Timothy Kaine loves taxes. That line of attack started to gain traction after Kaine said during a debate that he would be open to a proposal that would impose a minimum tax level for everyone.
Allen’s campaign seized on that comment to suggest Kaine is itching to raise taxes on middle- and lower-income voters. The Republican candidate even released a statement saying his opponent “announced he wants to raise taxes on everyone.” PolitiFact Virginia rated that claim false, noting that Kaine only said he was open to taxing everyone to some extent, not that he wants to raise taxes on all people.
Allen’s campaign got the debate comments right with this ad by letting Kaine speak for himself. Let’s see whether the rest of the claims are accurate.
As we did in our last column, we’ll begin with a bit of background on the political careers of Kaine and Allen.
“As governor, I cut $5 billion in spending, balanced the budget and cut my own pay. George Allen increased spending 45 percent as governor, helped turn a record surplus into a massive deficit as senator, voted four times to raise the debt ceiling and voted four times to raise his own pay.”
-- Ad from the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine
This column has been updated
Timothy Kaine and George Allen are in a tight race to replace Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who will step down in January after just one term in office. The contest has national significance because it could help Democrats hold their majority in the Senate and it gives Republicans a shot at shifting the balance.
Both candidates are veteran Virginia politicians who have attacked each other’s records and claimed multiple accomplishments relating to responsible governance. We decided to examine one ad from each of the two Senate hopefuls, with the idea that the chosen videos combined should provide a fairly comprehensive look at their respective backgrounds.
We’ll start with this ad from Kaine and move to Allen in a follow-up column. We won’t deal with the claim that Kaine balanced Virginia’s budget, because he and the legislature were required to do that by law.
Let’s begin with a bit of background on the political careers of Kaine and Allen.
“Who will raise taxes on the middle class? According to an independent, non-partisan study, Barack Obama and the liberals will raise taxes on the middle class by $4,000. The same organization says the plan from Mitt Romney and common-sense conservatives is not a tax hike on the middle class.”
— voiceover from a new Mitt Romney campaign ad
“Why won’t Romney level with us about his tax plan, which gives the wealthy huge new tax breaks? Because according to experts, he’d have to raise taxes on the middle class — or increase the deficit to pay for it.”
— voiceover from new Obama campaign ad
Politicians love nothing more than to point to an “independent” study that backs up their political position. Thus, in the first presidential debate, President Obama could claim that GOP rival Mitt Romney has a plan to cut taxes by $5 trillion, with tax breaks for the wealthy and tax hikes for the middle-class. And Romney could adamantly deny that, citing six studies of his own.
There is usually less to such studies than the claims they are said to support. Let’s explore how such studies are used in new advertisements the campaigns released just hours after the debate ended.
First, the Romney ad. The “independent, nonpartisan” organization cited by the Romney campaign is the American Enterprise Institute, which bills itself as “committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise.” A who’s who of Republican heavyweights — such as Richard Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Marc Thiessen, Danielle Pletka, John Yoo, and John Bolton — is affiliated with it, but in order to maintain its tax status as a 501(c)3 organization it cannot proclaim any political affiliation.
“Fewer Americans are working today than when President Obama took office. It doesn’t have to be this way if Obama would stand up to China. China is stealing American ideas and technology — everything from computers to fighter jets. Seven times Obama could have taken action. Seven times he has said no. His policies cost us 2 million jobs.”
-- Narration from Mitt Romney campaign ad
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney continued to stress President Obama’s handling of U.S.-China relations last week, claiming with this ad that the policies of the current administration have cost the U.S. 2 million jobs.
What policies have done this? The ad refers to China’s alleged stealing of “American ideas and technology -- everything from computers to fighter jets.”
Let’s examine those issues and determine whether the president has said “no” to taking action on them. This ad is the lastest in a series of tit-for-tat exchanges on China between the two candidates. (President Obama, for instance, previously earned Three Pinocchios for making misleading claims about Romney’s business record.)
There’s little doubt that Chinese companies have infringed on U.S. intellectual property rights, just as the Romney ad claims. China essentially acknowledged the problem by agreeing to implement stricter measures to curb piracy and counterfeiting during the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meetings in 2010.
“Now Governor Romney believes that with even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy, and fewer regulations on Wall Street, all of us will prosper. In other words, he’d double down on the same trickle-down policies that led to the crisis in the first place.”
— President Obama, in a new two-minute television ad released Sept. 27, 2012
“This election to me is about which candidate is more likely to return us to full employment. This is a clear choice. The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That is what got us into trouble in the first place.”
— Former president Bill Clinton, in an Obama campaign ad running since August
When two different people give virtually the same message in two different ads, it’s a good bet that the language has been carefully poll-tested. Both President Obama and former president Bill Clinton assert that Mitt Romney wants to cut taxes for the wealthy and cut financial regulations — which they suggest is a recipe for another economic crisis.
The name “George W. Bush” is never mentioned but is certainly implied. This leads to the question: Did the Bush tax cuts cause the economic crisis?
We’ve been interested in the Clinton comments for some time and never quite got a satisfactory response from the Obama campaign. But Clinton used the vague word “trouble,” which could be broadly defined as also meaning higher deficits. (Clinton’s staff did not respond to queries about what he meant.) Certainly the Bush tax cuts did play some role in higher deficits, though, as we have noted, increased spending played a bigger role.
But Obama is not vague at all. He highlights the tax cuts and then says the “same trickle-down policies” — Democratic code for tax cuts for the wealthy — led to the “crisis.” The campaign’s back-up material labels that as “economic crisis,” thus leaving no ambiguity about his reference.
We should stipulate at the outset that Romney adamantly rejects the idea that he has proposed more tax cuts for the wealthy. His plan would cut tax rates, but also eliminate tax deductions, which he says would make the plan revenue neutral. But no one has proven that his numbers add up, and the respected nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded that the available details on the Romney plan suggest taxes would decrease for the wealthy but rise for the middle class.
“A president who skips half of his intelligence briefings but finds time to play more than 100 rounds of golf…Mr. President, it is time to show up for work.”
— anti-Obama ad by American Crossroads
This is a hard-hitting ad by the right-leaning group American Crossroads, suggesting President Obama is shirking his duties by concentrating on campaigning, golf and celebrity appearances. We’re going to concentrate on the first allegation — that Obama has skipped half of his intelligence briefings — since that raises interesting questions about presidential style and management.
(There is no dispute that Obama plays much more golf than, say, George W. Bush — who stopped playing seven months into the Iraq war. But we also have noted that Bush took significantly more vacation days than Obama has taken.)
The notion that Obama has skipped his intelligence briefings was promoted by a right-leaning research group called the Government Accountability Institute, which published a report detailing that the president’s daily calendar shows Obama receiving an in-person briefing on the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) 43.8 percent of his time in office. (The percentage dropped from a high of 48.8 percent in 2010 to 38.2 percent through May of 2012.)
“Dear daughter. Welcome to America. Your share of Obama’s debt is over $50,000. And it grows every day.
“Obama’s policies are making it harder on women. The poverty rate for women -- the highest in 17 years. More women are unemployed under President Obama. More than 5.5 million women can’t find work.”
-- Narration from a new Romney campaign ad
Polls show that Mitt Romney has always lagged far behind President Obama when it comes to support from women and Hispanics. This week, the GOP presidential nominee focused much of his attention on appealing to those demographics.
The Romney campaign’s “Dear Daughter” campaign ad features a fictional mother telling her newborn girl about female unemployment and poverty numbers, as well as the infant’s share of “Obama’s debt.” The message: women are worse off since the president took office, and the future won’t look any brighter if he wins a second term.
Let’s check the Romney claims for factual accuracy and context.
The national debt, including money owed to Social Security and Medicare recipients, stands at about $16 trillion. Meanwhile, the U.S. population was 314 million in September, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock. That means the debt rate for each resident is roughly $51,000, which seems to cover the Romney ad’s claim at first glance.
“Medicare is going broke. It’s not politics. It’s math.”
— Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a new Romney campaign ad titled “Least We Can Do.”
“What they didn’t tell you is what they’re [the Romney campaign] proposing would cause Medicare to go bankrupt by 2016.”
— Vice President Biden, at the Democratic convention, Sept. 6, 2012
Medicare “is going broke.”
— President Obama, Aug. 15, 2009
We have bipartisan agreement! Medicare is going broke, busted, bankrupt…or is it?
We have touched on this before but decided to take another stab after the new ad featuring Sen. Rubio was released by the Romney campaign. It’s actually a fairly effective ad, with the calm message that the GOP Medicare plan — so often inaccurately attacked by Democrats — is designed to “save” it for current retirees and be different for younger Americans, in what Rubio pitches as a bit of a gift from one generation to another.
But his line that Medicare is going “broke” — using simple “math” — repeats a bit of political hokum that both parties persist in repeating. For instance, here’s Obama in 2009:
“Broke,” the word Rubio and Obama used, is an informal way of saying “bankrupt.” Or, as the dictionary says, “penniless.”
First of all, there are four parts to Medicare: Part A (hospital insurance), Part B (medical insurance), Part C (Medicare Advantage — private plans for parts A and B), and Part D (prescription drug plans).
“As we think about the policy research surrounding the issues that I just named — policy research for the working poor, broadly defined — I think that what we're gonna have to do is somehow resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all. There has been a systematic, I don't think it's too strong to call it a propaganda campaign, against the possibility of government action and its efficacy. And I think some of it has been deserved. Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policy making. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago public schools. What that means then is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we're all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking how, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live, and my suggestion I guess would be that the trick, and this is one of the few areas where I think there have to be technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to just political issues, how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.”
— State Sen. Barack Obama, at a conference at Loyola University, Oct. 1998 [missing section in bold]
Just as we have not been very impressed about many of the Obama campaign’s claims about Mitt Romney’s business career many years ago, we were not initially that impressed with the Romney campaign’s effort to dredge up a 14-year-old quote to demonstrate that President Obama wants to “redistribute wealth.” The clip was so old — he was just a state senator — and the context was rather unclear. Also, it appeared as if the YouTube version was clipped in mid-thought.
But now NBC News has obtained the rest of Obama’s comments, and it is clear his remarks were taken completely out of context. Obama is not talking about redistributing wealth at all — instead, he speaks about competition, the market place and innovation in an effort to improve government services in Chicago.
“This was household income when President Obama took office. This was the national debt. Under Obama, families have lost over $4,000 a year in income, and the national debt is now $16 trillion and growing. Barack Obama: More spending, more debt — failing American families.”
— Narration from Mitt Romney campaign ad
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has turned his attention back to spending and the economy after attacking President Obama last week on foreign policy and trade relations with China. This ad reminds voters that the national debt has grown while incomes have largely fallen, suggesting that the outlook for future generations is bleak under the current administration.
In a previous column, we examined an ad that used similar brick-layer bar graphs to make a point that the U.S. is losing ground to China on manufacturing. The illustrations in that video were badly inaccurate, exaggerating the severity of the situation.
Let’s see whether the graphs in this ad are more true to the facts.
The last available data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that median household income was $50,054 in 2011 — the 2012 numbers won’t be available until next year. That’s compared to an inflation-adjusted $52,546 in 2008, so the difference during Obama’s tenure is $2,492, which seems to disprove Romney’s claim of a $4,000 drop.
So where does the GOP candidate get his numbers?
“When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my healthcare, and my family lost their healthcare. And a short time after that my wife became ill….She passed away in 22 days. I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone, and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned.”
— Former steelworker Joe Soptic, in a new ad by Priorities USA
(NOTE: Since we had previously examined at length the circumstances of this Bain investment, we originally had restated the main points of an earlier column. Frankly, we were a bit distracted trying to untangle the welfare charges and countercharges on Tuesday. But new information has come to light and we have updated the column with a Pinocchio rating.)
Joe Soptic, a former steelworker, makes yet another appearance in a pro-Obama ad, this time for the Super PAC Priorities USA Action.
We have examined this case before, and for the benefit of readers we repeat our main points from an earlier column that awarded the Obama campaign One Pinocchio for the use of this case study against presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Most controversially, Soptic this time appears to blame Romney for the death of his wife after he lost his health insurance when the steel plant closed.
Romney was no longer actively managing Bain Capital when the steel company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and closed its Kansas City plant, causing more than 700 workers to lose their jobs and health insurance, as well as part of their pensions. But a case can be made that he was involved in the initial investment and the overall direction of the company before he took on the job of running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Bill Burton of Priorities USA Action said it would be “overstating” the point of the ad to say Soptic connected Romney to his wife’s death. “This is another in a series of ads that demonstrates how long it took for communities and individuals to recover from the closing of these businesses,” he said. “Families and individuals had to find new jobs, new sources of health insurance and a way to make up for the pensions they lost. Mitt Romney has had an enduring impact on the lives of thousands of men and women and for many of them, that impact has been devastating.”
Unlike some of the tales of job-killing and factory-closings that have been thrown at Romney, this is a relatively straightforward story: The initial investment in the steel company was made in 1993 by Bain under Romney’s leadership, and the company took on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while paying Bain investors millions of dollars in dividends.
“Over the past four years president Obama has traveled all over the world. He traveled all over the Middle East. But he hasn’t found time to visit our ally and friend, Israel. …As the dangers to Israel mount, where’s Obama? Anywhere but Israel.”
— Voiceover in television ad by the Emergency Committee for Israel
“As President, Barack Obama has never visited Israel and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as its capital.”
--voiceover in new Mitt Romney television campaign ad titled “Cherished Relationship”
As Woody Allen once put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.”
A pro-Israel group last week began running ads knocking President Obama for failing to visit Israel. The ad is filled with the sounds of Chinese gongs and Arabian sounds, and postcard-like images showing Obama in his world travels, often arm-in-arm with Arab leaders.
Then, on Sunday, the Romney campaign echoed this charge with its own ad also calling attention to Obama not visiting Israel as president.
Obama visited Israel in 2008, as a presidential candidate, but thus far has not visited the Jewish state during his presidential term. So we wondered how Obama’s record compares to other presidents — and whether that matters.
The State Department historian’s office maintains a list of presidential foreign travels, so we can quickly see which presidents have visited Israel — and when. Here’s the list since Israel’s founding:
“Mitt Romney’s plan? A new $250,000 tax cut for millionaires …increase military spending…adding trillions to the deficit. Or President Obama’s plan? A balanced approach …Four trillion in deficit reduction.”
— Voiceover in a new Obama campaign ad
In just 30 seconds, this new Obama campaign ad covers a lot of ground, evoking images of the George W. Bush administration (“two wars …tax cuts for millionaires”), tying presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney to those policies and then ending with positive words for President Obama’s plans. (There’s even an amazing shot of a super-millionaire’s home.)
At least the ad is about policy differences, rather than the usual campaign fare of outsourcing, Bain and verbal gaffes. Let’s take a deeper look.
The Obama campaign has to perform some leaps of logic because, frankly, the Romney campaign has not explained how his budget and tax numbers add up. Romney has proposed to cut tax rates, but keep revenue neutral with unspecified offsets, while also boosting defense spending while reducing the deficit through largely unspecified cuts. Pinning down the actual figures is a bit like nailing Jello to a wall.
“Barack Obama on the Economy”
— headline in a Romney campaign ad, followed by President Obama speaking:
“We tried our plan — and it worked. That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term.”
Another day, another out-of-context quote?
Readers should be very wary of television ads showing a snippet of the opposing candidate speaking. There is often too much context missing.
Both campaigns have crossed the foul line in this regard (remember Mitt Romney supposedly saying he liked to fire people?) but this is the second week in a row we have had to examine how the Romney campaign is using one of the president’s quotes. Let’s take a look.
There is a dead giveaway here that something is missing: Why would Obama be bragging that his plan “worked” when the unemployment rate is still above 8 percent? That doesn’t sound like smart politics.
“I was a big Obama supporter. I had a fundraiser in my home, gave money to his campaign. I really believed in him and believed in what he stood for. When he gave the speech about the ‘67 borders, it was nothing that had come up in his campaign originally. That really changed my mind about him. When he had the prime minister of Israel, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, to the White House…he was disrespectful to him to the point that I’d never seen.”
— Disillusioned Obama voter Michael Goldstein, in an ad by the Republican Jewish Coalition
The Republican Jewish Coalition is launching a $6.5 million campaign to convince Jewish voters — among the most loyal segments of the Democratic coalition — that it is okay to vote against President Obama because of his stand on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The campaign is aimed at key Jewish areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, where the RNC hopes to swing just enough votes to tip those states in Mitt Romney’s electoral vote column.
RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks told us that the ad push will be accompanied by a Web site, www.mybuyersremorse.com, in which people can upload videos expressing their own thoughts on Obama and Israel. Brooks said the remarks by Goldstein were edited down from a 25-minute conversation.
Democrats are planning to fight back with their own operation. The National Jewish Democratic Council has launched a Web site that includes a quiz that invites visitors to guess which president said what about Israel. (Hint: Obama didn’t do any of the negative stuff.)
We obviously can’t fact-check opinions, but this is a fascinating example of how relatively incremental moments in the course of a presidency — and how they are portrayed by the media — can solidify into “facts” that erode support for that president. We spoke to Goldstein, who lives in East Brunswick, N.J., to gain a better understanding of how the two events he mentioned — the 1967 borders and the meeting with Netanyahu — turned him against the president.
Obama entered office determined to finally achieve a historic agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, even appointing a special envoy on his second day in office. As documented in the authoritative report this month by our Washington Post colleague Scott Wilson, Obama’s efforts quickly ran aground, and within six months the administration’s policies were in tatters. The administration never really recovered from its early stumbles.
“Where did all the Obama stimulus money go? Friends, donors, campaign supporters, special interest groups. Where did the Obama stimulus money go? Solyndra: 500 million taxpayer dollars, bankrupt. So where did all the Obama stimulus money go? Windmills from China, electric cars from Finland.”
-- Narration from Romney campaign ad
“Seventy-nine percent of the $2.1 billion in stimulus grants awarded through it went to overseas companies -- $2.1 billion.”
-- 2010 remarks from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), featured in Romney campaign ad
We’ve covered most of these claims in the past, with each one receiving Pinocchios to one degree or another. But GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his campaign must have missed all that, because they repeated and combined the assertions in this ad, even adding in a comment from a Democrat to bolster their case.
Let’s review how President Obama’s administration handled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act --better known as the stimulus--to determine whether this ad bears a closer resemblance to the straight truth.
Romney claims the Obama administration funneled stimulus money to friends, donors and campaign supporters. In large part, this assertion starts with a federal loan that went to Solyndra, the now-defunct solar-panel maker that received $535 million as part of the stimulus program’s clean-energy initiative.
For interested readers, above is a video of a recent speech given by Glenn Kessler on fact checking the statements of President Obama, former governor Mitt Romney and their allies during this presidential season. In the June speech before the National Capital Area Skeptics, Kessler describes the Pinocchio ranking system, explains how he evaluates various claims and provides commentary on various television advertisements that he shows to the audience. He also answers questions — some skeptical — from the audience.
“As governor, Mitt Romney did reduce taxes — on millionaires like himself. But he raised taxes and fees on everyone else — $1.5 billion. Over a thousand fee hikes: on health care, on school-bus rides, on milk, on driver’s licenses, on nursing homes, on lead-poisoning prevention, on meat-and-poultry inspection, on fishermen, gun owners, on nurses, on electricians, on hospitals, on funeral homes, on health services, on hospice care...”
— Narration from Obama campaign ad
President Obama’s campaign team released this ad titled “Mosaic” last week, challenging the notion that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney reduced massive budget deficits without raising taxes. We wondered about the numbers it cited, as well as the specific increases named.
Let’s review what we found. Do Romney’s revenue hikes truly represent a 1,000-fee mosaic? While we’re at it, did the former governor really reduce taxes on Massachusetts millionaires?
The tax reduction for millionaires refers to Romney repealing a law that would have applied a rate increase on capital gains retroactively — as in, you owe us for the past because we decided to raise the rate mid-year (and before Romney took office). The Boston Globe editorial board, the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and eventually the Democrat-led legislature ended up supporting the governor’s repeal, as FactCheck.org mentioned in a recent article.
“Running for governor, Mitt Romney campaigned as a job creator. But as a corporate raider, he shipped jobs to China and Mexico. As governor, he did the same thing: Outsourcing state jobs to India.”
— Voiceover of new Barack Obama campaign ad
The Obama campaign apparently loves to ding former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney with the charge of “outsourcing.” On several occasions, we have faulted the campaign for its claims, apparently to little avail.
Now, all of the claims have been combined in one 30-second ad, with the added incendiary charge that Romney was a “corporate raider.” Let’s look anew at this material.
The phrase “corporate raider” has a particular meaning in the world of finance. Here’s the definition on Investopedia:
“In the seconds it takes to watch this, our national debt will increase $1.4 million…He’s adding $4 billion in debt every day. He’s borrowing from China for his spending.”
— Voiceover from Crossroads GPS ad “Stopwatch”
The newest Crossroads GPS ad gives us yet another opportunity to examine the other side of the spending debate: How much is President Obama responsible for the sharp rise in the national debt during his presidency?
There was a sharp increase in spending at the start of the administration, largely in response to the Great Recession, but spending increases have moderated since then, especially after Republicans took control of Congress.
But the national debt is not just the result of spending; it is also because revenues are not high enough to pay for government outlays. It is that mismatch that creates the national debt.
Once again, we will display our handy chart that illustrates this dynamic. The blue line represents spending; the red line shows revenues. The big shaded area at the right shows the recession.
“Romney Economics: It didn’t work in Massachusetts, and it won’t work now.”
— Slogan of a new series of Obama campaign ads
President Obama’s re-election team opened a new front last week in its effort to undermine the supposed strengths of Republican challenger Mitt Romney, shifting its focus from the candidate’s business background to his record as Massachusetts governor. The campaign is trying to convince voters that Romney’s executive experience is more of an embarrassment than a strong suit.
This ad, which came out Thursday, attacks the former governor in three core areas: jobs, taxes and debt. Former North Adams, Mass. Mayor John Barrett said Romney was an ineffective leader, claiming “the proof is in the pudding.” Let’s examine Romney’s record in the Bay State to see if he really left the state in such bad shape. We’ll focus on selected quotes that cover the main points of the ad.
We should point out that the Obama campaign only sought commentary from Democrats for this ad. Every legislator in the video is a member of the Democratic Party, while the past and present mayors are all registered Democrats.
“To me, Mitt Romney takes from poor, the middle class, and gives to the rich. It is the opposite of Robin Hood.”
— worker in latest Obama campaign ad
Mitt Romney’s role at Bain Capital continues to be a major issue in this presidential election, as the Obama campaign rolls out video after video about the travails of individual workers who suffered at companies owned by Bain.
The latest video, about a company called Ampad, must bring back bad memories for Romney because in 1994 he seemed on the verge of defeating the late Ted Kennedy in a bitter Senate race when striking Ampad workers showed up in Massachusetts and started showing up in Kennedy attack ads. The Ampad story turned the tide against Romney and Kennedy won.
The Obama ads are very slick, and we find them frustrating to fact check. Unlike some of the ads produced by Romney’s GOP rivals — such as the notorious “King of Bain” video produced by supporters of Newt Gingrich — the facts mentioned in the ads are generally correct. But then those facts are intercut with highly personal attacks on Romney by the workers themselves, such as the statement featured above.
We can’t fact check those statements, since they are personal sentiments. (Some of the lines are almost too perfect, which makes us wonder.) So that leaves us in the uncomfortable position of validating the facts in a highly negative attack.
So we are going to try a different tack: a guide for readers on how to evaluate claims about Romney and Bain Capital. We will use this particular deal as an example.
“Obama started spending like our credit cards have no limit ... his health-care law made health insurance even more expensive.”
— Voiceover of new Crossroads GPS television ad
The latest entry by Republican-leaning Crossroads GPS in the campaign ad wars is aimed directly at disillusioned supporters of President Obama. It depicts an older (presumably) single mother who had voted for the president now worried about how her grown children can’t get jobs, especially in a world of higher government debt.
But the ad uses some of the oldest tricks in the book to create a misleading impression. Let’s examine two key points — about the debt and the health-care law.
One can have a long argument about whether Obama — or the dreadful economy he inherited — is mostly responsible for the sharp rise in the national debt. The ad displays a chart showing the national debt increasing from $9 trillion to $15 trillion, but it’s one of those asymmetrical charts (starts at $9 trillion) that overemphasizes the increase.
“If you are a family making less than $250,000 a year, your taxes will not go up.” (quote from President Obama, 2008)
“Promise broken: Obamacare raises 18 different taxes.”
“If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” (quote from Obama, 2009)
“Promise broken: Millions could lose their health care coverage and be forced into a government pool”
--Assertions in a new Crossroads GPS ad, released Wednesday
The Republican-aligned Crossroads GPS has scheduled a massive $25 million ad buy, starting with this hard-hitting ad that purports to list a bunch of “broken promises” by President Obama.
We are not going to quibble with some of these claims. The president, for instance, certainly has not met his pledge to cut the budget deficit in half. But we were interested in exploring more craefully the two health care-related items listed above.
Obama’s promise not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 was one of his signature pledges of the 2008 campaign. It would exempt about 98 percent of Americans.
“The unemployment rate for Americans 18-29 is 11.6%.”
“When new graduates find jobs, their starting salaries tend to be lower than those who graduated a decade earlier, and may never catch up.”
“Student loan debt is now over $1 trillion.”
“According to the most recent Harvard Institute of Politics study, just barely half of young people approve of Obama’s job as president, and only 41% approve of his handling of the economy.”
— From a fact sheet on the Crossroads Generation Web site
The Super PAC American Crossroads has teamed up with the Young Republican National Federation and the Republican State Leadership Committee to produce a spinoff super PAC known as Crossroads Generation. That group launched a social-media initiative this week to “reach, persuade, and mobilize young voters for change in the 2012 elections.”
The Web site for this group shows a number of videos featuring young adults who complain about various ways in which their quality of life has deteriorated during President Obama’s time in office. It also includes a fact sheet with 11 negative claims, five of which we’ve listed above.
The goal for Crossroads Generation is clear: peel away some of the youth voters who supported Obama so strongly in the 2008 election. We examined the source information for some of the group’s claims to determine whether they painted an accurate picture.
The unemployment rate for Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 was indeed 11.6 percent in April, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Note: compiling this data requires multiple queries, since the BLS does not track the 18- to 29-year-old demographic by itself.)
The production values are better, but not the message.
The Obama campaign’s new ad attacking Mitt Romney and his tenure at Bain Capital is a near carbon copy of a successful series of ads that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) used to fend off a strong challenge from Romney in 1994. Politico collected the old Kennedy ads last year.
Take a look and compare.
Obama ad (2012)
“If he going to run the country the way he ran our business, I wouldn’t want him there. He would be so out of touch with the average person in this country.”
--worker at company acquired by Bain Capital
“It was like a vampire. He came in and sucked the life out of us.”
“Bain Capital sought elimination of the pension plan and termination of employee and retiree life insurance and health insurance.”
Ted Kennedy ads (1994)(go to 1:00 mark)
“I would like to say to Mitt Romney, if you think you’d make such a good senator, come out here to Marion, Indiana and see what your company has done to these people.”
--worker at a company acquired by Bain Capital
“They cut the wages...we no longer had insurance... basically cut our throats.”
--more quotes from workers
“It makes me angry. Those guys were all rich. They all had more money than they would ever spend, yet they did not have money to take care of the very people who made the money for them.”
— Former steel worker Joe Soptic, in a new Obama campaign ad on Mitt Romney’s business record
It’s no surprise that the Obama campaign chose the story of GS Industries for its first television ad attacking Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital.
Unlike some of the tales of job-killing and factory-closings that were thrown at Romney during the GOP primaries, this is a relatively straightforward story: The initial investment in the steel company was made in 1993 by Bain under Romney’s leadership, and the company took on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while paying Bain investors millions of dollars in dividends.
Romney was no longer actively managing Bain when the steel company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and closed its Kansas City plant, causing more than 700 workers to lose their jobs and health insurance, as well as part of their pensions. (More on that below.)
Using just the voices of angry former workers at the company, the ad is less about Romney’s business record and more about his values.
Romney is described by the workers as “a vampire” who destroyed people’s lives while seeking to make as much money as possible. “If he going to run the country the way he ran our business, I wouldn’t want him there,” one worker says. “He would be so out of touch with the average person in this country.” Ouch.
GS Industries has also been a tempting target for Romney’s GOP rivals. In January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry mentioned it as an example of Romney being a “vulture” capitalist. The opposition research done by Sen. John McCain’s campaign in 2008 also highlighted GSI.
As usual in campaign ads, some important context is missing. Let’s fill in some of the blanks. There is also a longer, six-minute version for a Web site called romneyeconomics.com, but we will focus on the two-minute version airing in battleground states.
First of all, the investment was one of many done by Bain under Romney’s leadership, which the Wall Street Journal documented was a record mainly of success, not failure. The Romney campaign immediately countered the Obama ad with a Web ad focused on Bain’s successful investment in Steel Dynamics, featuring interviews with happy steel workers.
“President Obama might forget the recession but America hasn’t.”
--text from a new RNC web video, May 11, 2012
“When a woman in Iowa shared the story of her financial struggles, he gave an answer right out of an economics textbook. He said, ‘Our productivity equals our income,’ as if the only reason people can’t pay their bills is because they’re not productive enough. Well, that’s not what’s going on. Most of us who have spent some time talking to people understand that the problem isn’t that the American people aren’t working hard enough, aren’t productive enough -– you’ve been working harder than ever. The challenge we face right now -– the challenge we’ve faced for over a decade -– is that harder work isn’t leading to higher incomes. Bigger profits haven’t led to better jobs”
--President Obama, Remarks in Seattle, May 10, 2012
When a political campaign quotes an opponent, watch out. Some important context may be missing.
The Republican National Committee, in a new web video, blasts President Obama for forgetting about the recession, based on remarks that Obama made in Seattle.
Meanwhile, Obama, in that same Seattle speech, quotes presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney as some sort of unfeeling business executive, based on remarks Romney made last year while campaigning in Iowa.
Let’s look at what Obama and Romney really said.
The RNC video actually runs a relatively long snippet from Obama’s speech, which to our mind undercuts the idea that Obama says he forgot about the recession. Here’s the full quote, with the part the RNC used in bold:
“I wanted to arm you with the facts about the latest attack from Big Oil.”
— Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, in a video release
“Koch takes exception to the President engaging in inappropriate personal attacks on private citizens.”
— Koch response video
Two dueling videos, one by the Obama campaign and one by Koch Industries, illustrates how bitter the fight has become between the White House and the billionaire brothers who have bankrolled many conservative causes, often rallying opposition to the president’s policies.
The recent tit-for-tat started with the latest ad by Americans for Prosperity, an organization which the New Yorker magazine, in a lengthy article, said “was micromanaged by the Kochs” and “has been instrumental in disrupting the Obama Presidency.” (Koch issued a long rebuttal to the article but did not dispute this point.)
The AFP ad, indeed, was riddled with falsehoods and misstatements. We gave it Four Pinocchios, PolitiFact labeled its assertions “mostly false,” “false,” and “pants on fire,” and FactCheck.org was also highly critical.
For the Obama campaign, the Koch brothers are a convenient foil, though as we have written before, the campaign goes too far to label them “Big Oil” because their privately held empire is comprised of many businesses, some not related to petroleum. (We also gave Two Pinocchios to Obama’s response ad to AFP, which was mostly aimed at Mitt Romney.)
Still, given how ludicrously wrong much of the AFP ad was, all Stephanie Cutter, the Obama deputy campaign manager, had to do in the campaign’s video was to highlight some of the errors that fact-checking organizations had already pointed out. (She made other assertions that we will examine below.) We will leave it to readers to decide if she went too far in labeling the political activities of the Koch brothers as “BS.”
Now Koch — pronounced “Coke,” not like the name of the former New York mayor — has responded in kind. Let’s take a deeper look at their video.
The ad begins with a reference to a recent Wall Street Journal opinion article criticizing the Obama campaign for highlighting the backgrounds of some of Mitt Romney’s political supporters, suggesting it was some sort of enemies list. The ad then quotes former solicitor general Ted Olsen — identified in the article as an attorney for Koch — as criticizing the practice as “abhorrent.”
“Under President Obama, is America moving forward or backward?”
“It’s getting more expensive for healthcare, more expensive for gas, more expensive overall.
“Four years of Obama moving America ... backward.”
— Narration from American Crossroads ad
This ad, titled “Backward,” came from the conservative political advocacy group American Crossroads. It appears to be the organization’s answer to the “Forward” video released by President Obama’s campaign.
The ad flashes numbers to back up its claims about rising costs under the current administration: medical costs up 11.2 percent, gas prices have doubled, consumer prices up 8.6 percent.
Let’s take a look at the numbers to see whether American Crossroads proved anything negative about Obama’s tenure.
Health care costs have indeed risen 11.2 percent under Obama, but that’s not an extraordinary number in terms of the historic trend. Medical costs have skyrocketed for decades, threatening to reach unsustainable levels as they take up an increasingly larger percentage of GDP.
“President Obama’s clean-energy initiatives have helped create jobs for projects across America, not overseas.”
“What about Mitt Romney? As a corporate CEO, he shipped American jobs to places like Mexico and China. As governor, he outsourced state jobs to a call center in India. He’s still pushing tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.”
— Ad from President Obama’s re-election campaign
President Obama’s campaign team fired back with this ad after the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity ran a commercial saying billions of dollars in stimulus funds went toward foreign jobs. We awarded that claim Four Pinocchios in a previous column, and the Obama crew quoted us in its rebuttal.
We certainly appreciate the mention, but we can’t let that stop us from checking the claims in this ad. Is presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney really such a fan of outsourcing? Let’s look at his record and proposals.
The Obama campaign pointed us to a series of SEC filings and news accounts showing that three companies within Bain Capital’s portfolio sent jobs overseas. Romney served as chief executive of the firm, which specialized in private-equity investment and leveraged buyouts during his tenure there. He left the company in February 1999 to become president and chief executive of the committee that organized the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“Washington promised to create American jobs if we passed their stimulus, but that’s not what happened. . . . American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries.”
— New TV advertisement by Americans for Prosperity
“How exactly does President Obama spend your tax dollars?”
— New TV advertisement by the American Future Fund
Two well-funded Republican groups began running hard-hitting ads against President Obama last week, aiming to spend an estimated $8 million in key battleground states. The spots hit similar themes, attacking Obama on green-energy investments, and even cite similar sources.
Watching these ads is a depressing duty for The Fact Checker, because many of their claims — regarding “billions” of stimulus dollars going overseas — had been debunked two years ago by our colleagues at PolitiFact and Factcheck.org. Yet here the erroneous assertions emerge yet again, without any shame, labeled as “the truth” or “fact.”
The ads also use the old trick of blowing out of proportion small details and then leaping to grand conclusions.
Thus, in the Americans for Prosperity ad, questions about relatively small amounts of more than $800 billion in stimulus money turn into “American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries.”
And the American Future Fund, pegging its ad to the date when taxes are due to ask how Obama spends taxpayer money, focuses on the same green-energy investments and also the $800,000 spent on a lavish Las Vegas conference by the General Services Administration. That’s a scandal — with no known links to Obama — but it’s also a pittance compared with the money spent on national defense, health care and other government services.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific claims.
First of all, we live in a globalized world. American companies make products overseas; foreign companies make products in the United States. Sometimes parts are made in a variety of places overseas and then assembled in the United States. That’s a fact of life, and these ads frequently confuse the difference, so that any hint of foreign involvement is depicted as a bad thing.
“Mitt Romney. He made millions off of companies that went bankrupt while workers lost promised health and retirement benefits.
“His own tax return from last year reveals he made $21 million, yet paid a lower tax rate than many middle-class families.
“Now Romney’s proposing a huge new $150,000 tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent, while cutting Medicare and education for us.
“Mitt Romney. If he wins, we lose.”
— Voiceover of a new television ad by Priorities USA Action
This television ad, by the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action, poses a unique challenge for this column because each of the statements uttered within its 30 seconds has a ring of truth. Of course, it paints each of these facts in the most negative light possible, without any balance, but that’s their prerogative.
The ad also repeatedly shows an image of a youthful Romney with dollars stuffed in his pockets — a 27-year-old photo that was shot as part of a promotional effort for a relatively new company, Bain Capital, that Romney headed at the time. The ad at one point even photoshops an image of an older Romney, a rather cheesy maneuver that recently was mocked by our friends over at Flackcheck.org.
Here’s some context for the claims made in the ad.
“He made millions off of companies that went bankrupt while workers lost promised health and retirement benefits.”
That’s the dark side of Romney’s business career at Bain Capital, which he would argue on balance helped create jobs for workers. (We had earlier taken Romney to task for claiming he created 100,000 jobs without mentioning the ones that had been lost.)
“President Obama began throwing seniors off the cliff when they voted to cut Medicare’s budget by $575 billion.”
— Narration from an ad by AmericanDoctors4Truth
This ad parodies a previous video from The Agenda Project, which ran a similar spot suggesting that Republicans were trying to end Medicare and privatize it with a proposal from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Our colleagues at FlackCheck.org ran a film-noir parody covering both of these commercials.
The AmericanDoctors4Truth video shows a senior in a wheelchair explaining that she needs a pacemaker, while a fictional President Obama pushes her toward a scenic overlook. “You know what, maybe this isn’t going to help,” the president says. “Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller.”
The fictional president then dumps granny over the cliff, and a narrator explains that the Affordable Care Act strips $575 billion from Medicare. The ad then cuts to a series of brief commentaries by two physicians, who plead with viewers to join in their fight against the health-care law. A longer four-minute version on the Doctors4Truth Web site explains that the law will lead to rationing of medical services.
We examined the Affordable Care Act and talked with experts to determine whether the claims in this ad are true.
The Affordable Care Act didn’t exactly “cut” $575 billion from Medicare. Instead, it laid out plans to wring that much in savings, from projected spending, over a 10-year span. What’s the difference? The government is still on the hook to pay the difference if it doesn’t reach its goal.
Here we go again: Another group that supports President Obama is suggesting that the oil industry somehow bought GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney to do its bidding.
This all started late last week, when the Democratic National Committee responded to a $3.6 million ad campaign from the anti-Obama American Energy Alliance denouncing the president’s energy policies. Both the DNC and the alliance earned three Pinocchios in previous columns for shaky and sometimes unfounded claims.
Now the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action has taken a turn, with of its own with a video titled “Romney’s Big Oil Trail.” Let’s see whether this group’s ad holds up to scrutiny any better than the others we reviewed.
The message from the Priorities USA video boils down to this: Romney has deep ties to the oil industry, which is behind the anti-Obama ad, and “Big Oil” has pledged $200 million to the Republican candidate so he’ll support its tax breaks. We’ll examine those claims one by one.
“What if I told you that this man’s big government-mandating health-care included $50 abortions and killed thousands of jobs. Would you ever vote for him? What if I told you he supported radical environmental job-killing cap-and-trade and the Wall Street bailout? And what if I told you he dramatically raised taxes and stuck taxpayers with a $1 billion shortfall? One more thing. What if I told you the man I’m talking about wasn’t him [Obama]? It’s him [Romney]”
— narrator of a new Rick Santorum TV ad, as a photo of Barack Obama morphs into one of Mitt Romney
Desperate for a win in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, former senator Rick Santorum has begun running a tough ad there that takes only 30 seconds to throw just about everything, including the kitchen sink, at his chief rival, the former Massachusetts governor.
So do these claims add up? Let’s take them in the order in which they were made.
The individual mandate included in Romney’s health-care bill was originally a conservative idea, pushed by such groups as the Heritage Foundation. (That is a simplified version of a long and torturous path, which was best explained in articles by Forbes and The Washington Post.)
“Six in 10 Americans are seeing their [health insurance] premiums rise. The average cost of a family policy is up $1,300. Another part of President Obama’s health care takeover will cost $111 billion more than promised.”
--Voiceover in a Republican National Committee TV ad about the Obama health care law
Be wary of the single data point, exploited either by Democrats or Republicans.
This new RNC ad slams the Obama health care law for already causing a boost in health care premiums, even though much of the law has not been implemented. (The ad frames this as breaking President Obama’s already dubious promise that the health care overhaul will result in average family premiums declining by $2,500.)
The ad, repeating the myth that the law is a “health care takeover,” also asserts that costs in one part of the the health care law are soaring, a claim we have debunked before.
The RNC based its claims about premiums on the 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation annual survey of employer health benefits. We laughed out loud when we saw that, since it was only a year ago, on the first anniversary of passage of the law, that Democrats were citing the 2010 survey to make an equally absurd claim about the health care law.
The Democratic National Committee quickly rallied to the president’s defense after the American Energy Alliance aired its attack ad. The group released a video of its own that references the commercial and tells viewers to remember “what they bought” as an image of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney appears.
DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) teamed up with Democratic Party communications director Brad Woodhouse to push some rhetoric of their own in a news conference.
We’ve already examined the DNC claims that deal with a rise in oil production and with so-called oil subsidies, but we’ll do it again. We also looked into the issue of whether “Big Oil” or the American Energy Alliance somehow bought Romney.
U.S. domestic oil production has indeed reached an eight-year high, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. In addition, the U.S. drilling-rig count is “higher than any year since the early 1980s,” as The Washington Post noted in an article earlier this month.
The pro-oil American Energy Alliance and the Democratic National Committee exchanged barbs this week over the president’s energy policies, providing a preview of the hard-hitting rhetorical campaigns and rapid-response reactions that will take place as the general election nears.
AEA claimed that it will spend $3.6 million airing the 30-second advertisement in eight states “in the largest effort of its kind in AEA’s history.”
We’ll examine these ads in the order they were released, looking at the American Energy Alliance commercial first and moving to the DNC video in a later column.
The American Energy Alliance ad mostly recycled and consolidated a number of claims we’ve already fact-checked, but it’s easy to see why this group dragged them back out. The price of gas is at the forefront of voters’ minds, and it’s likely to stay that way until November, with economists predicting that prices will remain high through the summer.
Let’s review the facts one more time, knowing it probably won’t be our last.
The first claim in this ad suggests that the president opposed oil drilling in Alaska. A Washington Post article from April 2010 reported that Obama actually approved what was perhaps “the biggest expansion of offshore energy exploration in half a century” when he opened the door to drilling in areas that included waters off Alaska’s coast.
“The health care law “is going to come with a price tag pretty hefty, of $1.76 trillion. That’s twice as much as originally thought.”
— Voiceover in new National Republican Senate Committee Web ad, March 22, 2012
With the Obama health care law now being argued before the Supreme Court, perhaps it is time for a refresher course on its costs.
A Web ad — titled “Obamacare Fact Check” — released last week by the NRSC is a case in point. Among its many charges of “promises broken” is the suggestion that the health care law already costs twice as much as originally estimated. Is that really the case, given that key provisions of the law have not even taken effect?
First of all, a caveat: all of these budget numbers must be examined with the skepticism. The Congressional Budget Office does as good a job as possible, but its numbers are only estimates — and no one can truly predict the state of the economy and health care years from now, let alone the real impact of the law.
Mitt Romney needs a victory in Tuesday’s Illinois primary to regain momentum in the GOP nominating race, which explains why he would go negative with this ad. Rick Santorum represents his top threat after finishing first in a series of Southern contests, but Santorum still needs to prove he can win a state along the Rust Belt — he already lost Michigan and Ohio.
Romney’s ad attacks Santorum’s conservative credentials, hitting the former Pennsylvania senator where it matters most among the Prairie State’s rural voters. We looked at the claims to determine how much truth they contain.
First off, we should point out that Pennsylvania voters ousted Santorum during a year when Republican incumbents nationwide were swept out of office. He fell to moderate Democrat Bob Casey, which suggests that Keystone State constituents were looking for someone to legislate from the center.
Narrator Tom Hanks: “He knew from experience the cost of waiting [on health care reform].”
President Obama : “When my mom got cancer, she wasn’t a wealthy woman and it pretty much drained all her resources”
Michelle Obama: “She developed ovarian cancer, never really had good, consistent insurance. That’s a tough thing to deal with, watching your mother die of something that could have been prevented. I don’t think he wants to see anyone go through that.”
Hanks: “And he remembered the millions of families like of his who feel the pressure of rising costs and the fear of being denied or dropped from coverage.”
--series of statements with images of Obama and his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in the Obama campaign film “The Road We’ve Traveled”
“The Road We’ve Traveled” is a very slick and impressively produced campaign film—sheer catnip for Obama fans. There are a number of facts and figures that could be challenged, but for now we are going to focus on this sequence. The series of words and images is an excellent example of how such films can create a misleading impression, while skirting as close as possible to the edge of falsehood.
The sequence, in fact, evokes a famous story that candidate Obama told during the 2008 campaign—that his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, fought with her insurer over whether her cancer was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage.
But the story was later called into question by Dunham’s biographer. The fact that Obama’s initial claim is not directly repeated suggests the filmmakers knew there was a problem with the campaign story, but they clearly wanted to keep some version of it in the film.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama frequently suggested his mother had to fight with her health-insurance company for treatment of her cancer because it considered her disease to be a pre-existing condition. In one of the presidential debates with GOP rival John McCain, Obama said:
“This IPAB board can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments so Washington can fund more wasteful spending. ...Medicare will be bankrupt in nine years.”
— Musician Pat Boone, in a television ad sponsored by the 60 Plus Association
A number of readers asked us to examine the latest claims about Medicare, made this week by both GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney and a conservative advocacy group called the 60 Plus Association.
Actually, there is little new in either the 60 Plus Association’s $3.5 million ad campaign, featuring the venerable Pat Boone, or the “Five Questions for President Obama on Medicare” issued by the Romney campaign. We feel we have dealt with similar claims in the past, but apparently that has not deterred such attacks.
The Romney statement is amusing because it constantly repeats the phrase “ending Medicare as we know it”—which in turn has been a Democratic attack line against a House GOP plan for Medicare. (Democrats used to simply say “end Medicare” or “kill Medicare” until The Fact Checker and other fact checking organizations called them on it.)
Indeed, both parties are absolutely shameless about Medicare. (For instance, the Democratic National Committee attacked Romney on Medicare this week.) Both claim that other party would kill/destroy/ruin/whatever Medicare; neither side has much of a leg to stand on.
Someone must be falling for this stuff, however, or else it would not keep getting repeated.
The current Medicare system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors’ fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance.
“Mitt Romney — against individual mandates except when he’s for them.”
— New DNC Web ad attacking Romney
Many Democratic attacks on Mitt Romney suggest that he is a politician without conviction, and someone who will “say anything” to get elected. A new Democratic National Committee Web ad follows that pattern, highlighting a series of TV clips that aim at a perceived vulnerability of the former Massachusetts governor: his successful effort to create universal health care in his state.
President Obama’s health-care law was largely built around the concept of an individual mandate, as was Romney’s law. Romney, however, has insisted that he never intended to take the concept nationwide, but that each state could decide for itself how best to promote universal coverage.
This ad uses the clips — some of which we had not seen before — to suggest that Romney actually did support a national mandate, even when he now says he is against it. But how accurate is this claim?
Readers should be wary of campaign ads that show many little clips, because a line or two can be taken out of context. One of the first things we do when fact-checking an ad like this is to look at the entire TV interview or debate segment, to understand why the comment in question was made.
We’ve heard a lot of arguments in recent weeks that certain forms of contraception — especially emergency contraception — cause abortion, and that the government shouldn’t force church-affiliated employers to provide them for workers. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich claims the mainstream media doesn’t want to address this issue, even though the Fact Checker column alone has touched on that topic in several recent columns.
Putting aside any questions about adequate media coverage, David Lewis’s ad features some of the strongest imagery and language we’ve seen a candidate use to suggest that the Obama administration’s contraception mandate is immoral. The video shows photos of what Lewis claims to be aborted fetuses, while accusing President Obama of forcing religious organizations to pay for drugs that murder the unborn.
We examined how emergency contraception works to determine whether the language and visuals in this ad were accurate. As usual, we’re not going to wade into the debate over exactly when life begins. As you’ll see, that’s not even necessary to determine whether Lewis’s ad deserves Pinocchios.
David Lewis is a 26-year-old full-time activist and self-described “devout Christian” from suburban Cincinnati who challenged Ohio’s John Boehner and lost in the Republican primary. Lewis claims the House speaker isn’t living up to his antiabortion words, since he has voted for spending bills that provided funding for Planned Parenthood. The political newcomer lost Tuesday with just 16 percent of the vote.
We’ve addressed similar ads and comments accusing Mitt Romney of being a disingenuous antiabortion candidate because of his policies while serving as governor of Massachusetts. Now we have a antiabortion super PAC drawing essentially the same conclusion based on nearly identical claims.
For this ad, we’ll review the facts again and take a look at the notion that Romney created a government-run health care system for the Bay State, even though we tackled that issue in a previous column.
Earlier this month, we awarded two Pinocchios to Gingrich and Santorum for insisting that Romney forced hospitals to provide emergency contraception — or “abortion pills,” as Gingrich called them — to rape victims.
Santorum has arguably claimed the mantle of GOP front-runner by virtue of winning the most primaries and polling at or near the front of the pack in Michigan and Arizona, where the next contests take place. So his rivals are taking aim at his record, mainly by attacking his fiscal policies.
Ron Paul has gone perhaps furthest in this regard with his latest ad, which suggests the former senator supports ruthless dictators and abortion services. The video only mentions spending, but it’s actually a two- or maybe three-for-one for all intents and purposes, since it questions the candidate’s social and foreign policy values.
We looked at Santorum’s record to find out whether Paul’s video misleads voters. (Note: Paul was asked to defend this ad in the CNN Debate on Wednesday night and he gleefully repeated the claim that Santorum is a “fake.”)
The Paul campaign provided a list of five bills dedicating money to Egypt and North Korea — in one case, just Egypt. Each measure passed at least one chamber of Congress with a yes vote from Santorum.
“Only ten percent of people in unions today actually voted to join the union.”
— Voiceover from an ad sponsored by the Center for Union Facts which aired during the Super Bowl
A group that supports a bill in Congress that would require every unionized workplace to recertify their union every three years made this interesting claim in a TV ad that ran during the Super Bowl. The Center for Union Facts also asserted this fact in an advertisement that ran in The New York Times, featuring the dictatorial leadership of North Korea as apparent stand-ins for union leaders.
The Center for Union Facts is part of a web of pro-corporate organizations run by Rick Berman, who has also battled Mothers Against Drunk Driving, disputed evidence regarding mercury levels in fish and countered a perceived link between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity. His Web Site features a 60 Minutes profile in which he says, “I do get paid for educating people; if that’s my biggest crime, I stand accused.” (A more negative take on the Berman enterprise can be found here.)
A key feature of Berman’s ads are wicked, often sarcastic humor against “union bosses,” “food police” and the like. In this particular ad, auto mechanics bemoan their lost wages to union dues and ask each other who voted for the union. They ultimately conclude it must be the oldest guy in the shop. (One report on Monday said Berman actually portrays one of the “mechanics” in the ad.)
We take no position on the Employee Rights Act, but wondered whether this statistic was valid, especially since Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has also cited it on the Senate floor in support of the legislation.
J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts (and a player in other Berman-run groups), said he personally calculated this statistic by examining National Labor Relations Board annual reports from 1964 (specifically Table 14) and job tenure data for unionized employees from the Current Population Survey, which is jointly sponsored by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“No candidate in American history has ever run more negative ads than Barack Obama.”
— Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), speaking on CNN, Jan. 31, 2012.
A reader asked us about Rubio’s statement, saying, “I do not recall Obama being overly negative in his campaign.”
But it appears to be an article of faith for Republicans. Joe Scarborough, a former GOP member of Congress who hosts MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” declared on Wednesday: “Barack Obama won ugly in 2008; he ran more negative ads than anyone else in the history of television.”
But is this really the case?
The nasty campaign of 2008 actually was raised in one of the presidential debates at the time. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama’s Republican rival, complained that Obama had “spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history.” Obama responded that almost all of McCain’s ads were negative.
“At the center of one such Medicare scheme: Mitt Romney. It is a story of fraud. It is a story of big profits, big lies and at the time the biggest criminal fine for health fraud ever levied in Massachusetts history.”
— Voice-over from “Blood Money: Romney’s Medicare Scandal,” a video produced by pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future.
Winning Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, has released another attack on rival Mitt Romney’s business practices. A one-minute “trailer” and a 30-second TV ad (see below) that amplify the themes of corporate malfeasance accompany the nearly eight-minute video, “Blood Money.” (The title refers to the fact that a company once partly owned by Bain Capital, Romney’s firm, was found guilty of charging Medicare for unnecessary blood tests.)
We were highly critical of Winning Our Future’s “King of Bain” film, awarding it Four Pinocchios, in part because it focused on business failures in which Romney was only tangentially involved. And anyone living in Massachusetts would find this Medicare fraud case to be old news because the case first emerged in 1992 as an issue in Romney’s successful race for governor.
Still, this time Winning Our Future gets closer to the mark. The case concerning Damon Clinical Laboratories is relevant because 1) Romney was a director of the firm while the fraud took place; 2) the fraud appears to have ended only after Bain sold its stake in the firm; 3) Romney personally earned nearly $500,000 from the sale of Damon; and 4) Romney’s statements about what he knew and when he knew it have been inconsistent.
We’re going to hear a lot more about Damon if Romney becomes the GOP presidential nominee. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is already running an ad in Florida that highlights the case. (The spot is at the end of the column.)
Let’s take a closer look:
In 1996, the Justice Department announced that Damon had agreed to pay a $35.3 million criminal fine — one of the largest corporate fines in U.S. history — and an additional $83.7 million to settle whistle-blower lawsuits. The company, then owned by Corning, admitted that from 1988 to 1993 it had bolstered its earnings by submitting false claims to Medicare and other federal programs. Essentially, the firm billed for blood tests that doctors had not ordered.
“While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.”
— voiceover in a new Mitt Romney ad attacking Newt Gingrich
The nasty nomination battle between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has moved to Florida, where Romney has launched a slashing ad attacking Gingrich for his business ties to mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Let’s take a look at the various claims in the ad.
“While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.”
The ad strains to make a connection between Gingrich’s service for Freddie Mac and the housing collapse in the economic crisis. The video cites a Kansas City Star editorial that said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “were at the heart of the crisis” but that’s a matter of opinion. Other experts disagree strongly.
“I agree with Governor Romney on many things, for instance abortion. He was pro-choice most of his adult life, so was I. But he changed his position when he became presidential candidate Romney. Now, let’s take guns. Governor Romney and I, we were in complete agreement on gun control — now that is, until he changed his mind. And on health care, well, I was so inspired by Romneycare that I nationalized it and called it Obamacare. Now presidential candidate Romney is against the individual mandate and universal health care.”
— Remarks by a cartoon President Obama during a fictionalized debate with Mitt Romney, depicted in an ad from the pro-Newt Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future.
Gingrich describes himself as the only viable candidate left in the GOP race, and this innovative cartoon ad — the first of its kind that we’ve seen — feeds into that narrative, attacking one of Romney’s perceived strengths: his supposed ability to challenge Obama.
The Post’s Fix reports that this video is the first in a three-part series envisioning potential debates between Romney and the sitting president. It illustrates an increasingly negative strategy by Gingrich and his supporters since the candidate’s lackluster finishes in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. The approach appears to be working, with a new CNN poll showing Romney losing ground in South Carolina — an equally likely explanation is that the other candidates are resonating with Palmetto State voters.
President Obama “kept a campaign promise to toughen ethics rules”
--new Obama campaign ad
We love ads that cite fact checkers, but President Obama’s first campaign ad contains a real blooper. It cites a positive fact check by PolitiFact, while ignoring a subsequent column taking away that original ruling. (UPDATE: There were two PolitiFact rulings that same day, and Obama choose the one most favorite, so we are revising our original ruling.)
The ad attempts to push back against a slashing ad attack on Obama’s clean-energy initiatives by a group called Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, and accurately quotes from an ABC analysis that said the ad “contains claims that are not tethered to the facts.”
“This is a story of greed, of playing the system for a quick buck, a group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney more ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.”
— Voice-over from “King of Bain” video promoted by a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC, “Winning Our Future.”
Newt Gingrich, meet Michael Moore!
The 29-minute video “King of Bain” is such an over-the-top assault on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney that it is hard to know where to begin. It uses evocative footage from distraught middle-class Americans who allege that Romney’s deal-making is responsible for their woes. It mixes images of closed factories and shuttered shops with video clips of Romney making him look foolish, vain or greedy. And it has a sneering voice-over that seeks to push every anti-Wall Street button possible.
Here’s just a sampling of what Romney and Bain Capital, which he once headed, is accused of: “Stripping American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder and often killing jobs for big financial rewards . . . high disdain for American businesses and workers . . . upended the company and dismantled the work force; now they were able to make a handsome profit . . . cash rampage . . . contributing to the greatest American job loss since World War II . . . turn the misfortune of others into their own enormous financial gain.”
The video ends with a crescendo of images of despair, with voices of the victims adding emotional punch: “A lot of lives were ruined . . . he took away our livelihoods . . . he took away our future . . . he destroyed a lot of homes . . . it all gets back to greed.” (Irritatingly, few of these ordinary citizens are identified.)
The video is reminiscent of the devastating series of attack ads released by then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) that derailed Romney’s Senate campaign in 1994. In fact, we’d swear some of the people interviewed for “King of Bain,” who are identified as working for Ampad in Marion, Ind., are the same as those interviewed for the Kennedy ads at SCM, which Ampad acquired. They just look two decades older. (We have embedded a collection of the Kennedy ads at the end of this column.)
Let’s take a look at some of the claims in “King of Bain.” The video clip above is from a 60-second commercial aired by “Winning Our Future.” The full video can be found here. As we will demonstrate, at least some of the interviews of ordinary citizens appear to have been conducted under misleading pretenses and have been selectively edited to leave a false impression.
First of all, it is a stretch to portray Romney as some sort of corporate raider, akin to Carl Icahn (whose image is briefly seen). Bain Capital initially was in the business of providing venture capital — seed money — for start-ups, such as Staples. Then it moved to the more lucrative business of private equity, in which Bain won control of firms, reorganized them and then sold them for profit. (Our colleague Suzy Khimm earlier this week did an excellent job of explaining the two sides of Bain Capital.)
"What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney changed his position from pro-abortion to pro-life? He governed pro-abortion. Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board.”
— Newt Gingrich ad attacking Mitt Romney
Gingrich, still justifiably angry at a tough ad by a Romney-affiliated Super PAC that mischaracterized his position on abortion, has counterattacked with his own ad that calls into question Romney’s support for restrictions on abortion.
Romney, of course, has spoken openly about his conversion on the abortion issue, so Gingrich must prove that Romney was an inconsistent convert to the cause of fighting abortion. Romney’s record was certainly inconsistent but was it indeed “pro-abortion”? Let’s look at some of the claims in this ad.
The definitive list of Romney flip-flops on abortion was compiled in 2007 by our predecessor as The Fact Checker, the estimable Michael Dobbs. After meticulously examining Romney’s twists and turns on the issue, Dobbs awarded Romney Three Pinocchios for his comments on abortion, saying he has “changed his position so often on abortion that he lacks much credibility” to claim that every piece of legislation he signed as governor was “on the side of preserving the sanctity of life.”
One of the key issues in any president’s reelection campaign is whether he has kept his promises. So a web video released this week by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with the Iowa caucuses, can be seen as an example of the White House laying the groundwork for making the case that the president has kept his promises.
The video shows Obama making his victory speech four years ago in Iowa, and then interjects it with headlines showing how the president has met his pledge. The overall result is slick, but a careful viewer will note that the words that follow in the headlines do not always quite match up with the president’s words.
“As Speaker, Gingrich supported taxpayer funding of some abortions.”
--from a new ad in Iowa sponsored by “Restore Our Future”
Super PACS will cause endless headaches for fact checkers this political season. The advertisements they produce are often insidiously inaccurate.
A good example is the latest advertisement trashing Newt Gingrich, “Smile,” by Mitt Romney’s Super PAC--Restore Our Future--which is spending more than $3 million just in Iowa in the weeks before the Jan. 3 caucuses. The former House Speaker certainly has some baggage from his long political career, as the ad asserts, but that would be all the more reason not to need to twist the truth.
Brittany Gross, a Restore Our Future spokesman, declined to answer questions. “We aren’t commenting on the ad,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Thanks for reaching out.”
Let’s take a tour through some of the more egregious fouls in the ad.
“Freddie Mac, which helped cause the economic collapse, paid Newt Gingrich $30,000 an hour for a total of at least $1.6 million.”
The suggestion here is that Freddie Mac caused the 2008 economic crash, which is a simplistic assertion. Restore Our Future cited as a source an opinion article written by Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute.
“Mitt Romney turned around dozens of American companies and helped create thousands of jobs. He rescued an Olympics hit by scandal; took over a state facing huge deficits, and he turned it around without raising taxes, vetoing hundreds of bills.”
— Comments in recent ad by pro-Romney PAC Restore our Future
The claims in this ad cover just about about everything we fact-checked for the Mitt Romney biographical series, minus the comment about vetoes. The commercial has been running frequently in Iowa, so we’ll rehash some of the issues we found with its assertions, all of which echo previous remarks by the former Massachusetts governor.
Romney co-founded and led the investment firm Bain Capital, which made an incredibly pretty penny as a pioneer in the field of leveraged buyouts, according to a prospectus obtained by the L.A. Times.
“Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.’”
— Then-Sen. Barack Obama, Oct. 16, 2008
We resisted writing about Mitt Romney’s first television ad when it was released just before Thanksgiving, on the grounds that the issue — whether the ad misquoted President Obama — had been thoroughly and quickly discussed. We sometimes also see little need to fact check items that have been already debunked by one political faction or the other.
But readers have repeatedly asked us to weigh in, and the ad was once again in the news this week after a report in The New York Times by our former colleague Thomas Edsall quoted an anonymous “top operative” in the Romney campaign as defending the ad because “ads are propaganda by definition…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing…. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.”
Excuse us for appearing cynical, but Romney’s supposed adviser is simply stating a truth practiced by both political parties. We’ve seen plenty of Four-Pinocchio ads in our time, and this Romney ad does not make the cut.
The ad opens with a headline: “On October 16, 2008, Barack Obama Visited New Hampshire.” Then grainy scenes flash by of Obama speaking as more headlines flash by, such as: “He Promised He Would Fix the Economy…. He Failed”
“And there's no question, but that people are going to take snippets and take things out of context and try and show that there are differences.”
— Former governor Mitt Romney on Fox News, Nov. 29, 2011
Mitt Romney has a flip-flop problem. Slowly but surely, the conventional wisdom is solidifying that the former Massachusetts governor often has changed his position to suit the politics of the moment. The story line has been advanced by his opponents, in both parties, but also in the media. Take a look at this wicked cartoon by our colleague Tom Toles, in which Romney tells an elephant dressed as Santa Claus: “What would you like me to ask for?”
Of course, politicians have every right to change their minds. An inflexible attitude is not always the sign of an effective leader. But too many flips without enough explanation may give voters pause. In Romney’s case, many of his moves have been from the left — when he was governor of Massachusetts — to the right, as he has run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Now the Democratic National Committee has assembled some of its best evidence of Romney-as-flip-flopper in a four-minute video ad. The DNC helpfully provided a detailed explanation of where each clip came from (see below), and we have picked through them to see whether the flip-flop charge holds up. We give a Pinocchio rating to each claim, in the order in which it is made in the commercial.
“Can you believe that? That’s what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That’s pathetic. It’s time to clean house in Washington.”
— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in a new television ad attacking President Obama
“Sometimes, I just don’t think that President Obama understands America. I say that because this week — or was it last week? — he said that Americans are lazy. I don’t think that describes America. Before that, I think it was in October, he was saying we have lost our inventiveness, and our ambition. Before that he was saying other disparaging things about Americans. I just don’t think he understands — he was saying we just weren’t working hard enough. I don’t think he gets what’s happening in this country.”
— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Nov. 15, 2011
Republican president candidates have begun attacking President Obama for supposedly insulting Americans by calling them “lazy.” Perry has even framed a new television ad around the idea.
Since we once gave a Pinocchio to Obama for what we called unsubstantiated boosterism — “We have the most productive workers, the finest universities and the freest markets” — we were a little surprised to learn that he had suddenly turned so anti-American.
What’s going on here?
When a president makes a similar offhand comment at least two times, our experience tells us that something is on his mind. Maybe he read a book, perhaps there was a briefing, perhaps he even saw a television documentary. A clear sign that this notion has begun to sink in is that he begins to muse about it in public.