Seventeenth in a series of endless, tireless, exhaustive, hairsplitting, obsessive, resounding, never-before-attempted, conclusive posts on the fact-checking industry.
The fact-checking industry reached a quick consensus on Wednesday night that both candidates stretched the truth in their debate remarks. As FactCheck.org puts things, “We found exaggerations and false claims flying thick and fast during the first debate between President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.”
Though the various fact-checking organizations chose all kinds of statements to pat down, they all seemed to converge on one, somewhat unresolved debate point. It came when President Obama stated that Romney’s plan “calls for a $5 trillion tax cut.” Romney denied same.
PolitiFact put up a Truth-o-Meter ruling on that one: “Half True.” Why the lack of certainty here? Let them explain:
President Obama said Mitt Romney seeks a $5 trillion tax cut.
The $5 trillion figure accounts for only half of Romney’s plan — and it’s cumulative over 10 years. The governor says he will offset those lost revenues by reducing tax deductions and eliminating loopholes. However, he has never said what those changes would be.
The president made a misleading statement about an incomplete plan, but he did describe what the plan was missing and Romney would not fill in the gaps.
We rate the statement Half True.
This is a level of complication and ambiguity that our democracy cannot withstand.
And there’s more of it, too, over at the Washington Post fact-checking operation, where Glenn Kessler notes that even though Romney has pledged to cut tax rates and eliminate certain taxes, he also pledges to close loopholes and deductions. The Tax Policy Center, notes Kessler, has looked at the plan and said it’s not going to be revenue neutral.
Given the uncertainty, the Obama campaign has assumed the worst about Romney’s plan — that it would mean higher taxes for middle-class Americans — even though, as Romney stated, there is no chance he would try to implement such a plan as president.
The Associated Press’s look at the matter reaches this conclusion:
Obama’s claim that Romney wants to cut taxes by $5 trillion doesn’t add up. Presumably, Obama was talking about the effect of Romney’s tax plan over 10 years, which is common in Washington. But Obama’s math doesn’t take into account Romney’s entire plan.
For a more definitive ruling on this question, click on over to FactCheck.org:
Obama accused Romney of proposing a $5 trillion tax cut. Not true. Romney proposes to offset his rate cuts and promises he won’t add to the deficit.
CNN, meanwhile, goes a bit further, saying the “claim is FALSE, because Romney plans on offsetting these cuts by closing loopholes and reducing deductions.” But on air (see video above), a CNN reporter says the verdict is “incomplete” because of the lack of details in the Romney plan.
The checkers pretty consistently whacked Romney’s claim that the president “put in place a board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they’re going to receive.” That’s the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which is supposed to watchdog Medicare costs. Said PolitiFact in its “Mostly False” ruling:
He avoided the more inaccurate and harsher wording of some other critics, who have falsely described the board as “rationing” care. But Romney’s claim can leave viewers with the impression that the board will sit around a table and talk about whether grandpa can get his bypass or not, and that’s not the case.
The Washington Post expresses its disregard for the Romney claim like this: “What is Romney referring to as he almost begins to channel the ’death panels’ claim of Sarah Palin?” FactCheck.org says, “Not true” of the Romney claim. AP also casts a dismissive eye.
Those who care about truth in politics don’t want to see vastly different takes among various fact-checking organizations on the same set of political statements. In this crop, we see some interpretive variation among fact-checkers and a general consensus on the facts. Which is a good thing.
The Fact-Checking series so far:
Fourth: Clinton bedevils fact-checkers.
Seventh: Biden and Obama keep checkers busy.
Eighth: A task for fact-checkers: Did the administration apologize for American values?
Thirteenth: Catch the error in this Washington Times invite.
Fourteenth: AP editor cites Bachmann fact-checking ‘quota.’
Sixteenth: Fact-checking, a consumer-driven movement