Obama ad cherry-picks fact checking organization

at 11:15 AM ET, 01/19/2012

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 Facts

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.”

The Obama ad that quickly slips in claims that slickly appear to be the result of Obama’s policies, though the ad does not directly make that claim—a reference to 2.7 million clean-energy jobs, a note that for the first time in 13 years foreign oil imports are below 50 percent.

Those figures are correct, but they are also not tethered to anything Obama has done. The report that mentioned the 2.7 million jobs simply said that is how many potentially exist. Meanwhile, the Energy Department cited a host of reasons why foreign oil imports have declined, noting the main reason was “a significant contraction in consumption” because of the poor economy and changes in efficiency that began “two years before the 2008 crisis”—ie, before Obama took office.

Then, in bold type, the ad proclaims: President Obama “kept a campaign promise to toughen ethics rules” and it cites: “PolitiFact, 1/21/09.”

 Politifact did write that on Jan. 21, 2009, but then it almost immediately changed its ruling as Obama began granting waivers to his ethics policy.

Just two days later, on Jan. 23, Politifact moved its ruling to “compromise” when Obama gave a waiver to William J. Lynn III, the nominee for deputy defense secretary. By March 17, PolitiFact called it a “promise broken” because so many waivers had been granted.

“After examining the administration's actions for the past two months, we have concluded that Obama has broken this promise,” Politifact said. In fact, this is listed as one of the “top promises” that he has broken.


UPDATE: It turns out that PolitiFact on Jan. 21 also gave Obama a “promise kept” for another piece of the ethics rules, banning lobbyist gifts to executive employees. We had missed the fact that the Obama campaign had cited this ruling--not the other, more important one--in its back up material for the ad. So the campaign actually cherry-picked the best possible ruling.

 

The Pinocchio Test

 The suggestion that Obama was responsible for the 2.7 million clean-energy jobs or the decline in foreign oil imports is bad enough, though the ad does not directly claim that. We have more trouble with the citation of PolitiFact.

We had originally given this a Four Pinocchio ruling because we believed the campaign had ignored the fact that PolitiFact had changed its ruling. Instead, it turns out it cherry-picked one ruling while ignoring the other negative one. That’s pretty slippery, but it is more of a three Pinocchio violation rather than a Four, so we are revising it downward.

 Three Pinocchios


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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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