Pinocchios: Obama gets a downgrade; Romney an upgrade

at 06:02 AM ET, 03/22/2012

“America uses 20 percent of the world’s oil, and we’ve got 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. I wasn’t a math major, but if you’re using 20, you’ve only got 2, that means you got to bring in the rest from someplace else.”

— President Obama, remarks on energy, Boulder City, Nev., March 21, 2012

“The fact of the matter is we use 20 percent of the world’s oil. But even if we drilled every square inch of this country, we’d still only have 2 or 3 or 4 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.”

--Obama, remarks on energy, Maljamar, New Mexico, March 21

 

“We can’t just rely on drilling. Not when we use more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but still only have 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.”

— Obama, weekly radio address, March 17

“There’s a problem with a strategy that only relies on drilling and that is, America uses more than 20 percent of the world’s oil. If we drilled every square inch of this country — so we went to your house and we went to the National Mall and we put up those rigs everywhere — we’d still have only 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. Let’s say we miss something — maybe it’s 3 percent instead of 2. We’re using 20; we have 2.

“Now, you don’t need to be getting an excellent education at Prince George’s Community College to know that we’ve got a math problem here. I help out Sasha occasionally with her math homework and I know that if you’ve got 2 and you’ve got 20, there’s a gap. There’s a gap, right?”

— Obama, remarks on energy, Prince George’s County, March 15

In response to reader comments and new information, we are revisiting two previous columns and making a rare change in our Pinocchio rating for two unrelated statements made by President Obama and Mitt Romney.

The feedback we get from readers, both positive and negative, is invaluable. We also try to be consistent in our use of the Pinocchio scale, and are always willing to reconsider rulings in the face of new evidence.

Obama and oil

Last week we wrote about Obama’s dubious combination of two true statistics — the fact that the United States has 2 percent of proven oil reserves and accounts of 20 percent of annual oil consumption. We called these “non sequitur facts,” since they have little relationship to each other, and gave the president the rarely used “true but false” rating. We also said we would monitor the president’s use of these figures in the future.

The column prompted more than 1,000 comments, and a number of readers wrote that we were too generous to the president. Here’s how one thoughtful reader put it in an e-mail:

I think you hit the problem on the head — but I don’t think you go far enough in your comment: This is really a case of apples and oranges. The fact that the U.S. has 2 percent (or even if it were 50 percent) of proven reserves, and the fact that the U.S. consumes 20 percent of the worlds oil are totally unrelated.
If the world’s oil reserves were 1 barrel, and the U.S. had 100 percent, we would still not have enough reserves, even if we only consumed 1/10 of 1 percent of the world’s oil. 1 barrel isn’t going very far.
On the other hand, if the world’s oil reserves were 500-gazillion-katrillion-jillion barrels, maybe it could satisfy all the world’s demand for centuries, whether the US consumed 20 percent or 70 percent — so what.
They are simply unrelated statistics.

While our criticism of the use of the statistics may have been convincing to many readers, the president has not dropped his language since we wrote our column; instead, he has repeated it at least four times.

In fact, in the speeches in Prince George’s County and in New Mexico, he made it worse. As we explained before, “proven oil reserves” has a very strict definition, in part because reserves are considered actual assets owned by companies. The oil must have been discovered, confirmed and economically recoverable, with at least 90 percent certainty.

But in his Prince George’s speech, Obama claimed that even if “we went to your house and we went to the National Mall and we put up those rigs everywhere, we’d still have only 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.” In New Mexico, Obama declared, “even if we drilled every square inch of this country, we’d still only have 2 or 3 or 4 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.”

That’s just simply wrong. The United States has the same number of barrels of proven oil reserves — 22 billion — today as it did in the 1940s. That’s because new sources of oil kept getting found, more-difficult-to-obtain oil suddenly became more economically viable, new oil-extraction techniques gained favor, and so forth.

So, in light of the president’s statement in Prince George’s County (and in New Mexico), we are going to change our ruling to Two Pinocchios. The way he phrased it there, it certainly qualifies under our rating scale: “Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people.”

The president is on an energy tour this week, and on Wednesday he once again made this claim. We hope he finally drops this specious logic from his talking points.

Two Pinocchios





Romney and Obama’s stimulus claims

Meanwhile, we also want to revisit a column we wrote last month on this statement by Mitt Romney: “Three years ago, a newly elected President Obama told America that if Congress approved his plan to borrow nearly a trillion dollars, he would hold unemployment below 8 percent.”

We originally gave that claim Three Pinocchios, because the 8 percent figure came from a staff-written projection written before Obama took office. We also could find no evidence that Obama ever said this. We were inspired to do this column after Chuck Smith, a reader, posted a YouTube video challenging Romney to a $10,000 bet to prove it.

But then Jon Hoffman, another enterprising reader, wrote us with some of his own research into the issue, including links to You Tube videos in which Obama came close to alluding to this figure. He also provided us with transcripts showing that the staff report was referenced later in administration congressional testimony.

“Any reasonable person listening to his speeches and presentations on the subject would come away with the impression that he believed and agreed with the projections of [Christina] Romer, which were widely publicized at the time, and which the Obama administration never took pains to deny,” Hoffman wrote.

We asked readers for their opinions and most said we should consider reducing the number of Pinocchios to Romney. (The sentiment for a change ran about 3 to 2 on the Fact Checker Web site and 2 to 1 on the Fact Checker Facebook page.) So, after mulling it over for a while, we have decided that Romney’s comment is still misleading, but the evidence gathered by Hoffman mitigates his statement somewhat.

So we are reducing Romney’s rating in this matter to Two Pinocchios.

Two 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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