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The biggest Pinocchios of Election 2012

at 06:02 AM ET, 11/04/2012


(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

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.





Most Absurd ‘Fact’ — Republican version

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s claim that Ronald Reagan never got a break from the “elite media” as an actor. As an example, Gingrich said only one of Reagan’s movies — “King’s Row” — got a good review from the New York Times. First of all, Reagan was a Democrat when he was in show business, so Gingrich’s point was nonsensical. Second, four of Reagan’s top 10 movies got raves from the New York Times — and King’s Row was panned.

Most Absurd ‘Fact’ — Democratic version

Making a pitch for the president’s jobs bill, Vice President Biden repeatedly claimed that rape in Flint, Mich., had tripled after the police force was cut, as part of a dubious argument that there was a connection between the crime rate and the number of police. He even asserted that rapes and other crime would increase if the GOP did not vote for the jobs bill. But you need to have your facts straight if you are going to make incendiary charges. We investigated and it turned out that incidents of rape in Flint, Mich., actually fell after the number of police was cut.

Worst SuperPac Ad — Republican version

A pro-Gingrich SuperPac released a 29-minute video titled “King of Bain,” which portrayed Romney as a greedy job-killer ruining the lives of Americans. It foreshadowed the Obama attacks on Romney’s record as chief of Bain Capital, but was so over the top that it made many of those later ads seem tame. One “case study” featured selectively edited footage of interviews of workers — who later said they were misled about the purpose of the film. They actually had no complaints about Romney or Bain at all.

Worst SuperPac Ad — Democratic version

Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama group, aired a provocative ad that suggested that Romney was responsible for the cancer death of the wife of a former steelworker who had lost his health insurance. But it turned out she died of cancer five years after the closure of the plant — and had her own health insurance for a period after the steelworker, Joe Soptic, lost his job. As we put it, “On just every level, this ad stretches the bounds of common sense and decency.”

Silliest Blooper — Republican version

Until we highlighted this claim, Mitt Romney had made this line a regular staple of his campaign stump speech: “We are the only people on the Earth that put our hand over our heart during the playing of the national anthem.” We easily disproved this by randomly searching YouTube and finding numerous examples of sports figures and school children from around the world placing their hands on their hearts during the playing of their national anthems. Apparently, Romney was trying to ding Obama for once failing to do so during the 2008 campaign, but his belief in American exceptionalism was misplaced.

Silliest Blooper — Democratic version

President Obama’s claim that President Rutherford B. Hayes was so averse to new ideas that he had asked of the telephone: “Who would ever use one?” It turns out that the 19th president was such an advocate of new technology that not only did Hayes think the telephone was “wonderful,” but he installed the first telephone in Washington, in the White House, just four months after it was introduced. His telephone number was “1.”

Most Baseless Accusation — Republican version

The repeated claim that Obama said that government, not people, built successful businesses. The truncated quote “you didn’t build that,” drawn from a late-night rally with ungrammatical phrasing by Obama, became the basis of repeated attack ads and even the first night of the GOP convention. But any fair reading of Obama’s comments showed he was making a standard Democratic argument about community success — and that “that” referred to roads and bridges.

Most Baseless Accusation — Democratic version

Harry Reid’s repeated claim, made with zero evidence, that Romney “hadn’t paid any taxes for 10 years.” Reid said he knew this was true because a person who had invested with Bain Capital had called his office and told him this “fact.” We couldn’t find a single expert who thought there was any credibility to Reid’s reckless claim. Romney eventually released a summary prepared by his accountants showing he had paid federal and state taxes in each of the past 20 years.

Claim that would not die — Republican version

Nearly two years ago, we looked deeply at Mitt Romney’s claim that Obama had gone on an “apology tour” as a new president — and we found no evidence to back up the assertion. Yet a version of that claim appeared in almost every speech by the GOP nominee, and Romney defended it in the final presidential debate. Then his campaign cut a new ad from his remarks, skillfully snipping out the fact that Romney incorrectly said the offending speeches were made in the Middle East.

Claim that would not die — Democratic version

The Obama campaign repeatedly asserted that Romney, while at Bain Capital, had outsourced jobs to foreign countries such as China, and had also sent jobs to India as governor of Massachusetts. The evidence was slim, at best, and often turned on such obscure issues as whether Romney still ran Bain Capital while taking a leave to manage the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Few nonfacts ever received as much ink and television time.

‘Mediscare’ — Republican version

Republicans initially claimed that Obama raided $500 billion from Medicare to fund the health-care law — a figure that later jumped to more than $700 billion for arcane budget reasons. But these were reductions in projected spending, mainly aimed at providers, and would not affect traditional Medicare benefits. Moreover, Republicans had adopted virtually the same “cuts” in their own budgets.

‘Mediscare’ — Democratic version

Democrats repeatedly charged that seniors would pay $6,400 extra a year in Medicare premiums under the overhaul plan promoted by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). But this was a figure far in the future, based on an early and less generous version of the plan. A recent study of the “premium support” model suggested that any actual increase in premiums would be far less.

Worst Math Skills — Republican version

Romney’s math showing how he would add 12 million jobs in his first term as president. He cited three studies, which collectively added up to 12 million jobs, but the studies had 10-year time frames, not four. Moreover, two of the studies did not even evaluate Romney’s own plans.

Worst Math Skills — Democratic version

Obama’s claim that “90 percent” of the current deficit is due to Bush policies, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama certainly inherited a mess, but any reasonable accounting showed that as his term wore on, Obama’s policies increasingly were responsible for the deficit. By our estimate, by 2011, about 44 percent was due to Obama’s policies. Bush’s policies were responsible for about 10 percent, and the rest was due to the recession and forecasting errors.

‘Plan’ that Doesn’t Exist — Democratic version

The Obama campaign claimed that Romney would raise taxes on the middle class by $2,500. This was based on a nonpartisan study trying to figure out how Romney could cut tax rates by 20 percent but still make his tax plan revenue neutral. The study concluded that eventually the elimination of tax deductions for the wealthy would also affect the middle class. So Romney’s math may not have added up, but he never had a plan to raise taxes.

‘Plan’ that Doesn’t Exist — Republican version

The Romney campaign countered that attack by charging that, instead, Obama would raise taxes by $4,000 on the middle class. This was also based on a study, which calculated the distribution of the debt burden on Americans. Obama’s budget fell in a middle range, and Romney’s budget would likely have a similar impact. But this was not evidence of a planned tax increase — far from it.

Most complex subject for spinning — bipartisan effort

The Obama administration’s memo saying it would accept welfare waivers related to worker participation targets prompted bipartisan spinning. The Romney campaign aired an over-the-top ad that accused Obama of gutting the welfare reform law, even though no waivers have been issued. But the Democratic counterspin was also questionable, leaving largely unanswered what the administration hoped to accomplish with the new rules.

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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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