The biggest Pinocchios of 2013

December 16, 2013

 


 

 

It’s time for our annual round-up of the biggest Pinocchios of the year. This was not a presidential election year, so in some ways the subjects that needed to be fact checked were more substantive. In reviewing The Fact Checker’s more than 200 columns in the past year, we found an interesting evolution from statistics about gun violence to claims about President Obama’s health-care law. Our general rule of thumb held: the more complex a subject is, the more tempted politicians are to make misleading claims.

President Obama ended up with three of the most misleading claims of the year. But, despite the urging of some readers, his statement that “I didn’t set a red line” on Syria is not among them. We had looked closely at that claim and had determined that, in context, it was a bungled talking point, so that statement actually earned no rating.

As always, that and other rulings were met with vehement objections from some readers. The Fact Checker thanks the readers who have offered thoughtful rebuttals to our conclusions. In some cases, in light of new information, we adjusted Pinocchio ratings.

In compiling this list, we primarily focused on claims that had earned four Pinocchios during the year. We also tried to focus on issues of broad interest, such as gun control, health care and the size of government. To keep it simple, we have shortened the quotes in the headlines. To read the full column, click on the link embedded in the quote.

 

“If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it.”

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

 

This memorable promise by President Obama backfired on him when the Affordable Care Act went into effect and millions of Americans started receiving cancellation notices. As we explained, part of the reason for so many cancellations is because of an unusually early (March 23, 2010) cut-off date for grandfathering plans — and because of tight regulations written by the administration. This was our most popular fact check of the year — and Obama’s pledge also was also named PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year.”

 

 

“Obama’s kids are protected by armed guards at their school”

The National Rifle Association, in a tough television ad on gun-control measures and in a longer four-minute video presentation, highlighted what it saw as “elitist” hypocrisy by Obama because his children are “protected by armed guards at their school.” While the law requires the president’s children to have Secret Service protection, the ad clearly referred to armed security guards at Sidwell Friends School. But the guards there do not carry guns, so the ad was based on a false premise.

 

 

“The Capitol Hill janitors just got a pay cut”

(Charles Dharapak — AP)
(Charles Dharapak — AP)

 

President Obama offered an evocative image at a news conference when the sequester struck –  janitors sweeping the empty halls of the Capitol, laboring for less pay. But it turned out that he was completely wrong. Janitorial staff did not face a pay cut — and Capitol Hill administrative officials even issued a statement saying the president’s remarks were “not true.” Then the White House tried to argue that janitors at least faced a loss of overtime. That was not correct either. The episode was emblematic of the administration’s sequester rhetoric.

 

 

“Clinton denied security for Libya personnel with her signature on a cable”

(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)
(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

 

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) charged that then- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in April of 2012 “signed” a cable directing a drawdown for security assets for the U.S. Embassy in Libya. The issue became a political flash point after four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, were killed at two U.S. compounds in Benghazi. But the claim that Clinton signed the cable was absurd, as every cable, even the most mundane,  bears the secretary’s “signature,” because it is automatically added by the communications center. There is no evidence Clinton was even aware of the request.

 

 

“The day after Benghazi  happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.”

(JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)
(JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

 

President Obama did refer to an “act of terror” in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack, but in vague terms, wrapped in a patriotic fervor. He never affirmatively stated that the American ambassador died because of an “act of terror.” Then, over a period of two weeks, given three opportunities in interviews to affirmatively agree that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist attack, the president obfuscated or ducked the question. So this is a case of taking revisionist history too far for political reasons.

 

 

“70 cents of every dollar spent on food stamps goes to bureaucrats”

(JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)
(JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)

 

The retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has been a rich source of material, and it’s hard to pick from her many 4-Pinocchio remarks. But this one takes the cake.  She asserted that, for the food stamp program, the math was $3 in food stamps for the needy, $7 in wages for the bureaucrats who manage the program. But it turned out she misunderstood an analysis concerning anti-poverty programs, and then applied an incorrect ratio to the wrong type of program. Budget documents show that staff salaries amount to one-third of 1 percent of the Department of Agriculture’s budget for food and nutrition programs.

 

 

“I opposed the invasion of Iraq”

(Shawn Thew/EPA)
(Shawn Thew/EPA)

 

At least twice in 2013, Secretary of State John F. Kerry claimed that he opposed the invasion of Iraq. But not only did he vote in favor of a congressional authorization for war, but there is a rich paper trail documenting his repeated support for the attack after President George W. Bush launched it in 2003. As Kerry put it on May 3, 2003: “I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the president made the decision, I supported him, and I support the fact that we did disarm him.” This is another example of after-the-fact historical revisionism.

 

 

“Democrats took $50 billion from overcharging students on college loans and used it to pay for Obamacare”

(Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES)
(Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES)

 

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is the ranking member of the Senate committee dealing with health and education issues, but he played sleight of hand with Congressional Budget Office documents to make a bogus charge. Upon close examination of his claim, it became clear he was purposely netting unrelated provisions against each other. Nothing in his statement was accurate, and given his position on the committee, he should have known better.

 

 

“A state investigation said Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli should have been prosecuted.”

(Steve Helber/AP)
(Steve Helber/AP)

 

Democrat Terry McAuliffe may have won the Virginia governor’s race, but he also takes the prize for the most outlandish claim made during the bitter fight. A state investigation found that Cuccinelli did not break the law by accepting Star Scientific stock. Nothing in the report said he should be prosecuted, but the Democratic nominee assumed that if the law had made Cuccinelli’s actions a felony, he would have been prosecuted. That was Alice in Wonderland logic.

 

“Obama is closing the U.S. Embassy in the Vatican”


 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and the  National Republican Senatorial Committee claimed that Obama decided to close the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican as part of some sort of attack on Catholics. But the embassy was simply being moved to the same diplomatic compound as the U.S. Embassy in Italy — with a different building and address — as part of security and cost savings recommendations made during the George W. Bush administration. Obama had nothing to do with it.

 

 

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 GALLERY: The most jaw-dropping photos of the year

Glenn Kessler has reported on domestic and foreign policy for more than three decades. He would like your help in keeping an eye on public figures. Send him statements to fact check by emailing him, tweeting at him, or sending him a message on Facebook.
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Glenn Kessler | December 13, 2013