The Fact Checker: 3 Pinocchios

A claim of ‘false’ when the ad is basically true

A claim of ‘false’ when the ad is basically true

“Seen those ads attacking Thom Tillis? They’re false. Tillis fired the staffers.”

— voiceover of Thom Tillis (R) ad responding to Senate Majority PAC ad

The Fact Checker has been critical of a number of ads by Senate Majority PAC, which is affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). But a recent ad attacking North Carolina Senate hopeful Thom Tillis (R) comes close to the mark— and certainly is more accurate that Tillis’s response ad claiming that the “sleazy” ad is “false.”

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IRS chief: No ‘targeting’ of tea party groups, just ‘inappropriate criteria’

IRS chief: No ‘targeting’ of tea party groups, just ‘inappropriate criteria’

“The inspector general found inappropriate criteria were used to select organizations for further review -- he did not refer to it as targeting.”

“Yes, inappropriate criteria were used. I don’t think I used the word target, but I do acknowledge that applications were delayed unnecessarily and for too long.”

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Ted Cruz’s ‘biggest lie in politics:’ Is it actually the truth?

Ted Cruz’s ‘biggest lie in politics:’ Is it actually the truth?

“Let me tell you now about the single biggest lie in politics: It is that Republicans are the party of the rich. What complete nonsense. Do you know that under President Obama, the top 1 percent, those millionaires and billionaires that the president loves to demagogue, the top 1 percent are currently earning the highest percentage of our national income since 1928? Listen, when the government expands its control of the economy, the rich do fine. Five years ago if you had a private jet you’re still flying the private jet. Who are the losers? Who are the people who are getting hammered by the Obama economy? It’s the most vulnerable among us.”

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The Democrats’ claim that the GOP ‘underperformed’ on its way to victory

The Democrats’ claim that the GOP ‘underperformed’ on its way to victory

“The GOP underperformed tonight in the #FL13 -- a district they’ve held for decades”

--Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, in a tweet March 11, 2014

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Update: Julie Boonstra’s claim her Obamacare plan is ‘unaffordable’ gets downgraded to Three Pinocchios

Update: Julie Boonstra’s claim her Obamacare plan is ‘unaffordable’ gets downgraded to Three Pinocchios

“My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare. Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it’s unaffordable.”

Michigan resident Julie Boonstra, in an ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, attacking Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), a candidate for the Senate, released in February

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Lindsey Graham’s claim that defense spending topped 5 percent of the economy ‘in times of peace’

Lindsey Graham’s claim that defense spending topped 5 percent of the economy ‘in times of peace’

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “Mr. Hale, what percentage of GDP [gross domestic product] are we spending on our national defense in this budget?”

Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert F. Hale: “In ’15 it’ll be about 3.2 percent for DOD.”

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Does Ken Cuccinelli’s book question whether Social Security and Medicare should exist?

“In his book, Cuccinelli questions whether Medicare and Social Security should exist.”

— Peggy Borgard, retired Virginia resident in an new television ad sponsored by the Democratic Party of Virginia

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), who is running for governor, has offered Democrats a gold mine of targets with his book, “The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty.” As our colleague Laura Vozzella put it: “Spoiler alert: The pages reveal Cuccinelli is a conservative.”

This television ad portrays Borgard as a Henrico County resident who worked for 60 years. (She recently retired as director of operations for a youth soccer league and contributed $700 to Democratic candidates in 2012 and $295 to the Henrico County Democratic Committee in 2011 and 2012, according to campaign finance records.) She offers especially sharp criticism based on material from the book:

“I’m retired and I do rely on Social Security and Medicare. I think Ken Cuccinelli does not care about people like me. In his book, Cuccinelli questions whether Medicare and Social Security should exist, and said people are dependent on government. It scares me to think of Ken Cuccinelli as governor. I think he is way out of touch with everybody.”

Is this what Cuccinelli says in the book?

The Facts

The ad directs readers to pages 62 and 63 of the book. This chapter mostly deals with Cuccinelli’s outrage at the passage of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which he views as an example of lawmakers in both parties creating new programs that he claims make people dependent on government largess. Here is the relevant section:

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Mitt Romney’s hyped-up business start-up statistic


“The President unfortunately has taken every single path that has led towards a restriction in job growth, has made it harder for new businesses to start up. As a matter of fact, the number of new business start-ups per year has dropped by 100,000 per year. This is just unacceptable and it’s one of the reasons why it has been so hard for this economy to recover.”

--Mitt Romney, on “Fox & Friends,” April 19, 2012

The uncertain economic environment continues to form the core of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign, as witnessed by his comments made last week. A reader asked whether these statistics on new business start-ups were correct, so we decided to investigate.

The Facts

The Romney campaign directed us to congressional testimony earlier this year by Brookings scholar Martin Neil Baily, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton. In the testimony, titled the “The State of American Small Business,” Baily noted that “the number of start-up establishments has fallen off to a greater extent in this recession than in the 2001 recession.”

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‘Obamacare’ and rising health insurance premiums

“Six in 10 Americans are seeing their [health insurance] premiums rise. The average cost of a family policy is up $1,300. Another part of President Obama’s health care takeover will cost $111 billion more than promised.”

--Voiceover in a Republican National Committee TV ad about the Obama health care law

Be wary of the single data point, exploited either by Democrats or Republicans.

This new RNC ad slams the Obama health care law for already causing a boost in health care premiums, even though much of the law has not been implemented. (The ad frames this as breaking President Obama’s already dubious promise that the health care overhaul will result in average family premiums declining by $2,500.)

The ad, repeating the myth that the law is a “health care takeover,” also asserts that costs in one part of the the health care law are soaring, a claim we have debunked before.

The Facts

The RNC based its claims about premiums on the 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation annual survey of employer health benefits. We laughed out loud when we saw that, since it was only a year ago, on the first anniversary of passage of the law, that Democrats were citing the 2010 survey to make an equally absurd claim about the health care law.

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Romney and the individual mandate, again

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When he got up and was questioned by Fred Thompson in the 2008 election, Governor Romney said, ‘Mandates, I love mandates, mandates work, this is what we need to do, we need to force people to buy insurance.’ And he defended his record in Massachusetts and, in fact, argued for exactly what President Obama put in place — was a government-mandated health care program at the federal level.” — Rick Santorum on ABC’s “This Week,” March 18, 2012

There’s been a considerable amount of discussion lately about whether Mitt Romney’s old campaign comments and op-eds provide proof that he actually supports a federal mandate, contrary to what he claims and what Fact Checker Glenn Kessler determined about the matter in a previous column. Still, critics such as Rick Santorum continue to pound home the notion that the former governor advocated a national insurance requirement.

Romney has stood firmly behind his Bay State mandate but swears that he doesn’t support such a policy at the federal level. He has said states should decide for themselves how to improve their health-care systems. Our previous column noted that he has shown consistency on this issue, despite a tendency to explain his stance in convoluted terms.

Let’s once again review key remarks that Romney opponents have highlighted to determine what the GOP delegate leader really said, as opposed to what people assume he meant.

The Facts

First, opposing the federal health-care law is perfectly compatible with expressing a love for insurance mandates and thinking they can work for states that want to adopt them, as Romney has done. It’s like saying “Cardinals are pretty, and I think every state should adopt that species as its state bird, but I would never force them to do that — I don’t have the right.”

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Mitt Romney’s misfire on light bulb standards

(M. Spencer Green/AP)

"And the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Oh yeah, Obama’s regulators actually did just that."

— Mitt Romney, March 19, 2012

During an economic speech on Monday, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful charged that the Obama administration “banned” Thomas Edison’s light bulb.


 Let’s take a look at this contentious issue.


The Facts

 Thomas Edison did not invent the incandescent light bulb, but he did make it commercially viable, filing his first patent for improvements in 1878. And, then 129 years later, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

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‘The Road We’ve Traveled:’ A misleading account of Obama’s mother and her insurance dispute

Narrator Tom Hanks: “He knew from experience the cost of waiting [on health care reform].”

President Obama : “When my mom got cancer, she wasn’t a wealthy woman and it pretty much drained all her resources”

Michelle Obama: “She developed ovarian cancer, never really had good, consistent insurance. That’s a tough thing to deal with, watching your mother die of something that could have been prevented. I don’t think he wants to see anyone go through that.”

Hanks: “And he remembered the millions of families like of his who feel the pressure of rising costs and the fear of being denied or dropped from coverage.”

--series of statements with images of Obama and his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in the Obama campaign film “The Road We’ve Traveled”

“The Road We’ve Traveled” is a very slick and impressively produced campaign film—sheer catnip for Obama fans. There are a number of facts and figures that could be challenged, but for now we are going to focus on this sequence. The series of words and images is an excellent example of how such films can create a misleading impression, while skirting as close as possible to the edge of falsehood.

The sequence, in fact, evokes a famous story that candidate Obama told during the 2008 campaign—that his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, fought with her insurer over whether her cancer was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage.

But the story was later called into question by Dunham’s biographer. The fact that Obama’s initial claim is not directly repeated suggests the filmmakers knew there was a problem with the campaign story, but they clearly wanted to keep some version of it in the film.

The Facts

During the 2008 campaign, Obama frequently suggested his mother had to fight with her health-insurance company for treatment of her cancer because it considered her disease to be a pre-existing condition. In one of the presidential debates with GOP rival John McCain, Obama said:

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Blunt Amendment: Schumer’s over-the-top rhetoric

(Win McNamee - GETTY IMAGES)

This whole debate [over the Blunt Amendment] is an anachronism. Our country progressed beyond the issue of whether or not to allow birth control a long time ago. Yet here we are in 2012, and the Republican Party suddenly wants to turn back the clock and take away contraception from women. Make no mistake: that’s what this debate is about.”
Mr. President, if this amendment passes, it would ban contraception coverage for any woman in America whose boss has a personal objection to it. This measure would force women to surrender control of their own health decisions to their bosses.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, some 20 million American women could be cut off from health services by this proposal. — Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaking on the Senate floor about the Blunt Amendment, Feb. 29, 2012

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York made these remarks while speaking against the Blunt Amendment, a Senate proposal that would have undermined President Obama’s controversial mandate requiring employers or their insurance companies to cover the cost of contraceptives, as well as other preventive health services. Lawmakers effectively killed the Blunt measure on Thursday by a vote of 51-48.

Republicans have argued that the contraception-coverage rule violates the religious liberty of faith-based organizations that oppose birth control. Democrats contend that the real issue is women’s health. Both sides are trying to seize control of the debate and convince voters that their rights are in jeopardy.

We realize this is a controversial issue, with emotions running high on both sides, and we take no stand on it. But we were curious if Schumer stretched the truth with his remarks. Did the Senate just save women from a return to the 19th century? Would the measure truly ban contraception coverage when employers object to it?

The Facts

The mandate in question comes from the 2010 health care reform law, which required employers to provide coverage of certain preventive health services without charging the insured. Churches have been exempt from the provision, but some religious leaders still object to it on grounds that church-affiliated institutions — such as Catholic hospitals — will have to pay for health services that violated their principles.

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Mitch Daniels’s unfounded claim: President Obama wanted higher gas prices

Let’s give the president credit for one domestic policy that worked. He wanted higher gas prices, and he got them. He said it. Secretary Chu said $8, or about what they pay in Europe, would be great. Secretary Salazar said it could go to $10; he still wouldn’t be for allowing drilling in many of the places where we know there’s an awful lot of domestic production. And so they’ve gotten the doubling of gas prices and perhaps worse as a conscious policy of this administration. May be the one thing they set out to do and actually accomplished.” — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels during an interview on Fox News Sunday, Feb. 26

Republicans lately have ramped up their rhetoric on gasoline prices, focusing on an issue that resonates with struggling Americans despite slowly but steadily improving jobs numbers that have taken some steam out of their economic arguments. We showed in previous columns this week that the price increase is not as bad as some make it out to be, and that the unusually low cost of gasoline when President Obama took office — during a severe economic downturn — explains how they jumped at such a high rate.

Still, Republicans know that pain at the pump can affect the president’s reelection chances, and they’re fanning the flames of discontent.

We took a look at Obama’s energy policies and searched for proof that he or Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that cost hikes “would be great.” We also looked at Secretary Ken Salazar’s stance on drilling to find out whether the Interior Department director really said he wouldn’t budge on drilling in the face of $10-per-gallon gas.

The Facts

We can’t be sure why Daniels thinks the Obama administration had a “conscious policy” of driving up gasoline prices. His office did not respond to questions about the matter.

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Newt Gingrich’s claim of a ‘pre-Obama norm’ gas price

“When I was speaker for four years, the average price was $1.13. When Obama was sworn in, the average price was $1.89. So trying to get to $2.00 to $2.50 is closer to the historic norm. Think of it as a pre-Obama norm.”

— Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Feb. 23, 2012

  “We went into a recession in 2008 because of gasoline prices. The bubble burst in housing because people couldn’t pay their mortgages because of $4-a-gallon gasoline.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, Feb. 27, 2012

We asked readers for examples of gassy rhetoric on gasoline prices, and we certainly got some. This Gingrich example, made during an appearance in Kennewick, Wash., is priceless.

 We will look at that, as well as Santorum’s interesting new theory on why the United States suffered an economic crisis in 2008.


The Facts

 Earlier this week, we noted House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) comment that gasoline prices had doubled during Obama’s term. This is technically correct but misleading because oil prices were artificially low because of the economic crisis.

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Michele Bachmann at CPAC: History through a partisan lens


“No president since the modern state of Israel [was formed] has failed to stand by our ally Israel — only President Obama. …The president spurned the president of Egypt when he took his first foreign trip to Cairo… In May he even said that Israel should retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders… Obama’s State Department now designates Jerusalem as an international city and in a bizarre move our State Department will not even acknowledge that Jerusalem belongs to Israel.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Feb. 9, 2012

The former GOP presidential aspirant made a slashing attack on President Obama’s foreign policy Thursday in a speech to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

In particular, she focused on Israel and the Middle East, where as we have written, Obama’s record is a matter of dispute. Unfortunately, some facts got lost along the way.

The Facts

First of all, she repeated some of the four-Pinocchio statements she made during the presidential campaign, such as wrongly claiming Obama had “gone around apologizing to the world” and asserting that Obama demanded that “Israel should retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders.”

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A nonsense fact in a Super Bowl ad

“Only ten percent of people in unions today actually voted to join the union.”

— Voiceover from an ad sponsored by the Center for Union Facts which aired during the Super Bowl


 A group that supports a bill in Congress that would require every unionized workplace to recertify their union every three years made this interesting claim in a TV ad that ran during the Super Bowl. The Center for Union Facts also asserted this fact in an advertisement that ran in The New York Times, featuring the dictatorial leadership of North Korea as apparent stand-ins for union leaders.

 The Center for Union Facts is part of a web of pro-corporate organizations run by Rick Berman, who has also battled Mothers Against Drunk Driving, disputed evidence regarding mercury levels in fish and countered a perceived link between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity. His Web Site features a 60 Minutes profile in which he says, “I do get paid for educating people; if that’s my biggest crime, I stand accused.”  (A more negative take on the Berman enterprise can be found here.)

 A key feature of Berman’s ads are wicked, often sarcastic humor against “union bosses,” “food police” and the like. In this particular ad, auto mechanics bemoan their lost wages to union dues and ask each other who voted for the union. They ultimately conclude it must be the oldest guy in the shop. (One report on Monday said Berman actually portrays one of the “mechanics” in the ad.)

 We take no position on the Employee Rights Act, but wondered whether this statistic was valid, especially since Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has also cited it on the Senate floor in support of the legislation.


The Facts

 J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts (and a player in other Berman-run groups), said he personally calculated this statistic by examining National Labor Relations Board annual reports from 1964 (specifically Table 14) and job tenure data for unionized employees from the Current Population Survey, which is jointly sponsored by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Obama ad cherry-picks fact checking organization

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.”

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Ron Paul on earmarks and ‘corporate welfare’ (Fact Checker biography)

(Charlie Riedel, AP)

“My priorities, you cut off all foreign welfare and foreign militarism and corporate welfare before you go after child health-care.”

-- Ron Paul remarks during Bloomberg TV interview, June 3, 2011

“I’ve never voted for an earmark in my life.”

-- Remark by Paul on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dec. 23, 2007

Paul addresses a number of issues with these comments, but the common thread is government favoritism. The congressman portrays himself as a strict budget hawk and a candidate who never supports corporate subsidies or special funding for his congressional district.

Lots of politicians blast earmarks but find ways to justify them for their own constituents. And plenty of lawmakers support tax breaks and corporate subsidies -- so-called corporate welfare -- as a way to create jobs, foster innovation, and even protect the environment in certain cases. We examined Paul’s record to find out whether he’s truly any different.


Paul’s campaign-finance record shows little indication of a politician who is tied to special interests. Individuals have provided the vast majority of his campaign cash, supplying 91 percent of the money since his first bid for office.

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Ron Paul and the racist newsletters (Fact Checker biography)

(Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of four columns this week examining how factual Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has been in describing his career in politics. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Paul’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Paul talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

— Glenn Kessler


“I’m not a racist. As a matter of fact, Rosa Parks is one of my heroes, Martin Luther King is a hero — because they practiced the libertarian principle of civil disobedience, nonviolence.”

— Ron Paul, responding during a Jan. 10, 2008, CNN interview to questions about racially charged articles published in the “Ron Paul Political Report” during the 1990s.

“I never read that stuff. I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written, and it’s been going on 20 years that people have pestered me about this.”

— Ron Paul, responding to more questions about the newsletters during an interview with CNN, Dec. 21, 2011

Accusations of racism against Paul first surfaced during the candidate’s 1996 congressional campaign, when Democratic opponent Lefty Morris unveiled racially tinged quotes from a newsletter the Texas libertarian had published during his 12-year hiatus from public office.

The national media latched onto the issue during Paul’s 2008 presidential bid, after the New York Times and the New Republic highlighted derogatory statements about blacks and gays from the bulletins.

The issue resurfaced as Paul moved to the front of the GOP pack in recent weeks, and the congressman appeared to be fed up with the matter as he walked away from an interview in which a CNN reporter pressed for more answers. (See the video below).

We won’t be the judge of whether Paul is a bigot, but we can examine the extent to which he had control over his publications. Are we to believe he never reviewed the newsletters that bore his name? Would he have eliminated the messages if he’d seen them?


Paul helped form the Ron Paul & Associates corporation in 1984, and the now-defunct company, for which he served as president, began publishing newsletters the following year. The monthly publications included Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report, the Ron Paul Political Report and the Ron Paul Investment Letter.

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An Iranian ‘terrorist’ in the White House?


“Last week, when [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki visited the president, one of the people in his entourage is a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

--Newt Gingrich, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Dec. 18, 2011

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, when he made this comment on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, was referring to Iraqi Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri. Gingrich apparently based his comments on an article in The Washington Times—headlined “Ex-Iran Guard commander visits White House with Iraq leader”-- that generated some attention in the blogosphere. One report headlined it this way: “President Welcomes Suspected Terrorist to the White House.”

But this is a simplistic version of a complex story involving U.S. relations with the current government of Iraq. Let’s explore what’s going on here.

The Facts

First of all, there is a long tradition of militants aspiring to become statesmen. Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader, this year ran for president of Ireland. And, as House speaker in 1995, Gingrich hosted a lunch at the capital that include Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA—at a time when Britain regarded the IRA to be a terror group.

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Newt Gingrich: historian? (Fact Checker biography)

(Brian Snyder / Reuters)

“My advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, ‘We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that's what the government wants us to do,’ as I said to them at the time: ‘This is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.’”

-- Newt Gingrich, defending his contract with Freddie Mac during a CNBC debate in Michigan, Nov. 9, 2011

“There's a whole issue about whether or not government-sponsored enterprises have any legitimacy. Well, I can tell you as a historian they have been used in a variety of ways over all of American history. There are times they've been very, very useful and very valuable.

And so part of the question was, ‘Can you make that case? Can you put in context the history of these institutions?’”

-- Gingrich, again defending his contract with Freddie Mac during an interview on Fox News, Nov. 17, 2011

“I didn't speak for the people of Israel. I spoke as a historian who has looked at the world stage for a very long time. I've known [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi [Netanyahu] since 1984. I feel quite confident an amazing number of Israelis found it nice to have an American tell the truth about the war they are in the middle of and the casualties they're taking and the people who surround them who say, ‘You do not have the right to exist, and we want to destroy you.’”

-- Gingrich, defending remarks he made during an Iowa debate on Dec. 10, 2011, suggesting that Palestinians had based their “right of return” on an historically false story.

That’s at least three times that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has referred to himself as a historian during the 2012 election cycle. He’s gone a step further at times, suggesting that his knowledge of the subject gives him superior qualifications for policy -- and decision-making.

 “What it does is, it gives you a really rich background to go to, to analyze things, to think about things, to put in context what you would do in a way that if you don’t know history, you can’t possibly reinvent it,” he told Iowa Public Radio this year.

So how did the GOP front-runner develop his supposed acumen? We analyzed his résumé and his life in academia to find out just how much experience the former House speaker draws from, and whether he has any credibility as a self-proclaimed authority.


 Gingrich spent the great majority of his professional life in politics, serving as a member of Congress for 20 years. He devoted just eight fulltime years to academia and history -- 18 if you include his time as a student. 

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White House budget spin on the House GOP payroll tax bill


“Their proposal ... makes harmful cuts to things like education, that strengthen middle-class security. Their plan seeks to put the burden on working families, while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and big corporations, by protecting their loopholes and subsidies.”

--White House spokesman Jay Carney, Dec. 9, 2011

 “What I understand is that in the Republican proposal you're talking about, they didn't spell out where the cuts would come. And I get that they were trying to hide the fact that this would be the result. … The result would be cuts in nondefense discretionary programs, education and clean energy, veterans programs. That's the effect of their proposal.”

--Carney, Dec. 12, 2011

There are few areas more confusing than the federal budget. In many ways, it is a funhouse mirror of numbers, allowing politicians to make claims that are designed to mislead and confuse voters.

The above quotes by White House spokesman Jay Carney provide a   case study of this technique.

On Friday, reading from a prepared statement, he accused the House Republicans of making “harmful cuts” to education in order to fund their version of an extension of the payroll tax cut. On Monday, he said that “they didn’t spell out where the cuts would come from.” But, he still insisted the result of their plan would be cuts in “education and clean energy, veterans programs.”

 It sounds pretty dreadful. Is it true?


The Facts

 The House Republican bill to extend the payroll tax for one year has a number of elements that concern the White House, but let’s keep the focus on the spending cuts. The best source for this information is the Congressional Budget Office estimate of the legislation, since the CBO is the nonpartisan scorekeeper.

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Obama ‘bowing to foreign dictators’ — and his golf game


"He has bowed to foreign dictators"

— Mitt Romney, Dec. 7, 2011

 “1,584 holes since 2009”

— Romney campaign Web site


In recent days, the Romney campaign has attacked President Obama on two seemingly trivial matters that seek to undermine his character — his alleged “bowing” to foreign leaders and his propensity to play golf. As the Web site says, “It’s time to have a president whose idea of being ‘hands on’ doesn’t mean getting a better grip on the golf club.”

 So what’s story behind these claims?


Bowing to foreign dictators

 Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said that  “the term ‘bowed to foreign dictators’ is metaphorical but the leaders Obama literally bowed to were the Saudi King, Emperor of Japan, and Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

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Obama’s Kansas speech: some suspect facts

“I mean, understand, it's not as if we haven't tried this theory. Remember in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history. And what did they get us? The slowest job growth in half a century.”

 -- President Obama, Dec. 6, 2011


Channeling his inner Teddy Roosevelt, President Obama on Tuesday gave a feisty speech in Osawatomie, Kan., that sought to rebut Republican arguments that he is waging class warfare. He argued that the issue was one of fairness for the broad middle class, drawing repeated contrasts to the presidency of George W. Bush.

 We’ll leave the politics to others, but how accurate were some of his facts?


 “I mean, understand, it's not as if we haven't tried this theory. Remember in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history. And what did they get us? The slowest job growth in half a century. Massive deficits that have made it much harder to pay for the investments that built this country and provided the basic security that helped millions of Americans reach and stay in the middle class: things like education and infrastructure, science and technology, Medicare and Social Security.”


Inserting the words “for the wealthy” was interesting phrasing by the president, since he suggests these tax cuts were intended to benefit only the rich.  

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Grover Norquist: a misleading accounting of recent history

(Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

“Raising taxes slows the economy. Raising taxes kills jobs. Government spending does not create jobs. The idea that if you take a dollar out of the economy from somebody who earned it, either through debt or through taxes, and give it to somebody who is politically connected, that there are more dollars around? That if you stand on one side of the lake and put a bucket into the lake and walk around to the other side in front of the TV cameras, pour the bucket back into the lake and announce you’re stimulating the lake to great depths. We just wasted $800 billion on stimulus spending that added to debt that killed jobs. There are fewer jobs than before.”

— Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, on “Meet the Press,” Nov. 27, 2011

“In 1982, the Democrats said, ‘Gee, if you let us raise taxes, we’ll cut spending $3 for every $1 of tax increase.’ Taxes were raised. Spending didn’t go down, spending went up. The same thing happened in 1990, although George Bush -- Herbert Walker Bush -- was promised $2 in phony spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase. Taxes went up, spending actually increased. It wasn’t cut. Twice the Democrats have said let’s raise taxes and cut spending; twice taxes were increased, spending was not reduced at all.”

— Norquist, later in the same program

“They weren’t real reductions in rates. The 2003 rate reductions you had on cap gains and others -- that gave you four years of strong economic growth that lasted until the Democrats won the House and Senate, and you knew those tax cuts were going away.”

— Norquist, in the same program

Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has been in the news lately because Democrats charge (without much evidence) that he is single-handedly responsible for the collapse of the debt supercommittee because Republicans are afraid of violating his no-new-taxes pledge.

We don’t fact check political philosophies, but Norquist’s appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday gives us an opportunity to look at some of the facts that he uses to make his case. As can be seen from the excerpts of the interview above, Norquist is unabashedly partisan — in his view, economic growth literally ends the day Democrats win power in Congress. That already begins to stretch the bounds of economic logic, but what about some of his other assertions?

The Facts

A key part of Norquist’s case is that government spending is always bad and that, despite repeated promises of cuts by Democrats, it always goes up. We take no position on his economic argument about spending, but the notion that spending has always gone up only makes sense if you look only at raw dollar spending — which does not make much sense at all.

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Steven Chu’s Solyndra testimony: Misleading jobs stats and missing context

(Evan Vucci/AP)

“Through the loan programs, the Energy Department is supporting 38 clean energy projects that are expected to employ more than 60,000 Americans, generate enough clean electricity to power nearly 3 million homes and displace more than 300 million gallons of gasoline annually.”

— Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Nov. 17, 2011, in testimony on Capitol Hill

 “When the bottom of a market falls out and the price of solar decreases by 70 percent in two and a half years, that was totally unexpected, not only by us — if you look at the range of predictions that were being made by financial analysts from the last quarter of 2008, 2009, they — the average — there are some outliers. But the average of those were not expecting these prices to plummet. And so fundamentally this company [Solyndra] and several others got caught in a very, very bad tsunami, if you will.”

— Chu, Nov. 17

In his defense of the Energy Department’s handling of the $535 million loan guarantee to the now bankrupt Solyndra, Energy Secretary Steven Chu made some bold claims about the overall effectiveness of the department’s clean-energy loan programs. He also made the case that the collapse in solar panel prices — which helped sink Solyndra — was “totally unexpected” by most financial analysts at the time when the department went forward with the loan in 2009.

 There are a number of issues in dispute concerning Solyndra, but these two statements by Chu appear to be the most ripe for a fact check because they get to the heart of the issue about whether the clean-energy program is creating many jobs and whether the Energy Department should have seen the red flags concerning the Solyndra investment.


The Facts

 We always warn readers to be wary of claims about the number of jobs created by some government, congressional or corporate initiative. These are almost always suspect and based on dubious assumptions. (Chu, we should note, carefully used the word “employ” instead of “create.”)

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