The Fact Checker: 4 Pinocchios

The bogus claim that Obamacare has boosted the number of uninsured

The bogus claim that Obamacare has boosted the number of uninsured

“It’s hard to get accurate numbers on anything. But the numbers we see today is that -- as I understand them -- we believe there are more people uninsured today in Kansas than there were before the president’s health-care plan went into effect. And I thought the goal was to bring more people into insurance.”

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The most popular fact checks of March

The most popular fact checks of March

Our monthly round-up of the most popular columns is a bit late this month, as The Fact Checker has been churning out so many fact checks and Truth Teller videos that we never found a moment to post it. For the first time in months, columns about Obamacare did not dominate the list. There was also a tie for fifth place.

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Senate Majority PAC’s nonsensical attack ad in Louisiana

Senate Majority PAC’s nonsensical attack ad in Louisiana

“We’ve been battered by hurricanes, lost everything to floods. And for thousands of Louisianans, flood insurance and hurricane relief are our only protection. But the out-of-state billionaire Koch brothers funded the fight to let flood insurance premiums soar, helping the insurance companies and cut off hurricane relief for Louisiana families. Now they’re spending millions to buy a Senate seat for Bill Cassidy so he can fight for them. If the Kochs and Cassidy win, Louisiana loses.”

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McConnell’s stale, inflated claim about health-plan cancellations

McConnell’s stale, inflated claim about health-plan cancellations

“Only approximately 64,000 Kentuckians enrolling in Obamacare have enrolled in a private plan in Kentucky’s own Obamacare exchange, far fewer than the 280,000 who received cancellation notices of plans they had and liked.”

-- Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in an opinion article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, March 29

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A Democratic attack ad tries to connect the dots, and earns 4 Pinocchios

A Democratic attack ad tries to connect the dots, and earns 4 Pinocchios

“Before Congress, Cotton got paid handsomely working for insurance companies”

--voice over for new Senate Majority PAC ad attacking Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is challenging Sen. Mark Pryor (D)

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Fact Checking Vladimir Putin’s speech on Crimea (Video)

Fact Checking Vladimir Putin’s speech on Crimea (Video)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday swiftly accepted the Ukrainian province of Crimea as part of Russia, announcing his decision in a lengthy speech that reflected his suspicion of the West and his anger at U.S. actions since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A number of readers have asked us to fact check his speech. Here are some of his more dubious statements, using the official Russian translation provided by the Kremlin.

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Truth Teller: Rep. Bill Cassidy and the Koch Brothers (video)

As we announced Monday, the Truth Teller experience has now expanded to political ads.

This ad, sponsored by Senate Majority PAC, attacks Senate candidate Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), claiming he’s connected to the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch, and what it describes as their efforts to cut Social Security, end Medicare and block aid for hurricane victims. One key assertion in this ad -- that the Koch brothers have an agenda of protecting “tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas” -- has already earned Four Pinocchios.

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Boehner’s claim that Obamacare has resulted in a ‘net loss’ of people with health insurance

Boehner’s claim that Obamacare has resulted in a ‘net loss’ of people with health insurance

Reporter: “Mr. Speaker, you said a minute ago there are fewer people today with health insurance than when the law was passed. I want to make sure I understand. You’re saying that Obamacare has resulted in a net loss of insurance?”

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio): “I believe that to be the case. When you look at the 6 million Americans who have lost their policies and some -- they claim 4.2 million people who have signed up -- I don’t know how many have actually paid for it -- that would indicate to me a net loss of people with health insurance. And I actually do believe that to be the case.”

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Democrats claim the Koch brothers want to ‘protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas’

Democrats claim the Koch brothers want to ‘protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas’

“Out-of-state billionaires spending millions to rig the system and elect Bill Cassidy. Their goal: Another politician bought and paid for. Their agenda: Protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas. Cut Social Security and end Medicare as we know it. They even tried to kill relief for hurricane victims. Cassidy’s billion-dollar backers: They’ve got a plan for him. It’s not good for Louisiana.”

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A story too good to check: Paul Ryan and the tale of the brown paper bag

A story too good to check: Paul Ryan and the tale of the brown paper bag

“The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my buddy, Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”

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Republican operative targets Democrat for expressing interest in a deficit plan touted by Republicans

Republican operative targets Democrat for expressing interest in a deficit plan touted by Republicans

“Alex Sink supports a plan that raises the retirement age for Social Security recipients, raises Social Security taxes and cuts Medicare, all while making it harder for Pinellas seniors to keep their doctors that they know and love. Sending Alex Sink to Washington guarantees that seniors right here in Pinellas County are in jeopardy of losing the Social Security and Medicare benefits that they have earned and deserve.”

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The most popular fact checks of February (Obamacare and the Clintons dominate the list)

The most popular fact checks of February (Obamacare and the Clintons dominate the list)

Fact checks about the Affordable Care Act continue to dominate our monthly roundup of the most widely read fact checks, but two columns about former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also made it into the top five. That suggests there is still intense interest in the once and possibly future president.

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Rep. Darrell Issa disputes his Four-Pinocchio ratings

Rep. Darrell Issa disputes his Four-Pinocchio ratings

CHRIS WALLACE: That brings up my final question for you, because you have come under fire both in the IRS and Benghazi and other investigations of your committee for political witch hunts. They point specifically to a speech you gave to GOP fundraiser in New Hampshire in February about the Benghazi terror attack. Here’s a clip.

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Obama’s claim that 7 million got ‘access to health care for the first time’ because of his Medicaid expansion

Obama’s claim that 7 million got ‘access to health care for the first time’ because of his Medicaid expansion

“We’ve got close to 7 million Americans who have access to health care for the first time because of Medicaid expansion.”

-- President Obama, remarks during dinner with the Democratic Governors Association, Feb. 20, 2014

The Fact Checker has written several times about the fuzziness of the Medicaid numbers issued by the Obama administration. But it is like playing whack-a-mole. Every time we rap someone for getting it wrong, the same problem pops up someplace else.

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Issa’s ‘suspicions’ that Hillary Clinton told Panetta to ‘stand down’ on Benghazi

Issa’s ‘suspicions’ that Hillary Clinton told Panetta to ‘stand down’ on Benghazi

“We need to have an answer of when the secretary of defense had assets that he could have begun spinning up. Why there was not one order given to turn on one Department of Defense asset? I have my suspicions, which is Secretary Clinton told Leon [Panetta] to stand down, and we all heard about the stand-down order for two military personnel. That order is undeniable. They were told not to get on -- get off the airplane and kind of stand by -- and they’re going to characterize it wasn’t stand down. But when we’re done with Benghazi, the real question is, was there a stand-down order to Leon Panetta or did he just not do his job? Was there a stand-down order from the president who said he told them to use their resources and they didn’t use them? Those questions have to be answered.”

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A discredited 4-Pinocchio survey gets cited again on national television

A discredited 4-Pinocchio survey gets cited again on national television

“Many employers are not hiring people because of Obamacare, 70 percent in some of the surveys of small businesses are saying that Obamacare is already harming their ability to hire people.”

-- Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Feb. 9, 2014

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Durbin’s claim that 10 million now have health insurance because of Obamacare

Durbin’s claim that 10 million now have health insurance because of Obamacare

“Bob, let’s look at the bottom line. The bottom line is this: 10 million Americans have health insurance today who would not have had it without the Affordable Care Act. Ten million.”

-- Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Feb. 9, 2014

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Four Pinocchios for an over-the-top ad attacking the Keystone XL pipeline

Four Pinocchios for an over-the-top ad attacking the Keystone XL pipeline

“Chinese government-backed interests have invested thirty billion dollars in Canadian tar sands development. And China just bought one of Canada’s largest producers. They’re counting on the U.S. to approve TransCanada’s pipeline to ship oil through America’s heartland and out to foreign countries like theirs.”

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The most popular fact checks of 2013

The most popular fact checks of 2013

For the first time, we are presenting a list of our 10 most popular fact checks during the past year. (There’s a tie for 10th place, so it’s really 11.)

Readers will notice that many of the most widely read columns are about President Obama, especially if he earned a poor ruling. Judging from our daily traffic reports, it appears that that right-leaning Web sites and blogs are quicker to circulate such articles than the left-leaning blogosphere.

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The bogus claim that Obama is ‘closing’ the Vatican embassy

The bogus claim that Obama is ‘closing’ the Vatican embassy

“Why would our President close our Embassy to the Vatican? Hopefully, it is not retribution for Catholic organizations opposing Obamacare”

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Obama’s pledge that ‘no one will take away’ your health plan

Obama’s pledge that ‘no one will take away’ your health plan

“That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

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Obama’s claim that non-budget items have ‘never’ been attached to the debt ceiling

Obama’s claim that non-budget items have ‘never’ been attached to the debt ceiling

“You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt being used to extort a president or a governing party and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and nothing to do with the debt.”

— President Obama, remarks to the Business Roundtable, Sept. 18, 2013

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Has Mitch McConnell done ‘nothing’ in the fight against Obamacare?

Has Mitch McConnell done ‘nothing’ in the fight against Obamacare?

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“He does nothing to actually fight. He has never stood on the floor of the Senate to try to actually rally against this [Obamacare].”

--Matt Bevin, challenger to Sen. Mitt McConnell (R-Ky.), in an interview with CQ-Roll Call (1:50 mark)

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Kerry’s claim that he opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq

Kerry’s claim that he opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq

“You know, Senator Chuck Hagel, when he was senator, Senator Chuck Hagel, now secretary of defense, and when I was a senator, we opposed the president’s decision to go into Iraq, but we know full well how that evidence was used to persuade all of us that authority ought to be given.”

— Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in an interview with MSNBC, Sept. 5, 2013

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Harry Reid’s claim that the sequester has ‘already cut 1.6 million jobs’

((J. Scott Applewhite/AP))

“We have learned that the sequestration already has cut 1.6 million jobs. So we need job creation. We need to help the middle class by creating jobs.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), floor speech, July 31, 2013

Reid’s comment jumped out at us — 1.6 million jobs have already been lost because of the sequester? That seemed rather large.

The sequester, of course, is the automatic across-the-board spending cuts that were imposed March 1 when Republicans and Democrats could not reach agreement on a budget plan. The actual impact of the cuts has been in dispute, and we wrote a number of columns about fishy statistics that appeared to exaggerate the possible impact on the federal government.  A follow-up review in June by The Washington Post found that claims of a breakdown in government services were, in fact, overblown.

Still, the furloughs of federal employees, the cutbacks to contractors and reductions in government services clearly have some sort of ripple effect across the economy. (Indeed, even the Edward Snowden leak case appears to have sprung from the sequester.) 

Reid’s spokesman, Adam Jentleson, did not respond to queries, so we had to do a bit of searching to figure out Reid’s logic.


The Facts

The most obvious source for Reid’s figure is a Congressional Budget Office estimate that was released July 25, spawning a few news stories. CBO director Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote that if the sequester were canceled, it would boost employment between 300,000 and 1.6 million in the 2014 fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30, 2014).

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A misleading ‘Obamacare’ poll, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce and Harris Interactive

A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled “The Impact of Obamacare,” in Littleton, N.H., in this Oct. 27, 2012, file photo. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters - Reuters)

“Despite the Administration’s delay of the employer mandate by a year, small businesses expect the requirement to negatively impact their employees. 27% say they will cut hours to reduce full time employees, 24% will reduce hiring, and 23% plan to replace full time employees (30 hours per week or more) with part-time workers to avoid triggering the mandate.”

— United States Chamber of Commerce Small Business Outlook Study, conducted by Harris Interactive, released July 16, 2013

We have long warned readers about the perils of relying on data from opt-in Internet polls, especially those that make broad claims about estimating population values. We have given Pinocchios both to President Obama, for relying on an opt-in poll when he claimed that a majority of millionaires support the Buffett rule, and the National Rifle Association, for asserting that an opt-in poll reflected the views of the nation’s police.

This is a yet another case, but with a wrinkle. Here, the polling company, Harris Interactive, and the sponsor, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, presented the data in a highly misleading way — and then made false claims about the type of poll that had been conducted.

The Chamber has been a fierce opponent of the health-care law, a.k.a. Obamacare, and we frequently warn readers they should always be skeptical of polls peddled by partisan organizations. Perhaps it should be no surprise that this poll was released just as the GOP-led House of Representatives scheduled a vote to repeal the law.

Given the way the data was presented, Republican lawmakers thought they had been handed a gift — and ended up with egg on their faces.

Looking at the language in the report, highlighted above, is it any wonder that House Speaker John A. Boehner would tweet: “Study: ‘74% of small businesses will fire workers, cut hours under #Obamacare.’”

Or that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would write: “75% of small businesses now say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours.”

Of course, that was the intended message. If there was any doubt, Chamber senior vice president Rob Engstrom tweeted a thank-you to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly for mentioning the survey on the air, adding: “74% will fire or reduce hours bc of employer mandate.”

But that’s not what the survey says — not by a long shot. Let’s dig into the data.

The Facts

In an apparent effort to give the poll statistical authority, Harris included this line: “Margin of sampling error: +/- 2.5 percentage points.” That is supposed to mean that 95 out of 100 times the poll was conducted, the numbers in the poll should fall within in that range.

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4 Pinocchios for Rep. Steve King’s claim on valedictorians and smugglers

(Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES)

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another hundred out there who weigh a hundred and thirty pounds—and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling seventy-five pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

--Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), interview with NewsMax, July 18, 2013

“You know, you only get one valedictorian per class per year. And they aren’t all dreamers. And a lot of other American kids out here that are competing for that valedictorian status. But every night there are dozens and scores of people that are smuggling drugs across our border. … This isn’t something that just was made up out of thin air. This is something I get from the people enforcing the law down on the border.”

--King, interview on CNN, July 24

“I got a call from them [border control agents] yesterday, and I said, ‘Did I need to come back down and refresh myself?’ They said, ‘No, you’re spot on with what you’re saying but maybe you got the weight ten pounds up.’”

--King, interview on Fox News, July 27

Despite being lambasted by top Republican officials for his initial “cantaloupe” remarks in a Newsmax interview, Rep. Steve King has stood his ground. He insists that for every child of an illegal immigrant who is a valedictorian, there are another hundred who are drug smugglers—a claim that he says was not “made up out of thin air.” In fact, he added, it “was probably understated.”

King’s claim is aimed at undercutting support for providing a pathway to citizenship for so-called “DREAMers,” people who came to the United States illegally as children. Under the proposed DREAM Act, people between the ages of 12 and 35 who came to the United States aged 15 and younger and meet a list of qualifications, as such obtaining a high school degree and having “good moral character,” can eventually become citizens.

He also asserted over the weekend that many of his Republican colleagues privately tell him that his facts are correct.

Here at The Fact Checker, we place the burden on politicians to provide evidence for incendiary claims. But King’s office has not responded to our queries—or to requests from our colleagues at PolitiFact and, who have also tried to vet this claim.

But King has offered clues about why he believes in this claim, so let’s explore what we know. Does the math (one valedictorian to every 100 drug smugglers) even begin to add up?

The Facts

King’s reference to valedictorians is likely a knock at the Democrats who highlighted one such case-- Benita Veliz of San Antonio—at last year’s Democratic National Convention. Veliz was the first undocumented immigrant who spoke at a national political convention.

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The case of ‘zombie’ voters in South Carolina

“We just recently learned that there are over 900 individuals who had died before the election (and had voted) and at least 600 of those individuals had died way outside the window that an absentee ballot could have been sent, so we know for a fact that there are deceased people whose identities are being used in elections in South Carolina.”

— South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson (R), on Fox News, Jan. 21, 2012

“We found out that there were over 900 people who died and then subsequently voted. That number could be even higher than that.”

— Wilson, on Fox News, Jan. 12, 2012

“Without Photo ID, let’s be clear, I don’t want dead people voting in the state of South Carolina.”

— South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), in an interview that aired on Fox News, April 21, 2012

We don’t normally delve into statements so long after they were made, but this is an unusual case, brought to our attention by a reader.

Take a look at the rather definitive statements made by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, such as “we know for a fact that there are deceased people whose identities are being used in elections in South Carolina.”

This was a rather shocking claim, which stemmed from allegations made by Kevin Shwedo, executive director of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles. (“Well over 900 individuals appear to have voted after they died.”) One state lawmaker famously declared: “We must have certainty in South Carolina that zombies aren’t voting.”

Haley did not entirely jump on the same factual bandwagon, though she made her statement on a Fox News program devoted to voter fraud. The Fox correspondent immediately followed her statement with these words: “Authorities say there is evidence that dead people voting is a real problem, according to a statewide investigation by South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In January, it found that 953 ballots were cast by voters who are deceased.”

The allegations emerged as South Carolina officials sought to impose a new voter photo ID law during the 2012 election; a federal court delayed it from taking effect until 2013.

Claims of voter irregularities often generate big headlines, but the follow-up generates much less attention. Believe it or not, the results of the full investigation into these claims has only now been revealed. So was any of this true?

The Facts

The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) conducted an extensive probe, which was completed May 11, 2012. But the final report was just made public this month after a 13-month review by Wilson’s office. In fact, the report was only released after Corey Hutchins of the Columbia (S.C.) Free Times submitted an open records request under the Freedom of Information Act. He received the report the day before the 4th of July holiday — perfect timing for news designed to be buried.

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Rand Paul’s suggestion he looks to Eisenhower for ‘inspiration and guidance’

((Timothy D. Easley/AP))

“For inspiration and guidance, I often look towards America’s great military leaders. Some of the best observations on war and diplomacy come from the president who was also one of our most decorated generals, Dwight Eisenhower.”

“Unlike Eisenhower and earlier generations, we often don’t think before we act. I think many in Washington do things in our foreign policy to accomplish short-term goals but that ultimately hurt our national interests.”

“We have trouble telling friend from foe in Afghanistan. Syria is a thousand-fold more chaotic. Even our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, warns that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell friend from foe in Syria. Would Eisenhower, who believed small wars could lead to big wars, buy into such nonsense?”

“President Eisenhower said: ‘I have one yardstick by which I test every major problem — and that yardstick is: Is it good for America?’”

“We must be more prudent in our foreign policy. Eisenhower was right to observe that little wars can often lead to big wars.”

— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, July 22, 2013

It is important to learn the lessons of history. But what if the history you know is not really the history that happened?

We wondered about this as we read Sen. Rand Paul’s speech this week to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. As shown in the quotes above, Paul repeatedly referenced Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president, as a model for Paul’s argument for a foreign policy that drastically cuts foreign aid and minimalizes overseas entanglements.

Interestingly, President Obama apparently views his fellow golf-loving predecessor as a model, too, especially for his “hidden hand” approach to governing.

We have previously examined Paul’s misstatements on foreign aid, which he repeated in this speech. And while his claim in the speech that in Benghazi, Libya, the late Ambassador Christopher Stevens “pleaded for more security before the attacks and the secretary of state ignored his pleas” is certainly worthy of Pinocchios, both The Fact Checker and PolitiFact have dealt with similar claims in the past.

So let’s examine Paul’s suggestion that Eisenhower is a reflection of his foreign policy views.

The Facts

Eisenhower, who was president from 1953 to 1961, was of course no stranger to military conflict. He served as supreme Allied commander for the invasion of Normandy during World War II.

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The first Virginia debate: McAuliffe versus Cuccinelli

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, left, gestures during a debate with Democratic challenger Terry McAuliffe, right, during the Virginia Bar Association convention debate at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., on July 20, 2013. (Steve Helber/AP - AP)

On Saturday, our colleague Errin Whack looked at some of the competing claims in the first Virginia gubernatorial debate between businessman Terry McAuliffe (D) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R). Here is our take on two of the candidates’ more dubious claims; we may examine others in the future. 


“If you read the report, which I have done, it says the attorney general should have been prosecuted, but Virginia laws are insufficient.”

— McAuliffe


 McAuliffe was roundly criticized for this remark, which earned him an instant “Pants on Fire” from PolitiFact Virginia. For example, here’s how The Washington Post headlined its article on the report by a state prosecutor: “Ken Cuccinelli didn’t break law by not disclosing Star Scientific stock, prosecutor says.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch called the report “a significant political boost for Cuccinelli.”

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Are college students being overcharged on loans to pay for ‘Obamacare’?

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) speaks to reporters on July 9 as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) listens. (Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES)

“The Democrats, when they passed the health care law, took $50 billion from over-charging students and used it to reduce the debt, pay for Pell grants, and to pay for the health-care bill. And they’re still doing that.”

--Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), remarks to reporters, July 9, 2013

Note: The Pinocchio rating on this column has been changed since the column was first posted

We delved last week into the arcane accounting rules concerning federal student loans –in which tens of billions of dollars in “profits” can be turned into deficits depending on the method you use. Now let’s look at another claim regarding these loans—that students are being overcharged to pay for the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The Facts

When the health-care law was passed in 2010, Democrats slipped in massive changes to student-loan programs, essentially cutting banks out of the business. In the official score of the health-care bill by the Congressional Budget Office, ending federal guarantees for federal loans and replacing them with direct loans made by the Education Department would yield $58 billion between 2010 and 2019.

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Harry Reid’s claim that Congress ranks lower than North Korea


“Is there anyone out there in the world, real world, that believes that what`s going on in the Congress of the United States is good? Our approval rating is lower than North Korea`s.”

--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” July 14, 2013


This line by Harry Reid is a good one, earning him headlines as he made the case for rules reform in the Senate, but it almost seemed too good to be true. Is Congress really held in lower esteem than the xenophobic communist government in Pyongyang?


The Facts

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson pointed us to two different Gallup polls. One, from June, found that “confidence” in Congress was at 10 percent. The second, from March, found that the “favorability” for North Korea was at 12 percent.

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4 Pinocchios for the latest ‘Mediscare’ ad

“Tom Cotton, just elected and already seeking the national limelight. Behind the glitz, Tom Cotton forgot about us. Supporting a plan that the Wall Street Journal said essentially ends Medicare, costing some seniors 6,000 [dollars] more a year, while voting Congress taxpayer-funded health care for life. Congressman Cotton: out for himself, not us.”

— voiceover of a new ad, “Glitz,” by Patriot Majority USA and Senate Majority PAC

It’s been a while since we delved into the Medicare wars. But when we saw this new attack ad against Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), from Patriot Majority USA and Senate Majority PAC, it brought back lots of bad memories. 

Seriously, The Fact Checker, PolitiFact and FactCheck.Org have all called these claims into question when they were used by the Obama campaign and other Democrats in 2012.

As our colleague Rachel Weiner noted, the ad appeared to be a “preemptive strike” against a rising star who might challenge vulnerable Sen. Mark Pryor (D). But can’t get these guys come up with some new talking points?

Time for a refresher course!


The Facts

The ad, like similar attacks last year, tries to give itself credibility by citing The Wall Street Journal, which has a conservative-leaning editorial page. But it is quoting from a 2011 news article about a House Republican plan for Medicare — and badly truncates the quote. This is the complete sentence: 

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Are the French earning billions off of Lindsey Graham’s nuclear plant?

“Worse, [Sen. Lindsey] Graham’s pork-barrel project is run by a French company — sending tax-dollars overseas.”

voiceover in television ad placed by Friends of the Earth, released June 19, 2013

This ad by an environmental group, attacking a pet project of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), caught our attention with its claim that the ultimate beneficiary of taxpayer funds spent on a South Carolina nuclear project is “a French company.” The ad even ends with a snorting pig (representing a pork-barrel project) dressed up in a beret, French striped shirt and French-looking mustache.

Last year, conservative groups attacked the Obama administration for supposedly sending American jobs overseas with U.S. taxpayer money. In those ads — which we found worthy of Pinocchios — the bad guys were China, Mexico and even Finland. As we noted:

We live in a globalized world. American companies make products overseas; foreign companies make products in the United States. Sometimes parts are made in a variety of places overseas and then assembled in the United States. That’s a fact of life, and these ads frequently confuse the difference, so that any hint of foreign involvement is depicted as a bad thing.


So now a liberal group is throwing similar charges at a conservative senator. Do they have any more grounds to stand on?  We take no position on whether the project is a boondoggle or a waste of taxpayer funds; there are certainly valid questions that could be raised about it.


The Facts

The ad concerns the construction of a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility, known as the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. The project — now costing at least $7 billion — is certainly troubled and its costs are soaring.  The Center for Public Integrity published a lengthy and fascinating look Monday at the nuclear nonproliferation diplomacy with Russia that led to the construction of this plant, which is designed to recycle plutonium from weapons into fuel for commercial reactors. The article, part of a four-part series on the project, argues that the United States got the short end of the deal.  

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Michele Bachmann: A Fact Checker’s dream


The announcement that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is not seeking reelection will leave the Capitol a much less interesting place to fact check. As one of our colleagues put it, “The entire fact checking industry may have to hold a national day of mourning.”

Bachmann is not just fast and loose with the facts; she is consistently and unapologetically so. No other lawmaker earned as high a percentage of Four-Pinocchio ratings as Bachmann — and she earned an average of more than Three Pinocchios as a presidential candidate. Thus she provided a window into the no-holds-barred politics that has come to characterize modern-day Washington.

Just this year, she has earned four Four-Pinocchio ratings. Below are links to those columns — as well as a round-up of her worst campaign-related comments. Click on the headline to read the full column.

‘Barack Obama has a $1.4 billion-a-year presidency of perks and excess’

Bachmann claimed that President Obama spent $1.4 billion on perks in the White House. But most of this money was for Secret Service protection and helicopters — and Obama’s spending appeared to be lower than that for George W. Bush.

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Bachmann’s absurd claim of a vast IRS health database of ‘sensitive, intimate’ information

(Molly Riley/AP)

“So now we find out these people are making decisions based on our politics and beliefs, and they’re going to be in charge of our health care. There’s a huge national database that’s being created right now. Your health care, my health care, all the Fox viewers health care, their personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest secrets will be in that database, and the IRS is in charge of that database? So the IRS will have the ability potentially deny health care, to deny access, to delay health care.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), on Fox News, May 15, 2013

 “When people realize that their most personal, sensitive, intimate, private health-care information is in the hands of the IRS that’s been willing to use people’s tax information against political opponents of this administration, then people have pause and they pull back in horror.”

— Bachmann, on ABC News/Yahoo, May 20


With the Internal Revenue Service in the news, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has taken the opportunity to marry that scandal with her ongoing battle against the president’s health-care law, a.k.a. “Obamacare.”

The picture she has sketched is pretty frightening — that the “most personal, sensitive, intimate, private health-care information is in the hands of the IRS” via a vast database. Indeed, even though our colleagues at PolitiFact and FactCheck.Org have beaten us to the punch on this language, the issues she has raised have generated enough buzz on the blogosphere that we believe we should weigh in as well.  

What is Bachmann talking about?


The Facts

Since the health-care mandate is effectively a tax — most Americans will either need to have health insurance or pay a penalty — the IRS was given an important role in administering various tax credits and penalties that are part of the law. This is part of a long-term trend to provide social benefits via the tax code. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson noted in her 2010 annual report that “the increasing use of the IRS to administer benefit programs is placing significant strains on the IRS’s limited resources and requiring the IRS to perform tasks that go well beyond its current mission statement.”

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GOP lawmaker questions how Harry Reid ‘obtained’ false claims about Mitt Romney’s taxes

J. Russell George, U.S. Treasury inspector general for tax administration, from left, Douglas Shulman, former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS’s exempt organizations office, and Neal S. Wolin, deputy secretary of the Treasury, are sworn in during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday. (Pete Marovich/BLOOMBERG - BLOOMBERG)

REP. PAUL GOSAR: “Are you aware that in July 2012 Senator Harry Reid claimed Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for the last 10 years and claimed to have the information supporting that? Are you aware of that? I’m sure you are.”

FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER DOUG SHULMAN: “I have a recollection of reading that in the paper.”

GOSAR: “Do you know how Mr. Reid obtained that information? Did you look into this?”

SHULMAN: “I have no idea how he...”

GOSAR: “Doesn’t that alarm you that — all of a sudden, this pertinent information comes up, you’re the head of this agency, and you’re not asking questions? Shame on you. Absolutely shame on you.”

— Exchange at House Oversight Committee hearing, May 22, 2013


 Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) brought up the question of Mitt Romney’s taxes after inquiring about two other cases involving alleged Internal Revenue Service leaks — one supposedly involving White House aide Austan Goolsbee and another involving not-for-profit journalism organization ProPublica. Former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman responded that Inspector General inquiries were launched in the first two instances, but he seemed puzzled by the Romney reference.

Small wonder. Reid’s assertion was not very credible to begin with — he earned Four Pinocchios for making an unsupported claim. Let’s quickly review the history.


The Facts

Reid took aim at Romney after the Republican nominee took the unusual step of refusing to release more than two years of his tax returns. Reid, on the floor of the Senate, charged that “the word’s out that he [Romney] hasn’t paid any taxes for 10 years.” (At other times, he asserted the period was 12 years.) Reid originally said he learned this from a person who had invested with Bain Capital, Romney’s former firm, but then he said that “a number of people” had told him this claim.

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A bushel of Pinocchios for IRS’s Lois Lerner

(Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

In the days since the Internal Revenue Service first disclosed that it had targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, new information has emerged from both the Treasury inspector general’s report and congressional testimony Friday that calls into question key statements made by Lois G. Lerner, the IRS’s director of the exempt organizations division.

The clumsy way the IRS disclosed the issue, as well as Lerner’s press briefing by phone, were seen at the time as a public relations disaster. But even so, it is worth reviewing three key statements made by Lerner and comparing them to the facts that have since emerged.

“But between 2010 and 2012, we started seeing a very big uptick in the number of 501(c)(4) applications we were receiving, and many of these organizations applying more than doubled, about 1500 in 2010 and over 3400 in 2012.”

Lerner made this comment while issuing a seemingly impromptu apology at an American Bar Association panel. (It was later learned that this was a planted question — more on that below.) In her telling, the tax-exempt branch was simply overwhelmed by applications, and so unfortunate shortcuts were taken.

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Obama’s claim he called Benghazi an ‘act of terrorism’


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

— President Obama, remarks at a news conference, May 13, 2013

Once again, it appears that we must parse a few presidential words. We went through this question at length during the 2012 election, but perhaps a refresher course is in order.

Notably, during a debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, President Obama said that he immediately told the American people that the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya “was an act of terror.” But now he says he called it “an act of terrorism.”

Some readers may object to this continuing focus on words, but presidential aides spend a lot of time on words. Words have consequences. Is there a difference between “act of terror” and “act of terrorism”?

The Facts

Immediately after the attack, the president three times used the phrase “act of terror” in public statements:

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Cherry-picking one survey to discredit a survey of scientists on climate change

File photo of smoke from a bush fire on the outskirts of Labertouche, 56 miles east of Melbourne, Australia, on Feb. 7, 2009, after a "once in a century" heat wave sparked dozens of blazes across the country. Scientists are struggling to explain a slowdown in climate change that has exposed gaps in their understanding and defies a rise in global greenhouse gas emissions. (MICK TSIKAS/REUTERS - REUTERS)

“There is also uncertainty regarding to what degree man is to blame for global warming. However, the claim that 98 percent of scientists agree that humans are the singular driver of climate change has been repeatedly discounted. This oft-cited statistic is based on an online survey with a sample size of only 77 people, and the survey didn’t even ask to what degree humans contribute to climate change.”

— Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment, in an opinion article, April 13, 2013

Stewart is a freshman lawmaker who ended up with a plum position: heading a House panel on the environment. In an opinion article for the Salt Lake Tribune, he struck a cautious stance on climate change, arguing that the science is “anything but settled.”

He, for instance, cited an interesting Economist article that the climate may be heating up less quickly in response to greenhouse gas emissions than previously thought. (He did not mention that the article also said “that does not mean the problem is going away.”)

For the purposes of this fact check, we will look at his claim about the 98 percent statistic, which he says “has been repeatedly discounted” and is based just on a survey of 77 people. What’s he talking about?

The Facts

Stewart is referring to a survey done for the American Geophysical Union in 2009 by researchers for the University of Illinois in Chicago. Peter Doran, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, along with former graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, in 2008 sent a simple survey with nine questions to more than 10,000 experts listed in the 2007 edition of the American Geological Institute’s directory of geoscience departments.

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Is the FBI unable to ‘talk about jihad’?

Undated file photos shows Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, left, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. The FBI says the two brothers are the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. (AP Photo/The Lowell Sun & Robin Young, File)

“We see with the new FBI terminology and the new intelligence terminology, they can’t talk about the enemy. They can’t talk about jihad. They can’t talk about Muslim. They can’t talk about Islam.”

— Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), speech on the House floor, April 26, 2013

Has the FBI been hamstrung in its investigation of the Boston Marathon bombers because of a “purge” of training materials deemed by the Obama administration to be offensive to various ethnic and religious groups?

That’s a claim that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) keeps raising on the House floor and in media interviews — a point echoed by Sean Hannity on Fox News. (Hannity cites Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) as his source.)

Gohmert is a controversial figure who also recently made the unsubstantiated charge that the Obama administration is staffed with “many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence.” That’s a bizarre assertion, mostly ignored. But his comments on FBI practices have gained wide circulation, so let’s explore the basis of that claim.


The Facts

The Obama administration’s review, led by a five-member panel of experts on Islam, was originally spurred by reporting by, which posted a number of documents indicating stereotypes and broad generalizations in training of FBI recruits. The American Civil Liberties Union also posted many documents that it obtained through Freedom of Information requests.  

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Obama group misleadingly cites a vote on a climate change bill

“Number of House members who voted in 2011 that climate change was a ‘hoax’: 240”

— text of a new video by Obama political arm, Organizing for Action


President Obama’s new political group, Organizing for Action, last week released a new video that mocks Republican lawmakers for appearing to play down or dismiss concerns about climate change. Some of the clips are fairly interesting — or amusing, depending on your perspective. It has already been viewed more than 225,000 times on You Tube.

We’ve written before about the growing consensus among climate researchers that climate change is the result of human activity; there’s little debate about that among scientists, though surveys show increasing skepticism among the American public. But we were intrigued by the video’s claim that 240 House lawmakers had declared climate change to be a “hoax.”

Officials at OFA did not respond to repeated queries about the video, but our colleagues at FactCheck.Org report that the “240” number refers to a vote on an amendment offered by House Democrats, which failed 184 to 240,  to a Republican-crafted bill on regulating greenhouse gases. So let’s dig into what actually happened.


The Facts

 The underlying bill, known as the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, was intended to thwart an effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate gases believed to affect climate change. It would have amended the Clean Air Act to prevent the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide, methane and at least five other gases, instead leaving such policy decisions in the hands of Congress.

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Bachmann’s claim that she voted against the ‘sequester’ bill because of cuts to the poor


(Glen Stubbe/AP)

“There were numerous Republicans that voted against the sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future. And so it reminds me of the Shakespeare line: ‘Thou protestest too much.’ Didn’t you know this was going to happen? We knew it. That’s why we voted against this bill.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), on the House floor, April 26, 2013

During the House of Representative debate over the bill that ended the furloughs of air traffic controllers, Rep. Michele Bachmann responded to comments by Democrats decrying the impact of the sequester on poorer Americans, notably reductions in programs such as Head Start, Meals on Wheels and nutrition programs for children.

“That breaks everyone’s hearts,” Bachmann said, before blaming the sequester on President Obama and fellow Democrats. She added that she had voted against the Budget Control Act because she knew such “calamities” would happen.

The Fact Checker has concluded that the White House first conceived of the sequester, while also casting doubt on some sequester predictions made by the White House. But we were curious about Bachmann’s suggestion that she voted against the 2011 Budget Control Act because she was worried about the impact on poorer segments of the population.

We will leave aside the accuracy of her Shakespearean quotation.  


The Facts

The Budget Control Act was the result of a bipartisan agreement to head off a looming default on the national debt. It called for $900 billion in discretionary program cuts over 10 years, plus an additional $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts (“sequestration”) if Congress and the White House could not reach further agreement. It passed on a vote of 269 to 161, largely with the support of Republicans. Democrats split over the bill, 95 to 95, while Republicans backed it by a margin of 174 to 66.

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Issa’s absurd claim that Clinton’s ‘signature’ means she personally approved it

(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

“The secretary of state was just wrong. She said she did not participate in this, and yet only a few months before the attack, she outright denied security in her signature in a cable, April 2012.”

— Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on “Fox and Friends,” April 24, 2013

House Republicans issued a scathing report this week on the Obama administration’s handling of the terror attack last year on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The report — endorsed by five committee chairmen — has some interesting information in it, particularly in raising questions about how the infamous talking points on the incident were crafted.

One of the headline items in the report was the claim that an April 19, 2012, State Department cable acknowledged a request from the embassy in Libya for additional security assets but ordered that a planned drawdown would proceed as scheduled. “The cable response to Tripoli bears Secretary Clinton’s signature,” the report said, referring to the message as “the April cable from Clinton.”

Clinton told Congress that the security issues in Libya “did not come to my attention or above the assistant secretary level.” The State Department’s Accountability Review Board report on the incident backs her up, saying that failure to provide proper security was the result of decisions made at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department.

But Fox host Brian Kilmeade all but accused Clinton of perjury when he interviewed Issa, saying the report “sharply contradicts her sworn testimony.… [It] is in direct contradiction of what she told everybody, told the country.”

In response, Issa asserted that “she outright denied security in her signature in a cable.”

The Fact Checker spent nine years covering the State Department, and so these claims about a “signature” seemed rather odd. Let’s explore what this really means.


The Facts

Cable is a bit of an old-fashioned word, but then the State Department — the nation’s first Cabinet department — is a tradition-bound organization. These days, State Department cables in effect are group e-mails, which are stored in a database and made available to people with the proper security clearances.

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Rand Paul’s rewriting of his own remarks on the Civil Rights Act

"It's a mischaracterization of my position. I've never been against the Civil Rights Act, ever, and I continue to be for the Civil Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act. There was a long, one interview that had a long, extended conversation about the ramifications beyond race, and I have been concerned about the ramifications of certain portions of the Civil Rights Act beyond race, as they are now being applied to smoking, menus, listing calories and things on menus, and guns. And so I do question some of the ramifications and the extensions but I never questioned the Civil Rights Act and never came out in opposition to the Civil Rights Act or ever introduced anything to alter the Civil Rights Act."

— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), during a speech at Howard University, April 10, 2013

There’s an old rule in politics: If it’s too complicated to explain, you are probably in trouble.

 Paul, a potential GOP candidate for the 2016 presidential election, gave an interesting speech on Wednesday to historically black Howard University, but his remarks were overshadowed by his attempt to explain the controversy over his 2010 comments on the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 “I have never wavered in my support for civil rights and the Civil Rights Act,” he said in his speech. “The dispute, if there is one, has always been about how much of the remedy should come under federal or state or private purview.”

 But then Paul expanded on his remarks in the question-and-answer period, saying in response to a tough question that he had been concerned really only about the “ramifications and extensions” of the Civil Rights Act. We sought an explanation from Paul’s staff but did not get a response. So let’s go to the video tape!


The Facts

The Civil Rights Act was pushed by President Lyndon Johnson but likely would not have become law without the shrewd legislative gamesmanship of then-Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois. Dirksen figured out a way to bring along wavering Republicans, in order to break a lengthy filibuster led by Southern Democrats, by carefully tweaking a House bill to reduce federal intervention in local matters — but not enough to force a rewriting of the whole bill in the House.

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Bachmann’s claim that 70 percent of food stamps go to ‘bureaucrats’

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“Here's the truth that the president won't tell you. Of every dollar that you hold in your hands, 70 cents of that dollar that's supposed to go to the poor doesn't. It actually goes to benefit the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. 70 cents on the dollar. That's how the president's caring works in practice. So $3 in food stamps for the needy, $7 in salaries and pensions for the bureaucrats who are supposed to be taking care of the poor. So with all due respect, I ask you, how does this show that our president cares about the poor?”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, March 16, 2013


Some readers might question why we are checking a statement by Bachmann for a second day in a row. We concede that it might seem a bit much, but her assertions often reflect comments that have bounced around, unchecked, in the blogosphere.

So we were especially curious about the “truth” that 70 percent of the Food Stamp program went to “bureaucrats.” It took us a while to track down the original source of this claim, but it turns out that he believes he has been frequently misquoted. So, with all due respect to Rep. Bachmann, it seems worthwhile to set the record straight.

Remember that child’s game of telephone, in which the whispered information gets increasingly distorted? That’s what happened here.


The Facts

There are two key parts to Bachmann’s statement. First, that 70 percent of the money that is supposed to go to the poor actually goes “to benefit the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.” Second, that this translates into just $3 (out of every $10) in food stamps going to the needy.

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Bachmann’s claim that Barack Obama has a ‘$1.4 billion-a-year presidency’ of ‘perks and excess’

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“A new book is out talking about the perks and the excess of the $1.4-billion-a-year presidency that we’re paying for. And this is a lifestyle that is one of excess. Now we find out that there are five chefs on Air Force One. There are two projectionists who operate the White House movie theater. They regularly sleep at the White House in order to be readily available in case the first family wants a really, really late show. And I don’t mean to be petty here, but can’t they just push the play button? We are also the ones who are paying for someone to walk the president’s dog, paying for someone to walk the president’s dog? Now, why are we doing that when we can’t even get a disabled veteran into the White House for a White House tour? That isn’t caring!”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, March 16, 2013

During last year’s GOP presidential race, Bachmann racked up the highest ratio of Four-Pinocchio comments, so just about everything she says needs to be checked and doublechecked before it is reported.

In this case, Bachmann appears to be citing the self-published book “Presidential Perks Gone Royal,” by Republican lobbyist Robert Keith Gray, though one wonders whether she actually read the book — which is only 131 pages — or just read a summary that appeared in the Daily Caller, since many of her points are highlighted in the Daily Caller article.

The Fact Checker read the book so that you don’t have to. It provides no specific sourcing for any of its claims, though in the back it provides a list of articles and books that presumably the author consulted. He claims that the book is not intended as an attack on President Obama, but only on the imperial trappings of the presidency, though the subtitle of the book is: “Your taxes are being used for Obama’s re-election.”

Bachmann, however, framed it as an attack on Obama, and we will examine her claims in that context. How does Obama compare with other presidents?

The Facts

Bachmann’s headline figure is that Obama’s presidency costs $1.4 billion a year. Gray never quite explains how he developed that figure, though another self-published book, “The 1.4 Billion Dollar Man: Costs of the Obama White House,” by self-help writer John F. Groom, attempts to provide a breakdown. But what is quickly apparent is that this number covers every possible expense, including many having to do with the security that is necessary to protect the president. The figures also include the cost of the White House policy-making staffs. Are those really all “perks and excess”?

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Fact checking the sequester: a round-up


By popular demand, here in one place is a round-up of fact checks by The Fact Checker, PolitiFact and FactCheck.Org on various sequester claims by Democrats and Republicans.

The Fact Checker and PolitiFact have rating scales while FactCheck.Org does not, so we have listed the key conclusion from the FactCheck.Org columns instead of a rating. The links will take readers to the original column.

As always, we encourage readers to point out additional claims that they would like to see checked.


Capitol Hill janitors “just got a pay cut.”
—President Obama

Fact Checker rating: Four Pinocchios, published March 1

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Capitol janitors making ‘ends meet’ with overtime? Nope

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“You know, those Capitol janitors will not get as much overtime. I’m sure they think less pay, that they’re taking home, does hurt.”

Gene Sperling, director of the White House economic council, on ABC News’ “This Week,” March 3, 2013

“On the issue of the janitors, if you work for an hourly wage and you earn overtime, and you depend on that overtime to make ends meet, it is simply a fact that a reduction in overtime is a reduction in your pay.”

— White House spokesman Jay Carney, news briefing, March 4

At a news conference last Friday, President Obama claimed that, “starting tomorrow,” the “folks cleaning the floors at the Capitol” had “just got a pay cut” because of the automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester.

The president very quickly earned Four Pinocchios for that statement, especially after senior officials at the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), the federal agency that employ janitors on the House side, and the office of the Sergeant at Arms (SAA), which employs janitors on the Senate side, issued statements saying the president’s comments were not true.

Still, the White House has kept up its spin offensive, claiming that a cut in “overtime” was a de facto pay cut and thus the president was right — or at least not wrong.

So, we wondered: How much overtime do Capitol Hill janitors actually make?

The Facts

First of all, we should note that the White House’s story kept evolving as we reported last week’s column. It’s almost as if the president’s aides had to scramble to come up with reasons why the president could be correct, without actually knowing the facts.

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Sequester spin: Obama’s false claim of Capitol janitors receiving ‘a pay cut’

(Charles Dharapak — AP)

“Starting tomorrow everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol. Now that Congress has left, somebody’s going to be vacuuming and cleaning those floors and throwing out the garbage. They’re going to have less pay. The janitors, the security guards, they just got a pay cut, and they’ve got to figure out how to manage that. That’s real.”

— President Obama, news conference, March 1, 2013

This column has been updated with a new Pinocchio rating

This was a pretty evocative image the president offered at his news conference Friday on the sequester — janitors sweeping the empty halls of the Capitol, laboring at less pay.

When we first heard his remarks, we thought he was perhaps overstating matters. Even at federal agencies that have planned furloughs, none are expected to begin on Saturday; such actions are weeks away at many federal agencies. But that’s perhaps a minor rhetorical overreach.

But then our colleague Ed O’Keefe obtained the sequester plan released by the Architect of the Capitol, which employs Capitol Hill janitors on the House side. (The Sergeant at Arms employs the janitorial staff on the Senate side.) UPDATE: Obama’s remarks also prompted a warning from AOC officials that his comments were “not true.”

The Facts

We have embedded an image of the first AOC document below. Stephen T. Ayers, the  architect of the Capitol, listed a number of steps being taken to reduce expenses, including limiting new hiring and postponing repairs. This line jumped out at us: “We do not anticipate furloughs for AOC employees as a result of Sequestration.”

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4 Pinocchios for Arne Duncan’s false claim of ‘pink slips’ for teachers

((Chris Usher/CBS News via Getty Images))

“It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need, and as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs. ... There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.”

— Education Secretary Arne Duncan, CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Feb. 24, 2013

“Yes, there’s a district where it’s happened. But, again, it’s just because they have an earlier union notification than most, so Kanawha County, West Virginia. … In that district, to be clear, it’s Title I teachers and Head Start teachers, so it’s these funding sources that are being cut. Whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know, but these are teachers who are getting pink slips now.”

— Duncan, White House briefing, Feb. 27

Duncan’s claim, on one of the Sunday morning shows, that teachers were already getting pink slips because of the looming sequester was actually the second time he had made this assertion.

“I was on a call yesterday, people are starting to give RIF [reduction in force] notes,” Duncan said in a meeting with reporters Feb. 21, three days before his appearance on CBS. “Schools are already starting to give teachers notices.”

Oddly, however, the Education Department for days was unable to cough up the name of a single school district where these notices had been delivered. Then, on Wednesday, Duncan appeared before the White House press corps and produced a name — Kanawha County in West Virginia — with a major league caveat. “Whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know,” he said.

Duncan’s spokesman, Daren Briscoe, said in an e-mail that “the information shared on the call was that just over 100 teachers and Head Start teachers had received layoff notices.”

Unlike the dubious figure that “40,000 teachers could lose their jobs” — more on that below — this at least was specific information. So let’s check it out.

The Facts

The first thing that was striking about this figure of 100 teachers is that it was higher than the estimate in the state-by-state impact of the sequester released by the White House over the weekend. For the entire state of West Virginia, the White House said, “around 80 teacher and aide jobs [were] at risk.” And yet here, according to Duncan, was a single county with 100 potential layoffs. (Update: the fact sheet also mentioned a reduction in funds for another 40 “teachers, aides and staff” who help children with disabilities.)

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Reaffirmed: 4 Pinocchios for a misleading Mitt Romney ad on Chrysler and China

“Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama. Fact checkers confirm that his attacks on Mitt Romney are false. The truth? Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry. He is supported by Lee Iacocca and the Detroit News. Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”

— voiceover of a Mitt Romney ad that ran in the final week of the 2012 campaign

The Fact Checker received a letter earlier this week from Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for the Mitt Romney campaign. He asked us to reconsider a Four-Pinocchio ruling for Romney’s ad on Chrysler and China, which aired in the campaign’s last week.

 Stevens said his note was prompted by Chrysler’s announcement that it would begin building Jeep models in China.

 “I would hope that you would take another look at this and stress test it for accuracy away from the heat of a campaign,” Stevens wrote. “I've been doing campaigns and writing about campaigns for some time and I believe that the ad and Romney's statement were completely accurate, unusually so by any standards.”

 As Stevens put it: “It seems that the crux of the argument revolves around the question of Chrysler (Fiat) moving production from the U.S. to China. That question has been answered. They are moving production to China and other countries.”

 Several other readers had written us about this issue, asking if Romney’s assertion had turned out to be right. So, given those questions, we thought it would be worthwhile to review what we said, and what actually happened.


The Facts

First of all, we should note that our critique of the ad covered more than the Jeep issue. We also faulted the ad for incorrectly citing a PolitiFact column to suggest all fact checkers were critical of Obama’s comments on the bailout. And we noted the Detroit News endorsement cited in the ad was highly critical of Romney’s position on the bailout — and lauded Obama for his “extraordinary” response to the auto industry crisis.

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Is Lance Armstrong the world’s biggest liar?


“[This was] one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.”

— Lance Armstrong, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired Jan. 17, 2013

It is fair to say that in more than three decades of reporting, The Fact Checker has never written a sports story. But The Fact Checker has written a lot about people who stretch the truth — or to put it less delicately, are liars.

 With Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs to repeatedly win the Tour de France multi-stage bicycle race, the question arises: Is Lance Armstrong the biggest liar alive?

 Take a look at this ABC News video, which is an amazing collection of repeated denials, over many years, by Armstrong that he engaged in doping. These are not simple shadings of truth, or careful weasel words. These are outright and often vehement denials, with a particular animus toward anyone who came forward to say that Armstrong was cheating in his sport — even when they made such accusations in sworn testimony.

Here are some other quotes, courtesy of BBC News:

“I have been on my deathbed, and I am not stupid. I can emphatically say I am not on drugs.”

— at the end of Stage 14 of the 1999 Tour de France

“This is my body and I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it and study it, tweak it, listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”

— in a 2001 Nike TV commercial

“I have never doped, I can say it again, but I have said it for seven years — it doesn’t help.”

— in 2005 on CNN’s Larry King

“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one.”

— in July 2012

Armstrong was not just a user of banned drugs. The 2012 report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said he supplied drugs to teammates and demanded they follow his doping program or be replaced: “He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team; he enforced and re-enforced it.”

 Armstrong did not just lie. He actually sued London’s Sunday Times for libel when it suggested in an article there were grounds to suspect he used drugs — and he won a settlement. “The Sunday Times has confirmed to Mr. Armstrong that it never intended to accuse him of being guilty of taking any performance-enhancing drugs and sincerely apologized for any such impression,” the newspaper’s lawyers meekly said in 2006.

Armstrong also testified under oath in 2005 deposition, strongly denying any doping, winning $7.5 million from a company that had refused to pay a bonus because it accused him of cheating in the Tour de France.

In the interview with Winfrey, Armstrong asserted that he has been clean since 2005, meaning he did not use drugs when he made a comeback to cycling and placed third in the Tour de France in 2009. But given his track record, it is not clear why this new claim should be considered credible.

By any measure, Armstrong’s skill at lying, consistently over the years, is impressive. How does he stack up against others in sports, politics, journalism and entertainment?


The Facts

Questions were first raised in 1999 about whether Armstrong engaged in doping, according to an authoritative collection of articles posted by Cycling News. The French newspaper Le Monde reported on an investigation of urine tests, indicating traces of a synthetic steroid hormone. Armstrong had reported to authorities that he had taken no drugs, and he dismissed the test as the result of using a skin cream for saddle sores. As the New York Times put it: “In a televised news conference after today's stage, a bitter Armstrong described himself as ‘persecuted’ and a victim of ‘vulture journalism.’” 

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4 Pinocchios for a slashing NRA ad on security at Sidwell Friends School

“Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”

— voiceover of a new National Rifle Association television ad, released Jan. 15, 2013

The National Rifle Association, in a tough television ad on gun-control measures and in a longer 4-minute video presentation, has highlighted what it see as “elitist” hypocrisy by President Obama because his children are “protected by armed guards at their school.”

 After some blowback for involving the president’s children in a political debate, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam insisted that the ad was not about Malia and Sasha Obama: “If anyone thinks we’re talking specifically about someone’s children, they're missing the point completely. This isn’t an issue about comparing the president’s kids. This is an issue about school safety and protecting all our children, regardless of tax bracket and how important their parents are. The intent of our ad is to make sure that we point out that there is a double standard that exists.”

[Discuss the NRA’s response to President Obama’s gun proposals in The Washington Post’s new discussion forums.]

Still, the ad features an image of NBC newsman David Gregory, whose children also attend Sidwell Friends School, which is a selective Quaker private school. And the longer version of the ad quotes a conservative Web site as saying: “Armed Guards — Good enough for the David Gregory’s kids’ school, not for the rest of us. …[The] school Obama’s daughters attend has 11 armed guards.”

 While some news organizations reported that the ad was referencing the Secret Service protection provided to the Obama family — as required by federal law — the longer ad makes it clear that the NRA is specifically referring to the security force at Sidwell Friends.

 Indeed, it would be remarkably odd for the NRA to suggest that Obama ignore the law and refuse Secret Service protection for his children. Moreover, those Secret Service agents are there only to protect those children — and no one else at the school.

In an interview with The Washington Post, however, Arulanandam brought up the Secret Service: “The president and his family enjoy 24-hour-security from law enforcement at taxpayer expense, and this ad asks very real questions: If it’s good enough for the president, why shouldn’t it be good enough for the rest for us?”


The Facts

The NRA ad notes that Obama said he was skeptical about armed security in schools, which the organization has touted as a solution to mass shootings such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. Obama did use the word skeptical, in an interview with Gregory, but the NRA has clipped the full meaning of his words.

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A misguided tea party claim on the debt ceiling

A tea party rally in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“It is pure baloney to say we have to pay the bills for things Congress has already approved. We are drawing the line on future spending, not the debt or obligations to Social Security, Medicare and the military, which can all be met without an immediate rise in the debt ceiling.”

— Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, in a statement, Jan. 14


Kremer issued that statement after President Obama, in a news conference on Monday, argued that if Congress did not raise the debt limit, the United States would not be able to pay for services rendered in the past: “If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks and veterans’ benefits will be delayed,” Obama said. “We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners.” 

This is an interesting question, which we explored before the last debt limit showdown in 2011. Then, we examined whether Social Security benefits could still be paid even if the debt ceiling was breached; the answer was a bit inconclusive. But after that last crisis, the Treasury Department’s inspector general provided Congress with a detailed look at the options the administration had considered for such a crisis.

Moreover, Kremer has upped the ante by saying the government could pay not only Social Security benefits but also Medicare and the military — three of the biggest parts of the budget — as well as interest payments on the debt. Let’s examine whether her claim is credible.


The Facts

This year’s debt ceiling showdown is exacerbated by the fact that February is just about the worst month in terms of government finances because relatively little money is collected while lots of bills must be paid, including income-tax refunds. Both the Treasury Department and the Congressional Research Service say that there is tremendous legal uncertainty about whether some payments could be honored while others ignored if the nation goes about the borrowing limit.

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The biggest Pinocchios of 2012

Virtually all of this year’s fact checking was focused on the presidential election. So, in selecting our biggest Pinocchios of the year, we spent days going though old columns and reliving an election that seems rather distant now.

In many ways, it was depressing reading. So much of the campaign was fought over trivial or inconsequential issues. For instance, we wrote nearly 20 columns dissecting every possible claim about Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital, which came under attack both from his Republican rivals and the Obama campaign.

Romney left himself open to scrutiny because he incorrectly claimed that he helped create more than 100,000 jobs at Bain — he mainly created wealth for his investors — but the attacks often were equally false. A candidate’s experience and background is certainly worthy of debate, but all too often in 2012 it just turned into a game of political gotcha.

In this election, fact checking certainly became part of the conversation, with many additional news organizations joining FactCheck.Org, PolitiFact and The Washington Post in scrutinizing politician’s statements, especially during the debates. Since fact checking is a relatively new genre of journalism, however, it is frequently misunderstood.

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The historical myth that Reagan raised $1 in taxes for every $3 in spending cuts

(Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, Michael Evans)

“In 1982, Ronald Reagan sat down with the Democrats and they had a deal — a $3 cut in spending for every dollar they raised in taxes. Guess what? They raised the taxes, and they never cut the spending.”

— oft-repeated story told in Washington during “fiscal cliff” negotiations 

It had become an article of faith by conservatives that President Reagan reluctantly agreed to raise taxes in his first term in office — and that Congress then failed to follow though on promised spending cuts. The frequent recitation of this story during the current fiscal debate made us wonder: What actually happened three decades ago?

It’s not hard to find the source of this story — Reagan’s own memoir, “An American Life.” Here’s what he wrote: “I made a deal with the congressional Democrats in 1982, agreeing to support a limited loophole-closing tax increase to raise more than $98.3 billion over three years in return for their agreement to cut spending by $280 billion during the same period; later the Democrats reneged on their pledge and we never got those cuts.” 

When Reagan made a nationally-televised speech in support of the tax hike — trying to refute charges that it was the biggest tax increase in U.S. history — he also cited a 3-to-1 agreement:

 “Revenues would increase over a three-year period by about $99 billion, and outlays in that same period would be reduced by $280 billion. Now, as you can see, that figures out to about a 3-to-1 ratio — $3 less in spending outlays for each $1 of increased revenue. This compromise adds up to a total over three years of a $380 billion reduction in the budget deficits.”

The Washington Post did not have a Fact Checker column back then, and this speech certainly would have been ripe for fact checking. (We would have been suspicious of his use of the word “outlays.”) Let’s go back in time to show what really happened, using documents, news reports and memoirs of the period.


The Facts

 Despite Reagan’s claim that he made a deal with the Democrats, the Senate at the time was controlled by Republicans. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas — then chairman of the Finance Committee and later the majority leader and Republican nominee for president — was a driving force behind a big tax increase because he was concerned about soaring deficits after Reagan had boosted defense spending and slashed taxes.

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Did Karl Rove earn any money from American Crossroads?

Chris Matthews: “Who got all this money? Nobody got it — not even him {Karl Rove]. It was just wasted.”

Rick Tyler: “So he said. Do you really believe Karl Rove got no money?”

Matthews: “Well, he said he volunteered.”

Tyler: “Well, fine. Show us your K-1s and your tax returns and we’ll see if you got any money. I don’t believe it.”

exchange on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Nov. 30, 2012

It is an axiom of Washington that when politicians spend money, lots of people are getting a piece of the action. So when the Super PAC American Crossroads spent some $300 million in 2012 on behalf of Republican candidates, with rather mixed results, some speculated that nevertheless Republican strategist Karl Rove, who co-founded the group, certainly earned a pretty penny.

Rove has denied he earned anything from his work with Crossroads, saying he was simply a volunteer. But that has not stopped the chatter.

After the election, US News ran an article titled “Why We May Never Know How Much Money Karl Rove Made Running Crossroads.” (The magazine later issued a long mea culpa, acknowledging “there is no credible basis to believe that Karl Rove earned any compensation, either directly or indirectly, from these outside groups.”)

Rick Tyler, a GOP consultant who is close to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also publicly expressed his deep skepticism on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” Tyler has also been a senior adviser to failed Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri, and during the campaign he publicly scolded Crossroads for not backing his candidate. “They would rather win television commissions than win the Senate,” he claimed.

But others have also assumed Rove ended up with a chunk of the millions of dollars raised by Crossroads. Bill Moyers in July said protesters “marched at the DC offices of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which is the right wing money mills run by the mastermind of much of this massive fundraising, Karl Rove. He’s making a bundle himself, buying and selling free speech.”

Meanwhile, New York magazine columnist Frank Rich, on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, declared this week: “I'm sure he [Rove] gets a lovely salary from American Crossroads, too.”

In an exchange of e-mails, Tyler initially defended his comments, noting he was responding to Rove’s assertion of being merely a volunteer.

“I've not made a claim. He has. I simply don't believe his claim,” Tyler wrote. “I have no way of knowing if his assertion is true. Only Rove knows and given the responsibility he had with resources under his stewardship and that he was presented as an honest broker both on Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, he should provide some assurances that his assertion is true. We know that media buying precipitates commissions (kickbacks). Who got that money or where was it spent and why was it not disclosed?”

Rove is certainly a controversial figure, but we’re interested in the facts. Let’s look deeper at what the records show.

The Facts

American Crossroads was created after the 2008 elections, in an effort to create a conservative counterpoint to the alliance of labor and liberal interest groups that work on behalf of Democrats. As a tax-exempt organization subject to Section 527 of the tax code, the Super PAC is required to disclose its funding and its salaries, but a spin-off 501 (c)(4) nonprofit group known as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (Crossroads GPS) does not have to disclose donor information.

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An imaginary, misleading ‘debate’ between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu

(Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama at the White House.ISRAELI GPO/GETTY IMAGES)

DEBATE MODERATOR: “Welcome to the first debate between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. President, we’ll start with you.”

OBAMA: “I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.”

MODERATOR: “Mr. President, thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, your response.”

NETANYAHU: “The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.”

MODERATOR: “Mr President, your rebuttal.”

OBAMA: “Obviously there are some differences between us.”

ANNOUNCER: “Friends, Americans and Israel cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama. This call was paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel because your vote will make the difference in this election.”

— Text of a “robocall” message sponsored by the Emergency Committee for Israel

The Fact Checker was surprised to hear this “debate,” using the actual voices of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, when he answered his home phone earlier this week. We did a little digging, and this has got to be one of the most ridiculous attacks in an increasingly bitter campaign. Let’s see how the Emergency Committee for Israel cut and snipped this call together.

The Facts

Obama’s first statement sounds rather weak and feckless during the robocall, but it changes dramatically when viewed in its proper context — a presidential news conference held on June 23, 2009, to condemn the attacks by the Iranian government on pro-democracy demonstrators. Obama’s point is that the pro-democracy activists were not being directed by the United States, as the Iranian government had claimed. The sentence used in the call is highlighted in bold.

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4 Pinocchios for Mitt Romney’s misleading ad on Chrysler and China

“Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama. Fact checkers confirm that his attacks on Mitt Romney are false. The truth? Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry. He is supported by Lee Iacocca and the Detroit News. Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”

— voiceover in unannounced Mitt Romney television ad running in Ohio

When a campaign does not announce a television ad, it’s a good sign that it knows it is playing fast and loose with the truth. Indeed, this is an excellent example of an ad that has a series of statements that individually might be factually defensible, but the overall impression is misleading.

The ad also comes on the heels of Mitt Romney’s mistaken claim in a speech last week that Chrysler was moving Jeep production to China — a statement immediately denied by the auto manufacturer. Yet the story apparently was too good for Romney to give up, because the ad repeats the claim, tweaked slightly to make it more accurate.

The Facts

Here’s what Romney said last Thursday in Ohio: “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China. I will fight for every good job in America, I’m going to fight to make sure trade is fair.”

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Obama’s fanciful claim that Congress ‘proposed’ the sequester

(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

“The sequester is not something that I've proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed.”

— President Obama, in the third presidential debate, Oct. 22, 2012


As the saying goes, success has a thousand fathers, while failure is an orphan. And if there ever is an orphan in Washington these days, it is that odd duck known as “sequestration.”

 We’ve earlier written that there are bipartisan fingerprints over the looming defense cuts that Mitt Romney has sought to pin on President Obama. Now, in the final presidential debate, Obama sought to toss the hot potato of sequestration — the process that is forcing those defense cuts and reductions in domestic spending — into Congress’s lap.

 Fortunately, there is a detailed and contemporaneous look at the debt ceiling deal that led to the current budget crunch: Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics.” The book clearly had the full cooperation of top White House and congressional officials. With the help of our colleague, we took a tour through the relevant sections in order to determine the accuracy of the president’s statement.


The Facts

 The battle over raising the debt ceiling consumed Washington in the summer of 2011, with Republicans refusing to agree to raise it unless spending was cut by an equivalent amount. Obama pressed but failed to get an agreement on raising revenue as part of the package. Woodward’s book details the efforts to come up with an enforcement mechanism that would make sure the cuts took place — and virtually every mention shows this was a White House gambit.

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Romney doubling down on debate misstatements

“Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917.”

— Mitt Romney, in a new television ad

“The president began an apology tour of going to various nations and criticizing America.”

Mitt Romney, in another new television ad


When readers ask whether we get annoyed that politicians often ignore fact-checking criticism, our answer is always the same: We write for voters, not politicians. Politicians are not going to change their behavior unless voters begin to make choices based on adherence to the truth.

 But this is an interesting case in which Mitt Romney has taken two moments from the third presidential debate — both of which were faulted by fact checkers — and turned them into television ads.

In both cases, Romney also misspoke, making his statements even less accurate. The campaign commercial for the “apology tour” selectively snips out Romney’s errors, but apparently it was impossible to clean up Romney’s error on the size of the Navy.

 Let’s examine these issues once again.  We had earlier given Three Pinocchios for the Navy comment and Four Pinocchios for the “apology tour.”


The Facts

The Navy


When Romney talks about the size of the Navy, he generally uses the year 1916. But in the last debate, he used “1917.” (You can tell that Obama’s response was precooked because Obama actually refers to the year 1916.)

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A ‘greatest hits’ of misleading Romney claims

“If Barack Obama is reelected, what will the next four years be like? One, the debt will grow from 16 trillion to 20 trillion dollars. Two, 20 million Americans could lose their employer-based health care. Three, taxes on the middle class will go up by $4,000. Four, energy prices will continue to go up. And five, $716 billion in Medicare cuts that hurt current seniors.”

— Voiceover in new Mitt Romney campaign ad titled “The Obama Plan”

We have often said that politicians in both political parties will stretch the truth if they think the misleading claim will move voters. As we enter into the final weeks of this bruising presidential campaign, we expect to hear all sorts of poll-tested, factually-challenged messages again and again — simply because the campaigns have data that shows these claims resonate with votes.

In that vein, a new ad released by the Romney campaign is almost a “greatest hits” version of claims that have been thoroughly debunked by fact checkers, including this column. Let’s spin the record once again!

The Facts

“The debt will grow from 16 trillion to 20 trillion dollars”

Here, the Romney campaign is using “gross debt,” which includes U.S. Treasury bonds held by Social Security and Medicare. Generally, what matters for the federal budget is the publicly held debt, particularly the percentage of debt compared to the overall economy (gross domestic product.) The House GOP budget plan authored by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, for instance focuses on its impact on publicly-held debt, no gross debt.

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Mitt Romney’s ‘new math’ for jobs plan doesn’t add up

“Let me tell you how I will create 12 million jobs when President Obama couldn't. First, my energy independence policy means more than 3 million new jobs, many of them in manufacturing. My tax reform plan to lower rates for the middle class and for small business creates 7 million more. And expanding trade, cracking down on China and improving job training takes us to over 12 million new jobs.”

— Mitt Romney, “in his own words,” in a campaign television ad

Romney’s 12-million-jobs promise has garnered a lot of attention. We became interested in this ad after a reader asked whether the campaign had provided much detail on how he would reach this total. This television ad is also prominently featured on the Romney campaign’s “Jobs Plan” Web page.

 The math here appears pretty simple: 7 plus 3 plus 2 equals 12. But this is campaign math, which means it is mostly made of gossamer. Let’s take a look.


The Facts

 As we have noted before, the 12 million figure is not a bad bet by Romney. Moody’s Analytics, in an August forecast, predicts 12 million jobs will be created by 2016, no matter who is president. And Macroeconomic Advisors in April also predicted a gain of 12.3 million jobs.

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Does Mitt Romney want to ‘kill’ Big Bird?

“During the debates, Mitt Romney told America how he plans to pay for those tax cuts he wants to give America’s wealthiest tax payers... by killing Big Bird! We’ve got to stop this guy. Please donate what you can.”

— Obama campaign Web site

As part of a fundraising appeal, the Obama campaign has claimed that Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich. “Save Big Bird! Vote Democratic,” the Obama Web site declares.

This appeal comes as the Obama campaign also launched a satirical ad highlighting Romney’s mention of the Sesame Street character during the first presidential debate. “Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about, it’s Sesame Street,” the ad intones.

The fundraising appeal has a goal of $1 million, though as of early Wednesday, not a cent had been raised. Still, let’s examine what Romney actually said to see if it is worthy of all of this attention.

The Facts

Below we have a clip of the debate exchange, which came after Romney detailed how he would try to cut spending to reduce the deficit. He first mentioned eliminating the president’s health care law, which he called Obamacare. Then he listed another item.

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Obama’s claim that ‘90 percent’ of the current deficit is due to Bush policies

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“Over the last four years, the deficit has gone up, but 90 percent of that is as a consequence of two wars that weren’t paid for, as a consequence of tax cuts that weren’t paid for, a prescription drug plan that was not paid for, and then the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now we took some emergency actions, but that accounts for about 10 percent of this increase in the deficit, and we have actually seen the federal government grow at a slower pace than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower, in fact, substantially lower than the federal government grew under either Ronald Reagan or George Bush.”

“Taxes are lower on families than they’ve been probably in the last 50 years. So I haven’t raised taxes.”

— President Obama, interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” recorded on Sept. 12, 2012, and aired on Sept. 23

There are a lot of numbers and assertions in these statements by the president. We will primarily focus on the first statement, since it raises interesting questions of presidential responsibility.

But we do want to note the tax statement, since we seem to have a rare moment when Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney appear to agree. Here’s what Romney said on Tuesday: “I admit this, he has one thing he did not do in his first four years, he’s said he’s going to do in his next four years, which is to raise taxes.”

Generally, Republicans have argued (and the Supreme Court agreed) that Obama’s health-insurance mandate is a tax. The health-care law also included a number of taxes aimed mostly at the wealthy. But broadly speaking, Obama has reduced taxes for most Americans, so much so that the Congressional Budget Office says that effective tax rates are at their lowest point in three decades.

In any case, let’s examine more closely Obama’s two key assertions during 60 Minutes — that only 10 percent of the current deficit comes from his policies and that the federal government has grown under his watch at a “a slower pace than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower.” Are those claims correct?

The Facts

In support of the first statement, the Obama campaign pointed us to a chart made by the Treasury Department.

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4 Pinocchios for a truncated, 14-year-old Obama clip

“As we think about the policy research surrounding the issues that I just named — policy research for the working poor, broadly defined — I think that what we're gonna have to do is somehow  resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all. There has been a systematic, I don't think it's too strong to call it a propaganda campaign, against the possibility of government action and its efficacy. And I think some of it has been deserved. Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policy making. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago public schools. What that means then is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we're all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking how, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live, and my suggestion I guess would be that the trick, and this is one of the few areas where I think there have to be technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to  just political issues, how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.

— State Sen. Barack Obama, at a conference at Loyola University, Oct. 1998 [missing section in bold]

Just as we have not been very impressed about many of the Obama campaign’s claims about Mitt Romney’s business career many years ago, we were not initially that impressed with the Romney campaign’s effort to dredge up a 14-year-old quote to demonstrate that President Obama wants to “redistribute wealth.”  The clip was so old — he was just a state senator — and the context was rather unclear. Also, it appeared as if the YouTube version was clipped in mid-thought.

 But now NBC News has obtained the rest of Obama’s comments, and it is clear his remarks were taken completely out of context. Obama is not talking about redistributing wealth at all — instead, he speaks about competition, the market place and innovation in an effort to improve government services in Chicago.

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New anti-Romney ad: same steelworker, tougher message (revised)

“When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my healthcare, and my family lost their healthcare. And a short time after that my wife became ill….She passed away in 22 days. I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone, and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned.”

— Former steelworker Joe Soptic, in a new ad by Priorities USA

(NOTE: Since we had previously examined at length the circumstances of this Bain investment, we originally had restated the main points of an earlier column. Frankly, we were a bit distracted trying to untangle the welfare charges and countercharges on Tuesday. But new information has come to light and we have updated the column with a Pinocchio rating.)


Joe Soptic, a former steelworker, makes yet another appearance in a pro-Obama ad, this time for the Super PAC Priorities USA Action.

We have examined this case before, and for the benefit of readers we repeat our main points from an earlier column that awarded the Obama campaign One Pinocchio for the use of this case study against presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Most controversially, Soptic this time appears to blame Romney for the death of his wife after he lost his health insurance when the steel plant closed.

Romney was no longer actively managing Bain Capital when the steel company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and closed its Kansas City plant, causing more than 700 workers to lose their jobs and health insurance, as well as part of their pensions. But a case can be made that he was involved in the initial investment and the overall direction of the company before he took on the job of running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Bill Burton of Priorities USA Action said it would be “overstating” the point of the ad to say Soptic connected Romney to his wife’s death. “This is another in a series of ads that demonstrates how long it took for communities and individuals to recover from the closing of these businesses,” he said. “Families and individuals had to find new jobs, new sources of health insurance and a way to make up for the pensions they lost. Mitt Romney has had an enduring impact on the lives of thousands of men and women and for many of them, that impact has been devastating.”

The Facts

Unlike some of the tales of job-killing and factory-closings that have been thrown at Romney, this is a relatively straightforward story: The initial investment in the steel company was made in 1993 by Bain under Romney’s leadership, and the company took on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while paying Bain investors millions of dollars in dividends.

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4 Pinocchios for an unproven Romney claim of ‘crony capitalism’

“I am ashamed to say that we’re seeing our president hand out money to the businesses of campaign contributors, when he gave money, $500 million in loans to a company called Fisker that makes high end electric cars, and they make the cars now in Finland. That is wrong and it’s got to stop. That kind of crony capitalism does not create jobs and it does not create jobs here.”

— Mitt Romney, Irwin, Pa., July 17, 2012

Hoping to turn attention away from questions about his departure from Bain Capital a decade ago, Mitt Romney this week has sought to focus attention on what he calls President Obama’s “crony capitalism.” We have dealt with this charge before, but this week it seems the Romney campaign has upped the ante, trying to make a connection between the president’s contributors and the president’s policies.

We will deal with some of these claims in more detail at a later date, but today we will look at the question of Fisker Automotive. This case keeps coming up, and it really feels like whack-a-mole. Romney now has raised the stakes by asserting a connection between the loan and campaign contributors. And his campaign was sufficiently proud of his statement that it e-mailed it to reporters.

The Facts

Fisker has developed a luxury plug-in electric sedan called the Karma that retails for $108,000, currently manufactured in Finland. It hopes to develop a $50,000 sedan named the Atlantic that would be manufactured in Delaware.

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4 Pinocchios for Romney’s claim on an Obama health care pledge

“Promise: President Obama promised to lower annual health insurance premiums by $2,500…Result: Annual health insurance premiums have increased by $2,393....Gap: health premium costs are $4,893 higher per family than President Obama promised.”

— new Facebook/Twitter post by the Romney campaign

 Promises made during the heat of an election campaign sometimes come back to haunt politicians.

 The campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is trying to nail President Obama for making an iffy promise during the 2008 campaign — that premiums will be $2,500 lower under his health care plan. Instead, the Romney campaign argues in an effort to create a viral Facebook post, the swing has gone $4,893 the other way.

 The Romney graphic is false on several levels, though Obama certainly left himself open to scrutiny with imprecise language in the 2008 campaign. Let’s take a look.

The Facts

 The Romney campaign cites a statement from a 2007 speech by Obama, but it’s a pledge that was repeated often: “When I am president, we will have universal health care in this country by the end of my first term in office. It's a plan that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by $2,500 a year.”

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Whopper: White House adviser David Plouffe on Romney’s jobs record and GOP strategy

“There was an amazing article the other day, I believe it was in the Wall Street Journal, where Republicans in Congress openly were saying, ‘we’re not going to do anything until the election on the economy, because we want to help Mitt Romney.’ ... With an economy that needs help right now, with the middle class that’s struggling, it’s an amazing thing.”

“For all of this talk about government, for every private-sector job created in Massachusetts by Governor Romney, six public sector jobs.”

— White House senior adviser David Plouffe on “Fox News Sunday,” June 17, 2012

White House senior adviser David Plouffe made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows this week, making appearances on all the major networks except one. He used the opportunity to defend and clarify President Obama’s campaign message, but he also took swipes at presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

We wondered what article Plouffe was referring to when he said Republicans have talked openly about trying to improve Romney’s election chances by blocking economic progress. And what about the Republican challenger’s job-creation numbers? We wrote a column in the past about this issue, but Plouffe’s assertion about six government jobs for every private-sector job represented a new and inconceivable-sounding twist.

Let’s examine the veracity of these claims.

The Facts

In terms of the “amazing article” Plouffe referred to, we found no reports quoting Republicans talking openly about sitting idle on the economy to improve Romney’s election chances.

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4 Pinocchios for Obama’s newest anti-Romney ad

“Running for governor, Mitt Romney campaigned as a job creator. But as a corporate raider, he shipped jobs to China and Mexico. As governor, he did the same thing: Outsourcing state jobs to India.”

— Voiceover of new Barack Obama campaign ad

The Obama campaign apparently loves to ding former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney with the charge of “outsourcing.” On several occasions, we have faulted the campaign for its claims, apparently to little avail.

 Now, all of the claims have been combined in one 30-second ad, with the added incendiary charge that Romney was a “corporate raider.” Let’s look anew at this material.

The Facts

 The phrase “corporate raider” has a particular meaning in the world of finance. Here’s the definition on Investopedia:

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Mitt Romney’s nonsensical claim about ‘Obamacare’

(Nati Harnik — Associated Press)

“Today, government at all levels consumes 37 percent of the total economy or GDP. If Obamacare is allowed to stand, government will reach half of the American economy.”

— Mitt Romney, economic speech, June 7, 2012

This is a startling assertion by the presumptive GOP candidate, which he has made in several forms in recent weeks.

David Corn of Mother Jones first spotted it when Romney made a victory speech in New Hampshire, arguing, “With Obamacare fully installed, government will come to control half the economy, and we will have effectively ceased to be a free enterprise society.” Corn quoted a number of economic experts finding fault with Romney’s reasoning, such as former Ronald Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett saying “this analysis is so stupid it is hard to know where to begin.” then weighed in when Romney had tweaked the language somewhat, but also found it wanting, saying it was “a pure partisan fantasy” and “patently false and misleading.”

With such harsh reviews, one would think that Romney might drop the assertion from his speeches. But now a new iteration has appeared, so we will examine it.

The Facts

The Romney campaign says this line is based on three separate claims. First, that in 2011, government expenditures amounted to 37.34 percent of the gross domestic product. Second, that with the president’s health plan in place in 2020, government expenditures are projected to climb to 39.18 percent. Finally, private health-care expenditures are projected to be 10.03 percent of GDP in 2020, so adding that altogether gets you to 49.21 percent.

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Over-the-top attacks on Obama’s green-energy programs

“Washington promised to create American jobs if we passed their stimulus, but that’s not what happened. . . . American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries.”

— New TV advertisement by Americans for Prosperity

“How exactly does President Obama spend your tax dollars?”

— New TV advertisement by the American Future Fund

Two well-funded Republican groups began running hard-hitting ads against President Obama last week, aiming to spend an estimated $8 million in key battleground states. The spots hit similar themes, attacking Obama on green-energy investments, and even cite similar sources.

Watching these ads is a depressing duty for The Fact Checker, because many of their claims — regarding “billions” of stimulus dollars going overseas — had been debunked two years ago by our colleagues at PolitiFact and Yet here the erroneous assertions emerge yet again, without any shame, labeled as “the truth” or “fact.”

The ads also use the old trick of blowing out of proportion small details and then leaping to grand conclusions.

Thus, in the Americans for Prosperity ad, questions about relatively small amounts of more than $800 billion in stimulus money turn into “American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries.”

And the American Future Fund, pegging its ad to the date when taxes are due to ask how Obama spends taxpayer money, focuses on the same green-energy investments and also the $800,000 spent on a lavish Las Vegas conference by the General Services Administration. That’s a scandal — with no known links to Obama — but it’s also a pittance compared with the money spent on national defense, health care and other government services.

Let’s take a look at some of the specific claims.

The Facts

First of all, we live in a globalized world. American companies make products overseas; foreign companies make products in the United States. Sometimes parts are made in a variety of places overseas and then assembled in the United States. That’s a fact of life, and these ads frequently confuse the difference, so that any hint of foreign involvement is depicted as a bad thing.

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Four Pinocchios: small business tax cut will ‘create 100,000 jobs a year’ (Part 2 on claims about the bill)

(Alex Wong, Getty Images)

“According to a study, the small business tax cut act will help create more than 100,000 new jobs a year once fully in place.”

“Mr. Speaker, while we continue to work toward tax reform that broadens the base, brings down the rates for everybody, and gets rid of loopholes, Washington assumes the role of picking winners and losers. We need to take incremental steps to give job creators tax relief right away. This Small Business Tax Cut Act is a step in that right direction.”

— House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), arguing in support of the Small Business Tax Cut Act during a House floor debate, April 19, 2012

In a previous column, we awarded three Pinocchios to Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) for saying that the “rich and famous” would receive the lion’s share of the savings from the Small Business Tax Cut Act, which would reduce taxes by 20 percent for firms with fewer than 500 employees. Now it’s time to take a look at a claim from Rep. Cantor, who sponsored the bill.

From the way Cantor described it, this policy would provide a boost to jobs numbers every year. Let’s examine that claim in detail.

(Readers can listen to this mp3 from C-SPAN Radio to hear Cantor’s comments, which begin at about the 3:30 mark.)

The Facts

We’re always suspicious when someone cites “a study” without providing attribution. Cantor’s office backed up the congressman’s claim by pointing to an analysis by Fiscal Associates, the same group that analyzed former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s “999” tax proposal and said it would be revenue-neutral.

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Rick Santorum’s ‘kitchen sink’ slam at Romney

“What if I told you that this man’s big government-mandating health-care included $50 abortions and killed thousands of jobs. Would you ever vote for him? What if I told you he supported radical environmental job-killing cap-and-trade and the Wall Street bailout? And what if I told you he dramatically raised taxes and stuck taxpayers with a $1 billion shortfall? One more thing. What if I told you the man I’m talking about wasn’t him [Obama]? It’s him [Romney]”

— narrator of a new Rick Santorum TV ad, as a photo of Barack Obama morphs into one of Mitt Romney

Desperate for a win in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, former senator Rick Santorum has begun running a tough ad there that takes only 30 seconds to throw just about everything, including the kitchen sink, at his chief rival, the former Massachusetts governor.

 So do these claims add up? Let’s take them in the order in which they were made.


The Facts

 The individual mandate included in Romney’s health-care bill was originally a conservative idea, pushed by such groups as the Heritage Foundation. (That is a simplified version of a long and torturous path, which was best explained in articles by Forbes and The Washington Post.)

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Did Obama delay stimulus spending to aid his reelection?

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“Stimulus was supposed to be quick. In fact, they never intended to spend it and will not completely have effectively spent it until after the president’s re-elect. Always looking at how do you get the maximum hit when the president was up for re-elect.”

— Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, March 19, 2012

This is a pretty serious charge by a senior member of the House of Representatives, made on “Fox and Friends” earlier this week. The president’s opponents usually say the stimulus was a failure and a waste of money, not that money was purposely held back. We immediately thought he must have some damning evidence that his investigators had turned up.

But when we asked for more information, we only got a statement blasting President Obama (more on that below). That wasn’t very illuminating, but as we will see, perhaps there is a reason his staff could not provide much information.

The Facts

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus, was passed into law just weeks after Obama became president. It was valued at about $800 billion — the precise number varies depending on when the estimate was done — and contained new spending, tax cuts and grants to municipalities and states.

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Obama’s whopper about Rutherford B. Hayes and the telephone


“Of course, we’ve heard this kind of thinking before.  If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society.  … There always have been folks who are the naysayers and don't believe in the future, and don't believe in trying to do things differently.  One of my predecessors, Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone, ‘It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?’ That's why he's not on Mount Rushmore because he’s looking backwards.  He’s not looking forwards.  He’s explaining why we can't do something, instead of why we can do something.”

— President Obama, remarks on energy, Largo, Maryland, March 15, 2012

In a speech on energy Thursday, the president took aim at the “cynics and naysayers” who dismiss potential new sources of energy, such as wind and solar.  Leave aside the canard about most Europeans believing the earth was flat before Columbus — that’s an elementary-school tale with little basis in fact.

 What about President Hayes? Was he really so dismissive about the invention of the telephone?


The Facts

 Hayes, the nation’s 19th president, served only one term, 1877-1881, after a very close and disputed election that needed to be settled by an electoral commission. (He went to bed thinking he had lost to Democrat Samuel Tilden.) He was a master politician who banned liquor from the White House for political purposes (and to curb boorish behavior by members of Congress).

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Mitt Romney and the individual mandate: A highly misleading DNC ad

“Mitt Romney — against individual mandates except when he’s for them.”

— New DNC Web ad attacking Romney

Many Democratic attacks on Mitt Romney suggest that he is a politician without conviction, and someone who will “say anything” to get elected. A new Democratic National Committee Web ad follows that pattern, highlighting a series of TV clips that aim at a perceived vulnerability of the former Massachusetts governor: his successful effort to create universal health care in his state.

President Obama’s health-care law was largely built around the concept of an individual mandate, as was Romney’s law. Romney, however, has insisted that he never intended to take the concept nationwide, but that each state could decide for itself how best to promote universal coverage.

This ad uses the clips — some of which we had not seen before — to suggest that Romney actually did support a national mandate, even when he now says he is against it. But how accurate is this claim?

The Facts

Readers should be wary of campaign ads that show many little clips, because a line or two can be taken out of context. One of the first things we do when fact-checking an ad like this is to look at the entire TV interview or debate segment, to understand why the comment in question was made.

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A whopper ad for John Boehner’s GOP opponent

“President Obama has ordered all Christian institutions to pay for drugs that murder the unborn. This is an assault on life and liberty. Will we knuckle under, violate our consciences, and become accomplices to Obama’s immorality? If we vote for Obama, we empower him to attack the church and murder babies. Let’s defend life and religious liberty, and vote him out.” — Ad from the campaign of David Lewis, a candidate who challenged House Speaker John Boehner in the Ohio Republican primary

We’ve heard a lot of arguments in recent weeks that certain forms of contraception — especially emergency contraception — cause abortion, and that the government shouldn’t force church-affiliated employers to provide them for workers. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich claims the mainstream media doesn’t want to address this issue, even though the Fact Checker column alone has touched on that topic in several recent columns.

Putting aside any questions about adequate media coverage, David Lewis’s ad features some of the strongest imagery and language we’ve seen a candidate use to suggest that the Obama administration’s contraception mandate is immoral. The video shows photos of what Lewis claims to be aborted fetuses, while accusing President Obama of forcing religious organizations to pay for drugs that murder the unborn.

We examined how emergency contraception works to determine whether the language and visuals in this ad were accurate. As usual, we’re not going to wade into the debate over exactly when life begins. As you’ll see, that’s not even necessary to determine whether Lewis’s ad deserves Pinocchios.

The Facts

David Lewis is a 26-year-old full-time activist and self-described “devout Christian” from suburban Cincinnati who challenged Ohio’s John Boehner and lost in the Republican primary. Lewis claims the House speaker isn’t living up to his antiabortion words, since he has voted for spending bills that provided funding for Planned Parenthood. The political newcomer lost Tuesday with just 16 percent of the vote.

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Rick Santorum’s latest, strangest ‘Obamacare’ claim

“What we will go to in a very short period of time, the next two years, a little less than 50 percent of the people in this country depend on some form of federal payment, some form of government benefit to help provide for them. After Obamacare, it will not be less than 50 percent; it will be 100 percent.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, speaking in Steubenville, Ohio, March 7, 2012

Rick Santorum has made the growth of entitlement spending a key focus of his campaign for the presidency, and he touched upon the subject again when he addressed supporters after the Super Tuesday primaries.

We were struck by both figures he used in the speech — that 50 percent of Americans “depend on some form of federal payment” and that Obama’s health-care law would bring the figure to an eye-popping 100 percent. In other words, in just two years, every single American would begin to get federal handouts, according to Santorum’s calculation.

As usual, the Santorum campaign did not respond to a request for documentation, so we searched for the best data we could find.

The Facts

With the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s, entitlement spending has certainly grown. And the Great Recession has also increased the number of people who rely on government benefits, such as unemployment insurance.

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Santorum’s misfire on Obama, colleges and religion

“President Obama said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob! There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, Feb. 25, 2012

  “You know the statistic that at least I was familiar with from a few years ago, I don't know if it still holds true but I suspect it may even be worse, that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.”

— Santorum, on ABC’s “This Week,” Feb. 26, 2012

There are two things going on with these remarks by Santorum — an attack on Obama for demanding college education for everyone and then an assertion that the college experience is akin to some sort of liberal boot camp.

 We always thought college was more about being liberated (from parents), but clearly in some conservative circles there has also been an undercurrent of concern about attitudes on college campuses. (Some colleges, such as Hillsdale College in Michigan, in fact market themselves as conservative alternatives.)

  But let’s check out Santorum’s claims about Obama and also examine whether there is data that backs up Santorum’s fears about college’s impact on people’s politics and religion.


The Facts

Obama’s statement on college education, made in his first speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009, is easy to check. The president, noting the success of the GI Bill after World War II, said the United States should seek to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world: 

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Euthanasia in the Netherlands: Rick Santorum’s bogus statistics

“In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if they are elderly. And the bracelet is: ‘Do not euthanize me.’ Because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized — ten percent of all deaths in the Netherlands — half of those people are enthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick. And so elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country, because they are afraid, because of budget purposes, they will not come out of that hospital if they go in there with sickness.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, at the American Heartland Forum in Columbia, Missouri, Feb. 3, 2012

These were interesting remarks by one of the leading candidates for the GOP nomination. Though Santorum made this observation earlier in the month, a video of his comments only circulated on the web over the weekend and a number of readers asked whether he is correct. (His comments also spawned headlines in Holland, such as one that proclaimed: “Rick Santorum Thinks He Knows the Netherlands: Murder of the Elderly on a Grand Scale.”)

So we will check his statistics — 10 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands are from euthanasia and 50 percent of those die involuntarily — and also his claim that the elderly wear bracelets requesting that they not be euthanized.

(Full disclosure: The Fact Checker’s parents emigrated from Holland and I have direct, personal experience with the practice of euthanasia there. My father’s brother requested euthanasia when he was diagnosed with a terminal disease and after various remedies were ineffective. In the United States, he might have lived another two or three months, in great pain, and likely would have lapsed into a coma before death. But, after a conclusion by the Dutch medical establishment that he had no chance of survival, he arranged for his death at home with his family at his side. He even called me an hour before his death to say good-bye.)

We realize this is an emotional issue in the United States. But the simple facts, as Santorum described them, should be clear.

The Facts

In 2001, The Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia, setting forth a complex process. The law, which went into effect a year later, codified a practice that has been unofficially tolerated for many years.

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Jack Lew’s misleading claim about the Senate’s failure to pass a budget resolution


“But we also need to be honest. You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support. So unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed. And I think he was reflecting the reality of that that could be a challenge.”

--White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Feb. 12. 2012

Newly-named White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew was not only recently budget director for President Obama; he was also the budget director for former President Bill Clinton. So when he speaks about the budget process, you would think he speaks with authority.

That’s why his comment on CNN jumped out at us. He also said something similar on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when asked about the number of days since Senate Democrats passed a budget plan (1,019). Lew’s response: “One of the things about the United States Senate that I think the American people have realized is that it takes 60, not 50, votes to pass something.”

Given that President Obama unveils his budget on Monday—and the congressional budget process is so complex—it seems like it is time for a refresher course. Let’s examine if Lew is being misleading here.

The Facts

The term “budget” is used rather loosely in Washington. The White House every year proposes a budget, but that document is at best a political statement and wish list, since none of those proposals will take effect unless Congress enacts them into law. The House and Senate every spring are supposed to pass a budget resolution, which also does not have the force of law but guides the amount of money available to the Appropriations Committees, in addition to setting parameters for tax and entitlement legislation.

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Newt Gingrich’s claim that George Soros ‘approved’ Mitt Romney

“We can’t afford two George Soros approved candidates this fall.”

— Voiceover from Newt Gingrich campaign ad, referring to Mitt Romney and President Obama, Feb. 2, 2012

“I think for most Republican voters, the idea of trying to nominate a Soros-approved candidate is not a very appealing idea.”

— Gingrich, during a Fox News interview, Feb. 3, 2012

Newt Gingrich has progressively turned up the heat with his rhetoric against Mitt Romney since falling flat in the first two nominating contests this year. It seemed to work when he pulled off an upset in South Carolina, but the former House speaker finished a distant second in the recent Florida and Nevada primaries. His latest Web ad suggests that “ultra-liberal” billionaire George Soros supports both Romney and President Obama.

The new ad also suggested that the GOP front-runner supports Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — an unpopular figure among Republicans — and that his financial backing from Wall Street executives shows some form of concordance with Obama.

We looked at the entire Soros interview to find out where the billionaire philanthropist really stands on the 2012 candidates. We also examined the issue of Romney’ Wall Street backing and his stance on Geithner to find out whether Gingrich’s ad hit the mark.

The Facts

These types of accusations are typical for Gingrich. Part of his strategy after the New Hampshire primary was to draw ideological distinctions between himself and Romney, as well as to highlight parallels between his opponent and Obama.

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Mitt Romney’s misfire on the national anthem

“We are the only people on the earth that put our hand over our heart during the playing of the national anthem. It was FDR who asked us to do that, in honor of the blood that was being shed by our sons and daughters in far-off places.”

— Mitt Romney, Feb. 2, 2012

This is a strange one.

Kudos to Andrew Kaczynski at Buzzfeed for first spotting this claim, though it turns out that the former Massachusetts governor also said this at least once before, during a stump speech in Iowa in December. (Update: a colleague reports this line has been a regular staple of Romney’s stump speech.)

The first part of this statement is simply wrong. As Kaczynski noted, Romney ran the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics and surely should have noticed the many athletes with their hands on their hearts during the playing of their national anthems.

We randomly searched YouTube for the playing of the national anthem for various countries and quickly found several examples, such as Japan and Brazil, that disprove Romney’s claim of American exceptionalism. (Mara Liasson of NPR sent us the Russia clip.)


But what about the rest of Romney’s claim — did President Franklin D. Roosevelt institute this? The history on this salute is interesting, and actually has more to do with the Pledge of Allegiance than the national anthem.

The Facts

A spokesman for Romney did not respond to a query, but the candidate may be bringing this up to remind voters of a flap that occurred during the 2008 campaign, when then-candidate Barack Obama did not put his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem.

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Four Pinocchios for ‘King of Bain’

“This is a story of greed, of playing the system for a quick buck, a group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney more ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.”

— Voice-over from “King of Bain” video promoted by a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC, “Winning Our Future.”

Newt Gingrich, meet Michael Moore!

 The 29-minute video “King of Bain” is such an over-the-top assault on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney that it is hard to know where to begin. It uses evocative footage from distraught middle-class Americans who allege that Romney’s deal-making is responsible for their woes. It mixes images of closed factories and shuttered shops with video clips of Romney making him look foolish, vain or greedy. And it has a sneering voice-over that seeks to push every anti-Wall Street button possible.

 Here’s just a sampling of what Romney and Bain Capital, which he once headed, is accused of: “Stripping American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder and often killing jobs for big financial rewards . . . high disdain for American businesses and workers . . . upended the company and dismantled the work force; now they were able to make a handsome profit . . . cash rampage . . . contributing to the greatest American job loss since World War II . . . turn the misfortune of others into their own enormous financial gain.”

 The video ends with a crescendo of images of despair, with voices of the victims adding emotional punch: “A lot of lives were ruined . . . he took away our livelihoods . . . he took away our future . . . he destroyed a lot of homes . . . it all gets back to greed.” (Irritatingly, few of these ordinary citizens are identified.)

 The video is reminiscent of the devastating series of attack ads released by then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) that derailed Romney’s Senate campaign in 1994. In fact, we’d swear some of the people interviewed for “King of Bain,” who are identified as working for Ampad in Marion, Ind., are the same as those interviewed for the Kennedy ads at SCM, which Ampad acquired. They just look two decades older. (We have embedded a collection of the Kennedy ads at the end of this column.)

 Let’s take a look at some of the claims in “King of Bain.” The video clip above is from a 60-second commercial aired by “Winning Our Future.” The full video can be found here. As we will demonstrate, at least some of the interviews of ordinary citizens appear to have been conducted under misleading pretenses and have been selectively edited to leave a false impression.

The Facts

 First of all, it is a stretch to portray Romney as some sort of corporate raider, akin to Carl Icahn (whose image is briefly seen).  Bain Capital initially was in the business of providing venture capital — seed money — for start-ups, such as Staples. Then it moved to the more lucrative business of private equity, in which Bain won control of firms, reorganized them and then sold them for profit. (Our colleague Suzy Khimm earlier this week did an excellent job of explaining the two sides of Bain Capital.)  

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One year of fact checking--an accounting

It’s been one year since The Washington Post relaunched The Fact Checker column as a permanent feature, and so it seems an appropriate point to review and reflect on a year of fact-checking claims made by politicians. Most important, where did we go wrong and how can we improve?

Readers frequently ask: Do you rate more Republicans than Democrats? (Or vice versa). Which party gets the most Pinocchios? We had no idea until we sat down this week and did some calculations.

Let’s do the numbers!

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The biggest Pinocchios of 2011

Fact checkers are under assault!

 Before we present our list of the biggest Pinocchios of the year, we would like to address the torrent of criticism addressed at fact checkers (primarily PolitiFact, and The Fact Checker) in recent weeks. The Weekly Standard last week had a cover story denouncing fact checkers as a liberal plot to control the political discourse. This week, PolitiFact’s decision to award its “Lie of the Year” trophy to Democratic claims that the GOP “killed” Medicare has earned it and its fact checking brethren additional scorn from the left.

As a writer at Gawker put it: “Politifact is dangerous. Stop reading it. Stop reading the ‘four Pinocchios’ guy too. Stop using some huckster company's stupid little phrases or codes or number systems when it's convenient, and read the actual arguments instead. You're building a monster.”


 My colleague Ezra Klein even opined that “the ‘fact checker’ model is probably unsustainable,” based on the questionable belief that “half of the public leans towards one party and about half of the public leans toward the other” and thus will tune out commentary with which they disagree. That’s a pretty depressing commentary on the state of our politics. Thankfully, it bears little relationship to the reality we experience every day at The Fact Checker. 

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Romney versus Gingrich: a Super PAC’s over-the-top ad

“As Speaker, Gingrich supported taxpayer funding of some abortions.”

--from a new ad in Iowa sponsored by “Restore Our Future”

Super PACS will cause endless headaches for fact checkers this political season. The advertisements they produce are often insidiously inaccurate.

 A good example is the latest advertisement trashing Newt Gingrich, “Smile,” by Mitt Romney’s Super PAC--Restore Our Future--which is spending more than $3 million just in Iowa in the weeks before the Jan. 3 caucuses. The former House Speaker certainly has some baggage from his long political career, as the ad asserts, but that would be all the more reason not to need to twist the truth.

Brittany Gross, a Restore Our Future spokesman, declined to answer questions. “We aren’t commenting on the ad,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Thanks for reaching out.”

 Let’s take a tour through some of the more egregious fouls in the ad.

“Freddie Mac, which helped cause the economic collapse, paid Newt Gingrich $30,000 an hour for a total of at least $1.6 million.”

The suggestion here is that Freddie Mac caused the 2008 economic crash, which is a simplistic assertion. Restore Our Future cited as a source an opinion article written by Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute.

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Newt Gingrich biography: the complete collection

(Charles Krupa/AP)

Reporter Josh Hicks compiled the following look at Newt Gingrich’s claims about his life and career. Click on the headlines to read the complete report.

Gingrich and health-care mandates

Gingrich earned Two Pinocchios for his shifting statements of support for an individual health-care mandate.



Gingrich and statements about 1990s fiscal success

The House Speaker received Three Pinocchios for overstating his impact on the federal budget surpluses in the 1990s.



Gingrich on welfare and Medicare reform

Passing welfare reform was a significant achievement but Gingrich got a Pinocchio for overselling what happened on Medicare.




Gingrich, historian

The former speaker earned Three Pinocchios for overstating his credentials as “an historian”


Gingrich and ethics

Gingrich ended up with Four Pinocchios for highly misleading statements about the partisan nature of the ethics probe while he was House Speaker.


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Newt Gingrich tries to rewrite history of his ethics scandal (Fact Checker biography)

(Jim Young, Reuters)

“It tells you how capriciously political [the House ethics] committee was that she was on it. It tells you how tainted the outcome was that she was on it.”
— Newt Gingrich, Dec. 5, 2011, talking to reporters about suggestions from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that she could reveal secret information from a 1990s House ethics investigation of the current GOP front-runner.
“I think what it does is it reminds people who probably didn't know this that she was on the ethics committee, that it was a very partisan political committee, and that the way I was dealt with related more to the politics of the Democratic Party than the ethics.”
— Gingrich, Dec. 6, 2011, answering questions about Pelosi and the ethics investigation during interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News.
“The attrition effect on your members of that many ads and that many charges just gradually wore down people, and I gradually lost the ability to lead, because I was so battered by the process.”
— Gingrich, Dec. 7, 2011, during a meeting with the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Gingrich made these comments after Pelosi hinted that she could reveal damaging information about him “when the time’s right,” thanks to her involvement with a 1990 ethics investigation of the now-surging GOP candidate — a case that led to the first congressional reprimand of a House speaker.

We don’t question that Democrats relished the chance to nail Gingrich for ethics violations, especially after he gave the same treatment to former Democratic House speaker Jim Wright in 1988. But justice can still run its course fairly and impartially when enemies have blown the whistle, even if they enjoy watching you squirm.

We examined the congressional ethics committee that reprimanded Gingrich to find out more about its makeup. Was the panel truly as partisan as the Republican front-runner suggests, or has this prolific alternative-history writer crafted yet another fiction?


The congressional ethics panel that investigated Gingrich — when the GOP controlled the House — consisted of four Democrats and four Republicans, a perfectly bipartisan group that voted 7-1 to reprimand the then-speaker. Furthermore, the House voted 395 to 28 to support the committee’s decision, with backing from 196 Republicans.

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Pinocchio Tracker: Fact-checking the presidential candidates

We are pleased to announce a new retooled Pinocchio Tracker , which was produced inhouse by Kat Downs of The Washington Post graphics staff. It replaces an earlier version that was created a couple of months ago by our friends at Tableau Software.

The new Pinocchio Tracker has a fun feature: It brings up quotes and asks you to guess how many Pinocchios it received from The Fact Checker. Then you can find out if your ruling matches ours--and see why we decided the statement was faulty.

As before, the Pinocchio Tracker will take you to every column that examined a statement by a GOP candidate, President Obama or Vice President Biden. It will also show you the average Pinocchio rating each person has received.


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Get the latest campaign news on PostPolitics.

Michele Bachmann’s claim that she never said ‘anything inaccurate’ during the GOP debates

“I'm happy to say I don't think that I've said anything inaccurate in any of the debates. And I'm extremely grateful for that. It's a high-profile stage and so I'm grateful that I don't think I've made a blunder.”

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann. (Paul Sancya - Associated Press)

— Rep. Michele Bachmann, on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Nov. 25, 2011

In an interesting interview last Friday (which we missed as we recovered from Thanksgiving dinner), Bachmann acknowledged that she is sometimes truth-challenged.

“I wish I was perfection walking on air, but I'm not,” she told Steve Inskeep. “I've gotten things wrong. But I try very hard to get my facts right, and there's times when I've said things that are inaccurate and I regret that.”

But then she made the statement she said above. Nothing inaccurate in the debates? Let’s review the record.


The Facts

The Republican candidates for president have already held at least 10 full-fledged debates, and we have watched them all. Here are a few highlights of Bachmann’s performance during those sessions. During the debates, we don’t award Pinocchios unless we go back and write a fuller column on the statement. In that case, we will note whether she received any — or if a similar statement had already received Pinocchios.

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