The Fact Checker: Barack Obama, GOP Candidates, Political Ads

The biggest Pinocchios of Election 2012

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s hard to believe this nasty and brutish presidential campaign has come to an end.

According to our Pinocchio Tracker, through most of the race President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney were neck and neck for the average number of Pinocchios, averaging about 2 Pinocchios each. But then, in the final months, Romney suddenly pulled ahead (so to speak) with a series of statements and commercials that stretched the limits. Obama’s average also got worse — and was nothing to be proud of.

In the end, Romney finished with an average ranking of 2.4 Pinnochios, compared to 2.11 for Obama. Not counting debates (when we awarded no Pinocchios), we rated 92 statements by Obama and 77 by Romney, as well as more than 200 claims made by surrogates and interest groups, as well as Republican presidential contenders.

Among the primary aspirants, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) finished with the worst rating overall of any candidate — an average of 3.08 Pinocchios.

Here are some of the lowlights of the 2012 campaign.

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Obama ad takes Romney remarks on Iraq and Afghanistan out of context

“President Obama ended the Iraq War…Mitt Romney would have left thirty thousand troops there … and called bringing them home ‘tragic.’ Obama’s brought thirty thousand soldiers back from Afghanistan. And has a responsible plan to end the war. Romney calls it Obama’s ‘biggest mistake.’”

— Voiceover from a new Obama campaign television ad

On the eve of the final presidential debate — which focused on foreign policy — the Obama campaign released a new television ad that uses Mitt Romney’s words to indict how he would have handled the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the president echoed some of those claims during the debate:

“What I would not have had done was left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. And that certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”

— Obama

“I’m sorry, there was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement, and I concurred in that, and said that we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with.”

— Romney

But both campaigns have often taken their opponent’s words out of context. Is that the case here as well?

The Facts

Ending the war in Iraq was a central Obama campaign promise in the 2008 election. But Romney is correct that the Obama administration tried to negotiate a “status of forces agreement” (SOFA) with the Iraqi government that would have allowed the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq after an earlier agreement reached by the Bush administration lapsed at the end of 2011.

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A complete guide to the deluge of campaign ads

Pity the poor voter in a swing state in the final weeks of this campaign. Whenever you turn on the television, there is yet another campaign ad from either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — and most of the time they are bashing the other guy.

We have reviewed and rated many of these ads over the past months, but as the ad spending reaches a crescendo, we thought it would be useful to once again examine some of the most frequently aired ads. With the help of Kantar Media, we identified the 10 ads from each campaign with the greatest spending on them. We then selected five from each side, with a bias toward picking ads that were released recently. (There is one additional Romney ad that we note — but do not rate.) Where appropriate, we also include links to our original column on the ad.

 Looking at these ads, we are struck by the consistent themes, with Obama portraying Romney as a heartless corporate raider and Romney portraying Obama as a hapless president.

Obama campaign ads

Obama: ‘Firms’

 This sly, almost wicked ad features Mitt Romney signing “America the beautiful” while images flash of his alleged connections overseas — his Bain Capital firms shipping jobs to Mexico and China, outsourcing jobs to India as governor, and his use of a Swiss bank account and tax havens overseas.  We did not rate this specific ad, but have investigated most of these claims and they are exaggerated or lack evidence.

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Dueling studies in new ads by Romney and Obama

 “Who will raise taxes on the middle class? According to an independent, non-partisan study, Barack Obama and the liberals will raise taxes on the middle class by $4,000. The same organization says the plan from Mitt Romney and common-sense conservatives is not a tax hike on the middle class.”

— voiceover from a new Mitt Romney campaign ad

 “Why won’t Romney level with us about his tax plan, which gives the wealthy huge new tax breaks? Because according to experts, he’d have to raise taxes on the middle class — or increase the deficit to pay for it.”

— voiceover from new Obama campaign ad

Dueling studies!

Politicians love nothing more than to point to an “independent” study that backs up their political position. Thus, in the first presidential debate, President Obama could claim that GOP rival Mitt Romney has a plan to cut taxes by $5 trillion, with tax breaks for the wealthy and tax hikes for the middle-class. And Romney could adamantly deny that, citing six studies of his own.

 There is usually less to such studies than the claims they are said to support. Let’s explore how such studies are used in new advertisements the campaigns released just hours after the debate ended.


The Facts

 First, the Romney ad. The “independent, nonpartisan” organization cited by the Romney campaign is the American Enterprise Institute, which bills itself as “committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise.” A who’s who of Republican heavyweights — such as Richard Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Marc Thiessen, Danielle Pletka, John Yoo, and John Bolton — is affiliated with it, but in order to maintain its tax status as a 501(c)3 organization it cannot proclaim any political affiliation.

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Obama’s new campaign ad on dueling budget plans

“Mitt Romney’s plan? A new $250,000 tax cut for millionaires …increase military spending…adding trillions to the deficit.  Or President Obama’s plan? A balanced approach …Four trillion in deficit reduction.”

— Voiceover in a new Obama campaign ad

In just 30 seconds, this new Obama campaign ad covers a lot of ground, evoking images of the George W. Bush administration (“two wars …tax cuts for millionaires”), tying presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney to those policies and then ending with positive words for President Obama’s plans. (There’s even an amazing shot of a super-millionaire’s home.)

 At least the ad is about policy differences, rather than the usual campaign fare of outsourcing, Bain and verbal gaffes. Let’s take a deeper look.

The Facts

 The Obama campaign has to perform some leaps of logic because, frankly, the Romney campaign has not explained how his budget and tax numbers add up. Romney has proposed to cut tax rates, but keep revenue neutral with unspecified offsets, while also boosting defense spending while reducing the deficit through largely unspecified cuts.  Pinning down the actual figures is a bit like nailing Jello to a wall.

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The RNC and Obama, taking quotes out of context

“President Obama might forget the recession but America hasn’t.”

--text from a new RNC web video, May 11, 2012

“When a woman in Iowa shared the story of her financial struggles, he gave an answer right out of an economics textbook. He said, ‘Our productivity equals our income,’ as if the only reason people can’t pay their bills is because they’re not productive enough. Well, that’s not what’s going on. Most of us who have spent some time talking to people understand that the problem isn’t that the American people aren’t working hard enough, aren’t productive enough -– you’ve been working harder than ever. The challenge we face right now -– the challenge we’ve faced for over a decade -– is that harder work isn’t leading to higher incomes. Bigger profits haven’t led to better jobs”

--President Obama, Remarks in Seattle, May 10, 2012

When a political campaign quotes an opponent, watch out. Some important context may be missing.

The Republican National Committee, in a new web video, blasts President Obama for forgetting about the recession, based on remarks that Obama made in Seattle.

Meanwhile, Obama, in that same Seattle speech, quotes presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney as some sort of unfeeling business executive, based on remarks Romney made last year while campaigning in Iowa.

Let’s look at what Obama and Romney really said.

The Facts

The RNC video actually runs a relatively long snippet from Obama’s speech, which to our mind undercuts the idea that Obama says he forgot about the recession. Here’s the full quote, with the part the RNC used in bold:

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