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Journalists: please catch Bachmann’s false statements on the trail

From Rachel Stassen-Berger’s Saturday Star Tribune piece on Michele Bachmann’s Iowa foray:

But she did throw out some strong opinions, saying the federal government owns half of the country’s mortgages, that the Medicare trust fund will go flat broke, and that Barack Obama has accumulated more debt in one year than all past presidents combined.” (Emphasis mine.)

The last clause, at least, is false. In October, Politifact Virginia gave U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor a “pants on fire” for a similar statement … and Cantor was talking about two years of spending, not one.

Stassen-Berger’s story didn’t challenge the statement, but Des Moines Register reporter Kathie Obradovich got it wrong when she followed up a “one year” tweet with this one: “Politifact: Statement about debt was true when Eric Cantor said it.”

Politifact ruled Cantor’s statement true only after he ditched the two-year timeline in favor of Obama’s estimated budgets through 2013. Again, Bachmann said this was all happening in a single year.

And Cantor had to use 2008 as the baseline — ignoring fiscal year 2009, which began in October 2008, when Bachmann’s smootchie partner George W. Bush was still President. It was that Bush budget (admittedly, approved by a Democratic Congress), that set the course of spending in Obama’s first eight months.

If you used 2009 as the baseline, the debt will not double through 2015. (See this chart; the key column is D, total federal debt held by the public.)

All this is not to pooh-pooh the public-debt problem, which is estimated to rise from 53 percent of GDP in 2009 to 73 percent in 2015. But Bachmann can’t even describe a legitimate problem accurately.

As Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Scheck noted on Friday, Bachmann “approaches Iowa with a trail of misstatements.” (Zero for 13 on Politifact.)

I know it’s tougher to do a fact check on the campaign trail. However, Bachmann is enough of a serial violator and the presidency is a big enough deal that her “factual” claims can’t just be repeated unquestioningly; that gives them credibility they don’t deserve.

If the reporter in the field doesn’t have time, it’s up to the editors back at headquarters.

(Added thought: I know Stassen-Berger set up her paragraph by labeling Bachmann’s statements “strong opinions,” but as presented, the “one year” comment is a factual claim. It’s not an opinion; it’s true or false.)

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Paul Scott on 01/22/2011 - 11:28 am.

    Tom Scheck did a great job with that piece about Bachmann’s nonsense on Morning Edition. I remember hearing the original interview with Cathy Wurzer at the time and just shaking my head. Wurzer pushed back on one or two whoppers, but as is often the case in these, she didn’t really follow up when Bachmann just started serving up the baloney sandwiches. You get the feeling they give her a pass out of fear of looking “biased”, presumably in favor of accuracy, that or they decide its not their job to do much more than let each congressperson have their air time. The worst was how quickly it segued from erroneous commentary by Bachmann to a cheery little discussion of what her intentions are in Iowa. WHO CARES. Address her lies a little better in real time and maybe I will become a donor again. I think if a reporter doesn’t prepare extra hard for a Bachmann and really come back at them when they are throwing around inaccurate statements, then they really shouldn’t do the interview.

  2. Submitted by David Willard on 01/22/2011 - 05:34 pm.

    If only the fact-checkers included Obama in their research before the 2008 presidential election. It would have saved America a few trillion dollars. Unfortunately, we get exams of Sarah Palin then and now Michele Bachmann. Keep up the weirdness guys at MinnPost. Washed up Progressyves need love too!

  3. Submitted by Ed Stych on 01/22/2011 - 05:46 pm.

    I don’t think she’s as far off as you would wish. Based on the chart on the link you provided, I think it would be fair to say that Obama has “accumulated more debt in two years than the nation had in it’s first 200 years.”

    Anyway you cut it, Bush Jr. spent a lot of money that we didn’t have … and Obama and the Dem Congress spent a LOT MORE money that we didn’t have.

    And where is the benefit? The unemployment rate is higher than the Obama Administration predicted would be if we did nothing.

    The only solace we might have is to say that the country would be worse off if we didn’t spend that money. Of course, we’ll never know. But if that’s true, then Bush was right, too, as he was the one who started the bailout frenzy that Obama continued.

  4. Submitted by David Brauer on 01/22/2011 - 06:08 pm.

    Ed – I think “not as far off as you would wish” amounts to the sort of moral relativism conservatives decry. It’s simply not what she said. By the way, Politifact rated the “more debt than its first 200 years” and found that “barely true.”

    But as long as we’re playing games with the chart, it’s worth noting that Ronald Reagan doubled the public debt in four years (faster than Obama is scheduled to) and George Bush did it in eight. Yes, debt levels were lower then, but still, Bachmann practically worships Reagan.

    Of course, the “200 years” ignores the Bush years. A little context on the Bush and Bush tax cuts contribution to all this. (Obama did himself few favors by extending them, but at least he did it at Keynesian moment):

    Again, as the original story noted, the public debt is a legitimate issue. So why tart it up? Your theory here. In my opinion, conservatives do themselves no honor making excuses for Bachmann’s falsehoods.

    David – Politifact was founded to check Obama. You can check his scorecard here:

    Needless to say, our Congresswoman is in a class by herself.

  5. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 01/23/2011 - 02:40 am.

    Politifact is a great resource. Unfortunately, for people who aren’t interested in the truth, it won’t do much good.

    One commenter makes the false claim that Obama hasn’t been checked, and then calls a discussion about the false statements made by Palin and Bachmann “wierdness.” Did it ever occur to him to actually check out whether what he was saying was true? Does he know it isn’t true and is just lying about it? Either way, I don’t know how the truth can even get through to someone with that kind of thought process.

  6. Submitted by Dave Thul on 01/23/2011 - 08:35 am.

    Politifact list 3 pants on Fire Lies by our president, 43 just plain lies, 36 barely true, and 63 half true. Of the 70 ‘true’ statements listed, some are as innocuous and irrelevant as ‘covering your mouth when you cough can reduce flu transmission’, and the ‘White Sox can still make the playoffs’.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I can’t seem to find a call by Mr Brauer for better fact checking analysis of President Obama, whose statements as the sitting president are of several orders of magnitude more important that Congresswoman Bachmann, whether or not she is running for president.

    Politifact itself may be non-partisan, but they choose which statements to fact check based in part on the media controversy they cause. Which means the bias of the media helps determine the pool of statements Politifact chooses to test.

  7. Submitted by James Blum on 01/23/2011 - 09:42 am.

    #5 Dan Hintz – there are a surprisingly huge number of folks out there who have no interest in facts, so don’t let that surprise you. I got burned by that in both GWB elections — I hope I don’t let it happen to me again.

    #6 Dave Thul – I think (<-- opinion) David Brauer has been pretty consistent in asking for everyone to try to live in the fact-centered, reality-based world, whether he has specifically requested Obama be fact-checked or not. I agree with that position 100% - let's fact-check everyone all the time, and call them out when they make incorrect statements or attempt to disguise opinion as fact. No one should be exempt -- even you and me (and DB, and Obama, and Bachmann).

  8. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/24/2011 - 08:18 am.

    I’m with James (#7) on this.

    “Spin,” if not actually invented in Washington during George Washington’s first term, has certainly been polished to perfection there over the ensuing centuries, and exported to every corner of the hinterlands. It’s not difficult to find instances of shading the truth by various Presidents, Governors, etc., all the way down to city council representatives, going far back into the 19th century. By all means, fact-check Mr. Obama, and anyone else who’s going to be quoted in media as public as the ‘Strib.

    Mrs. Bachmann would be an embarrassment if she were an obscure local official. The fact that she was elected to Congress gives her a much broader audience for her brand of intellectual fraud.

    It’s the media’s JOB to insist that public figures live and legislate in the fact-centered, reality-based world. Printing an official’s opinion as factually-based when it demonstrably is not is an abject failure on the part of the writers and editors responsible for providing at least a semblance of truth to the public.

    Fact-check everybody. Pointing out misstatements (and outright lies) is part of a reporter’s job.

  9. Submitted by B Maginnis on 01/24/2011 - 10:42 am.

    Certainly, with regard to Obama, the “facts” have been the least of liberal concerns:

    -Birth certificate?
    -School records?
    -Law license disposition?
    -Harvard Law Review writings?
    -Medical Records?
    -Family Information?

  10. Submitted by Carter Anderson on 01/24/2011 - 11:17 am.

    I love this story. Conservatives love to proclaim that liberals never let facts get in the way of an argument. Yet, here is the shoe on the other foot. The issue that most conservatives have is that stories checking the “facts” around liberal crap are few and far between. The liberal media bias examines the conservative argument more than the liberal opinion and that puts conservatives immediately on the defensive to stories like this. Facts are just that — facts. The conservatives arguing your story are wasting their breath.

    That said, I also hate this story. Your story makes you a perfect stereotype and very cliche. Will you be fact checking Palin next? The bigger issue here is that you, MinnPost, MPR and every other news media outlet in Minnesota would never fact check one of their own. Why not expose Ellison? The man has called everyone and their brother a racist yet votes NOT to censure the tax cheating, liar, Charles Rungle. Hypocrisy evidentially is only at issue if a conservative is guilty. One could argue Ellison is a bigger public concern than Bachmann. Why not place the same magnifying glass on Obamacare? Everyone understands that healthcare in the US is broken. But I contend that if this crap was called Bushcare, every news outlet (less FOX) would be screaming for it to be repealed. But, because it is Obamacare, the facts are overlooked and only the meaning behind the bill is reported. The idea is great – the plan is a joke.

  11. Submitted by Carter Anderson on 01/24/2011 - 11:29 am.

    BD Maginnis – please get off my side. Try using logic. Think about the number of people that would need to be involved in covering up Obama’s citizenship. Considering that they are all mostly government workers, what is the likelihood that they would possess the ability to keep quiet.

  12. Submitted by B Maginnis on 01/24/2011 - 12:30 pm.


    Not sure I want to be on your side, but did I miss something?

    Did Hawaii’s governor finally manage to produce the document?

    I’ll have to tune in Fox News and see if they are breaking the story.

    Meanwhile, let’s move on to the other “lack of evidence” I cited.

  13. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 01/24/2011 - 02:39 pm.

    “Certainly, with regard to Obama, the “facts” have been the least of liberal concerns:

    -Birth certificate?
    -School records?
    -Law license disposition?
    -Harvard Law Review writings?
    -Medical Records?
    -Family Information?”

    I will freely admit that none of those things are of any concern to me.

    The evidence that Obama was born in Hawaii is so overwhelming that no one with any common sense thinks its an issue.

    As to the rest of it, aside from the information that is publicly available already, I don’t know what the issue is. I found an anti-Obama website that is up in arms because the school where he went to Kindergarten won’t release the records. What should Obama do – make them release the records? The guy is a little busy to be spending time trying to molify the paranoid fanatasies of people who hate him and wouldn’t believe the evidence anyway.

    Does anyone really need to see his medical records? The guy looks to be in pretty good shape, and he has been honest about his on and off smoking and past drug use. What are you looking for?

    Family information? I don’t even know what that means.

    Obama’s unpublished law review article was released prior to the 2008 election. He let his law license lapse because he wasn’t practicing law. I expect that there are plenty of paranoid fantasies that arise from these issues, but as someone who worked on a law school journal and holds law licenses in several states, I don’t see anything there.

    It isn’t just liberals that have been unconcerned about these “facts.” Its is anyone who is intelligent or at least rational. It is anyone who, even if they don’t like Obama’s policies or the man himself, has enough common sense to recognize that Obama isn’t part of a massive conspiracy that was put into place the day he was born. To the extend that any of these things are actually unsettled, they only matter to people who can’t think rationally, and of course, the people who make a living exploiting these non-rational thinkers who are more concerned with Obama’s childhood than with the issues he is now dealing with as president.

  14. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 01/24/2011 - 03:17 pm.

    “BD Maginnis – please get off my side. Try using logic. Think about the number of people that would need to be involved in covering up Obama’s citizenship. Considering that they are all mostly government workers, what is the likelihood that they would possess the ability to keep quiet.”

    What a great comment. BD, it is too bad it went right by you. This is exactly what I am talking about. Carter is on your “side” to the extent that he is a conservative. The difference is that he employs logic and reason in his arguments. The arguments about Obama’s birth certificate aren’t conservative arguments. They are just nonsense.

  15. Submitted by Carter Anderson on 01/24/2011 - 03:20 pm.

    Well said Dan.

    Birthers are akin to those urine throwing RNC protesters. They give those with logical concerns and arguments a bad name. A guy shows up to a Tea party rally with a silly sign and a gun and soon all are labeled idiots.

    I would have an easier time believing Obama was an alien from the planet Urg than some secret commie planted to destroy the country. H Clinton desperately wanted the democratic nod for president. Had there been even a sliver of truth to the obama birther claims, dont you think she would have leaked it just to secure the nomination? Of course she would have.

  16. Submitted by B Maginnis on 01/25/2011 - 08:45 am.

    Wow, now Hilary gets thrown under the bus.

    “The evidencee is overwhelming…”.


  17. Submitted by Martin Owings on 01/25/2011 - 09:40 am.

    Reminds me of that old saying, “How can you tell when a Poilitician is lying? Their lips are moving”.

    If your a person who assumes that’s true you’ll probably be called a cynic, if you’re a journalist who doesn’t you’ll probably be called incompetent.

  18. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 01/25/2011 - 01:29 pm.

    “Wow, now Hilary gets thrown under the bus.”

    BD, the comments about Clinton were made by Carter, a conservative who I doubt would have any qualms about “throwing her under the bus.” The same could be said about McCain or anyone who wanted to be president in 2008. If there was anything to the claims, don’t you think they would have used them? Logic is your friend.

    “The evidencee is overwhelming…”.

    I guess if you want to hold on to the belief that Obama wasn’t born here, no one is going to change your mind. Obama is going to run again in 2012 and whether he wins or loses is not going to be determined by the fact that some people share your beliefs. The only thing you are doing by talking about it is embarassing yourself.

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