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.
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.)