Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

This Sunday’s collection of morning talkfests produced a few points worth noting, including distortions of Rand Paul’s use of the term "un-American," a bit of cherry-picking on job growth numbers under President Obama, a false accusation that oil companies are making "record profits," and misleading innuendo that the White House has been slow to respond to the Gulf oil crisis because of the industry’s campaign donations.

A Bit of Flag-Waving

On "Fox News Sunday," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine distorted Rand Paul’s position on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Kaine claimed Paul "thinks trying to hold BP accountable is un-American." And on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey similarly claimed that Paul "says that President Obama’s comments about making BP responsible in the oil spill is un-American."

Actually, Paul — the newly-minted Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky — was criticizing specific rhetoric used, and not the actions taken, by the Obama administration when using the term “un-American.” Paul made his comments May 21 on "Good Morning America."

Paul, May 21: What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP.’ I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.

Paul was referring to remarks made by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar during a May 2 taping of CNN’s "State of the Union" and repeated by Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at a briefing a day later.

Salazar, May 2: So our job is basically to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum to carry out the responsibilities that they have, both under the law and contractually to move forward and to stop this spill.

Gibbs, May 3: We will keep our, as Secretary Salazar said, our boot on the throat of BP to ensure that they’re doing all that they — all that is necessary, while we do all that is humanly possible to deal with this incident. Absolutely.

Fun With Numbers

Kaine also used some mathematical sleight of hand to suggest that the economic picture is better than it is. Asked to summarize the Democratic message for the 2010 midterm elections, Kaine said the party would emphasize its accomplishments, and then he compared projected job creation figures in 2010 to the eight years of President Bush.

Kaine, May 23: We were in a ditch in January of 2009 when President Obama came into office — economy worse since the 1930s, two wars, blank check, open-ended, no clear end in sight. In a very tough time the president and members of Congress have done heavy lifting. We’ve had to build the ladder. We’ve had to start climbing out. Our economy is growing again. Sometime this year we will have created more jobs in 2010 than during the entire eight years of the Bush administration.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the net employment gains for the first four months of this year at 573,000. While improving, the U.S. economy lost a net 4.7 million jobs last year, when Obama took office, so it’s misleading to look at a selected four-month period under the Democratic president compared to all eight years of Bush.

Even so, is the U.S. economy poised to add 1 million jobs this year? (That’s how many net jobs were added under Bush from February 2001 through January 2009.) Hari Sevugan, a DNC spokesman, cites a National Journal article that makes that claim. Of course, Sevugan says, it is a "conditional thing." Gary Burtless, a former economist at the U.S. Department of Labor who is now at the Brookings Institution, said it is “possible." But, he added, “I don’t want make a prediction. I don’t know. Maybe the economy will go back into a recession or a slow-growth phase.”

Dirty Money?

Also on Fox, Republican Sarah Palin questioned the Obama administration’s handling of the oil spill and suggested that campaign contributions had influenced the administration’s actions.

Palin, May 23: I don’t know why the question isn’t asked by the mainstream media and by others if there’s any connection with the contributions made to President Obama and his administration and the support by the oil companies to the administration. If there’s any connection there to President Obama taking so doggone long to get in there, to dive in there, and grasp the complexity and the potential tragedy that we are seeing here in the Gulf of Mexico — now, if this was President Bush or if this were a Republican in office who hadn’t received as much support even as President Obama has from B.P. and other oil companies, you know the mainstream media would be all over his case in terms of asking questions why the administration didn’t get in there, didn’t get in there and make sure that the regulatory agencies were doing what they were doing with the oversight to make sure that things like this don’t happen.

Without getting into whether the administration’s response has been adequate, we can say that the oil and gas industry leans heavily Republican in its campaign contributions, and the 2008 presidential race was no exception. Republican candidate John McCain and his ticketmate Palin took in nearly three times the amount of money from the industry’s political action committees and employees as did Obama and running mate Joe Biden from industry employees: about $2.4 million compared with $890,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (The Obama presidential campaign did not accept any PAC money.) Obama, however, received about twice as much from British Petroleum’s executives as McCain did: $71,051 compared with $36,649. Neither received money from BP’s PAC.

Since 1990, oil and gas industry interests have contributed $188.3 million (75 percent) to Republican candidates for federal office and $61.4 million to Democrats (24 percent), the center says.

Not the Record

On “Meet the Press,” Rep. Joe Sestak, who recently won the Democratic Senate primary over Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, made a passing reference to oil companies’ “record profits.” But the big oil companies’ most recent financial statements show they made more profit in the first quarter of 2008 than they did in the first quarter of 2010.

It’s true that ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell all saw big jumps in net income in 2010 compared with 2009 – but they’re still not earning what they did back in 2008. And for nearly all of those companies, 2007 first quarter earnings were higher than the most recent profits posted as well. Here’s our chart on oil companies’ profits, drawn from their filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and company reports:

Correction, June 1: The original version of this story posted May 24 should have noted that Obama’s presidential campaign did not accept contributions from any political action committees, including those of the oil and gas industry. We have fixed the error.