A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

Once again, the Sunday talk shows produced more than a few misstatements. Among the topics of misinformation: The Gulf of Mexico oil spill, border security, the popularity of the Republican Party, and U.N. sanctions against Iran. Here’s what we found.

Oil Industry Official or Bureaucrat?

Carly Fiorina, the Republican nominee for Senate in California, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a vice chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, disagreed over the background of the former head of the Minerals Management Service. Fiorina claimed — incorrectly — on NBC’s "Meet the Press" that the director who recently resigned had come from the oil industry.

Fiorina: And may I just say, it was Ken Salazar who put in place the secretary or the head of MMS who just recently resigned and who came from the industry. So I think…
Wasserman Schultz: No, he didn’t.
Fiorina: …saying small government. This is about efficient, effective government…
Wasserman Schultz:  Birnbaum was from the House.
Fiorina: …and efficient and effective response. And what the American people are seeing is an ineffective response.
Host David Gregory: Did, did that head of MMS come from–did she work on the Hill or did she come from industry?
Wasserman Schultz:  The head of MMS was from the House of Representatives. Liz Birnbaum came from the U.S. House of Representatives. She was an employee for many years, and then she moved from the House of Representatives to MMS. So I don’t know what she’s talking about.

Wasserman Schultz is right. Elizabeth “Liz” Birnbaum, now the former director of the Minerals Management Service, did come from the House last year – she was staff director of the Committee on House Administration. She’s no industry-insider, as Fiorina claimed; instead, Birnbaum has a resume filled with government positions and a few jobs with conservation organizations. From 2001 to 2007, she was vice president for government affairs and general counsel for the conservation group American Rivers. She also worked for the Department of the Interior.

On "Fox News Sunday," Fiorina spoke in support of the new Arizona immigration law. She said the federal government "isn’t doing its job" to secure the U.S.-Mexican border, and claimed that "the Obama administration has defunded securing the border." Fiorina exaggerates when she said President Barack Obama "defunded" border protection. Obama asked for a little more than $9.8 billion in discretionary spending for customs and border protection in his proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year — down about 3 percent from the roughly $10.1 billion he requested for customs and border protection for the 2010 fiscal year. But the amount proposed for 2011 is actually a slight increase over the almost $9.5 billion that former President George W. Bush requested in his final budget for fiscal year 2009.

Rapid Response?

White House senior adviser David Axelrod on "Meet the Press" said the president had gone to the Gulf of Mexico "shortly after" the Transocean oil rig explosion. That may be a matter of opinion: President Obama went to the Gulf 12 days after the incident.

Axelrod: … the president on day one understood how massive this could be and mobilized the greatest response to an environmental disaster in the history of this country. He went down there and stood, I remember, on–shortly after the incident, in the pouring rain on a Sunday morning and, and, and spoke to the need to hold BP accountable …

The explosion occurred April 20. Two days later, Obama’s press secretary made a statement about the president’s Oval Office meeting with officials on the situation. On April 26, the president spoke with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour about the spill and tornadoes in the state. Obama spoke about the spill on April 29 in a Rose Garden appearance, saying that the government would provide "every single available resource," to help with the spill but that BP was responsible for the cleanup. He also talked with several Gulf Coast governors that day. On April 30, he again said BP would be responsible for the spill and that "we’ve been working closely with state and local authorities since the day of the explosion." On May 2, a Sunday, when the weather was indeed rainy, Obama visited the Gulf Coast, speaking in Venice, La., where he said that "we’re dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster." That was 12 days after the explosion.

Out of Favor

Axelrod also claimed that the favorability rating of the GOP was at an "all-time low." But a late March USA Today/Gallup poll showed it was the Democratic Party that held that distinction.

Axelrod: Look, the Republican Party–everybody says, "Is this 1994?" In 1994 the Republican Party was nearly at 60 percent in favorability. Today, they’re at an all-time low.

We couldn’t find a recent poll with that result, but we did quickly run across a similar headline for the Dems. The Gallup poll showed Americans gave Democrats a 41 percent favorability rating, resulting in a near tie with Republicans, at 42 percent. It’s true that the Democrats have enjoyed a higher rating for the past several years, but, as Gallup said, its latest poll puts the Dems at "the lowest point in the 18-year history of this measure." Also, the Washington Post-ABC News Poll released June 8 showed that the percentage of voters who say they are "inclined to look around for someone else to vote for" in congressional elections "has never been higher."

Disagreement on Iran Sanctions

On "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, disagreed over whether the recent June 9 U.N. Security Council vote to impose new sanctions on Iran was the first time the U.S. failed to gain "unanimous support" from other voting nations.

Wallace: In the security council vote on sanctions, for the first time, the U.S. failed to get unanimous support.

Rice: No, that’s actually not true.

Rice is correct. Since 2006, the security council has voted on four occasions to level sanctions against Iran because of the nation’s nuclear weapons program. And on one occasion, the council failed to reach a "unanimous" decision. Here’s a rundown of the votes:

  • In 2006, the security council voted unanimously in favor of resolution 1737, "blocking the import or export of sensitive nuclear material and equipment and freezing the financial assets of persons or entities supporting its proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or the development of nuclear-weapon delivery systems."
  • In 2007, the council followed with another unanimous vote in 2007 in favor of resolution 1747, "banning the country’s arms exports and freezing the assets and restricting the travel of additional individuals engaged in the country’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities."
  • In 2008, the council voted 14 to 0 in favor of another round of sanctions in resolution 1803 that were similar to those imposed in 2006 and 2007. However, Indonesia was the lone nation to abstain in the vote.
  • In 2010, 12 of the security council members, including the U.S., voted in favor of the sanctions, while Turkey and Brazil voted to oppose. Lebanon was the only nation to abstain.

Sunday Replay Repeat

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour repeated a false claim on "Face the Nation" that he made last week on "Fox News Sunday." Barbour said: "There’ve been more than thirty thousand oil wells drilled in Gulf of Mexico in the last fifty years. This is the first time something like this has ever happened." But, as we said last week, that’s not true. There were major blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico in both 1970 and 1979. The current Deepwater Horizon disaster may be the worst Gulf blowout, but Barbour is wrong to keep repeating it’s the first.