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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

This weekend, the Sunday talkfests were dominated by predictions of how the makeup of the Senate and House might change after Tuesday’s elections. Halloween or not, clairvoyance isn’t a skill set we’ve mastered. We’re happy to wait for the actual results.

Meanwhile, we highlight a few misleading, non-predictive comments from Sunday:

Palin’s ‘Corrupt Bastards’

On "Fox News Sunday," former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused "corrupt bastards" in the media of conspiring with Sen. Lisa Murkowski to sabotage the campaign of her GOP Senate rival, Joe Miller, whom Palin supports. Specifically, Palin said reporters for CBS affiliate KTVA-TV had been recorded plotting to fabricate a story saying one of Miller’s supporters is a child molester.

But her claim rests on a murky snippet of an accidentally recorded newsroom conversation that the news station says Palin and Miller have misinterpreted. There no evidence Murkowski was in any way involved. Here’s what Palin said:

Palin: Just last night it was revealed that the rally that I had for Joe Miller on Thursday — it was revealed — and we have the tape that proves it — that the CBS reporters, the affiliate in Alaska, conspired to make up stories about Joe Miller. We have the tape, Chris, and I can’t wait till it busts out all over the nation to show what it is that we — kind of what I put up with for two years now with the media — but what Joe Miller is faced with in dealing with somebody who feels — Lisa Murkowski — so entitled to that seat that she and some of her people, including some complicits in the media, will do anything. They will stop at nothing …

Fox News’ Chris Wallace: You’re saying — you’re saying — wait a minute. You’re saying …

Palin: … to allow Lisa Murkowski to get back elected.

Wallace: … and I must say, you’re bringing this story — you’re saying that local reporters in Alaska conspired with the Murkowski campaign to put out false information…

Palin: … I am saying — and we have it on tape — that CBS reporters of — in the affiliate up there in Alaska on tape are saying, Let’s find a child molester in the crowd as a supporter for Joe Miller. Let’s blast that. Let’s concoct a Ron Paul [sic] moment there, let’s find any kind of chaos so that we can tweet an alert saying, ooh, there is chaos. Joe Miller got punched, or by — that’s sick. Those are corrupt bastards, Chris. That’s what is wrong with the media today, when they have their chosen one, and nine times out of 10 — heck, 10 times out of 10 in the liberal media — it’s going to be the liberal is the chosen one. So we have a problem there with what Joe Miller has had to face.

But here’s what really happened: The Miller campaign issued a news release Saturday about an accidental voice mail message left on the cell phone of Miller’s spokesman, Randy DeSoto. The campaign released a transcript and later an audio recording in which at least two people can be heard laughing about "child molesters." A woman is heard saying, "We know that out of all the people that will show up tonight, at least one of them will be a registered sex offender." Later there is a discussion about putting out a Twitter or Facebook alert saying, "Joe Miller punched at rally," to which a woman is heard responding, "That’s a good one."

The Miller news release says this shows that KTVA’s assignment editor was "openly discuss[ing] creating, if not fabricating, two stories" about the Miller campaign. KTVA says that is not so. In a statement released Sunday, KTVA General Manager Jerry Bever said: "While the recording is real, the allegations are untrue." Bever said the KTVA employees were "reviewing potential ‘what-if’ scenarios" regarding coverage of a Miller rally that evening and "how KTVA might logistically disseminate any breaking news."

He added, "The perception that this garbled, out of context recording may leave is unfortunate, but to allege that our staff was discussing or planning to create or fabricate stories regarding candidate Miller is absurd. The complete conversation was about what others might be able to do to cause disruption within the Miller campaign, not what KTVA could do."

Neither the Miller campaign nor KTVA mentioned Murkowski. While it is true that her write-in reelection campaign might benefit from any negative publicity about the Miller campaign, the idea that she was connected to the accidentally recorded conversation is simply Palin’s unsupported supposition.

Memory Like a Steele Trap?

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele did a little rewriting of the history of the health care bill on CNN’s "State of the Union with Candy Crowley."

Steele: When we talked about health care, [Republicans] put a series of agenda items on the table. We couldn’t even getting a meeting with the White House to talk about those things. So you pass a health care reform without tort reform, which is a major dollar point that goes into the cost of health care.

Contrary to Steele’s claim, there was a big meeting with the White House to talk about health care. The bipartisan gathering occurred on Feb. 25, 2010, and it was televised. Besides President Obama, Vice President Biden and other key members of the administration, it included Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate and other prominent members of both chambers. After the meeting, Obama wrote to the participants laying out some of the Republican ideas that he said he was exploring. Republicans might have wanted more engagement with the White House than they got, but it’s not true that they "couldn’t even get a meeting."

As for an overhaul of the tort litigation system, it’s true that the demonstration projects in the health care law fall short of what Republicans call "reform." But are the expenses associated with medical malpractice lawsuits a "major dollar point" in the cost of health care, as Steele claims? As we have noted, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported last year that an overhaul of the medical malpractice system, including caps on certain types of damages awarded in malpractice cases, would lead to a reduction in the nation’s annual health care spending of 0.5 percent.That’s not nothing – CBO pegged it at about $11 billion in 2009 – but it’s a drop in the bucket, and nowhere near the $100 billion per year that Republicans like House Minority Leader John Boehner had claimed.

How Much Will Extending Tax Cuts Cost?

On ABC’s “This Week,” Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey exaggerated the cost of extending all of the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003:

Menendez: Well, first of all, we had an opportunity to preserve permanently for the middle class tax cuts that Democrats proposed, and ultimately Republicans held that hostage to giving the wealthiest in the country a tax cut. So what we can’t have is what the Republican leader in the Senate has, which is saying that he wants to make them all of the tax cuts, including for the most wealthiest in the country, permanent. That is a $4 trillion cost. That is not going to happen, because you can’t say you want to be responsible on spending and then spend $4 trillion on tax cuts.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell also made this claim on "Face the Nation," saying that "if you extend all the tax cuts for another 10 years, it adds $4 trillion to the deficit." But this $4 trillion figure overstates the estimated costs of making the tax cuts permanent. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, extending the Bush tax cuts would cost $2.7 trillion over 10 years. So where did the other $1 trillion plus come from? Menendez’s office didn’t get back to us when we asked how he arrived at the $4 trillion figure. But we’ve fact-checked a similar, mirror-image claim — that failing to extend the tax cuts would result in a $3.8 trillion tax — that was based on statistics from the Republican staff of the House Committee on Ways and Means.

FactCheck.org, Aug. 2: A spokeswoman for the GOP staff told us that the $3.8 trillion figure includes both the 10-year effect of the expiring Bush cuts — which the nonpartisan Joint Tax Committee puts at $2.7 trillion — plus an additional $1.1 trillion resulting from the Alternative Minimum Tax. The AMT would raise taxes for millions of middle-income Americans because it was never indexed for inflation on a permanent basis. Obama now proposes to do just that, while Bush merely extended temporary, year-to-year "patches."

Who Was to Blame for Economic Crisis?

Also on "This Week," Menendez attempted to tie sole responsibility for the economic crisis to the Republican Party when he said:

Menendez: Christiane, we understand that people are hurting in this country. But our goal is to have them understand and channel their anger on Election Day against the Republican Party that brought us to the verge of economic collapse in November of 2008, when financial institutions in this country were ready to collapse.

In somewhat the same vein, on CNN’s "State of the Union," Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois blamed the Bush tax cuts for both huge deficits and high unemployment.

Durbin: [Republicans] also tell us that we ought to be sticking with the tax cuts from the Bush era, tax cuts which unfortunately led to the greatest deficits in our history and led to massive unemployment.

Yes, the tax cuts were and will continue to be expensive, as we note above. But they aren’t the only culprit when it comes to the federal government’s fountain of red ink. The U.S. is fighting two costly wars, for instance, the price of which CBO has put at nearly $1 trillion from 2001 to 2010. We express no views on budgetary priorities; our point is that it takes an awful lot of spending to add up to a budget deficit of nearly $1.3 trillion, which was the 2010 figure.

As for the current economic situation and the unemployment that goes with it, as we’ve reported, they are a result of the actions of various players in a complex economy — including two previous administrations (both Republican and Democratic), Wall Street firms, the Federal Reserve and homebuyers.

 Feds vs. States on Wages

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota may have left some viewers with the wrong impression about the Alaska Republican Senate candidate’s views on the minimum wage.

Klobuchar: And then you go across the country and you see things in Alaska where the Republican candidate, they’re came out in front– in favor of getting rid of the minimum wage.

Republican Joe Miller is in favor of getting rid of the federal minimum wage – not any minimum wage — saying that the decision should be left to the states. In a webcast interview with ABC News posted in early October, he said: “We believe — the state of Alaska has a minimum wage which is higher than the federal level because our state leaders have made that determination. The minimum level again should be the state’s decision.” He said that the power to set a minimum wage was not granted to the federal government by the Constitution.

— Brooks Jackson, Viveca Novak, Lori Robertson, Michael Morse and Joshua Goldman