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

DNC Misquotes Pawlenty

The Democratic National Committee takes Tim Pawlenty's comments on his presidential campaign out of context. In a web video posted May 22, the DNC claimed that Pawlenty said, "I don't know," in response to a question about why he was running. But the reporter had asked when the former Minnesota governor knew that he wanted to be president — not why.

The DNC was quick to criticize Pawlenty, posting the video the same day he announced that he would run in another web video. The Democrats' attack is called "Why?" and ends by asking, "Why are you running?" It then claims that Pawlenty told Time magazine in a May 19 article, "I don't know," and "I wish I had a better answer for you." But that's not what the article says.

Time reporter Michael Crowley wrote that he asked Pawlenty "exactly when he decided he was up to the grand challenge of the presidency." Here's the full paragraph in question:

Time magazine, May 19:  And when I ask Pawlenty, during a second interview in Des Moines, Iowa, exactly when he decided he was up to the grand challenge of the presidency, he answers in less than grandiose terms, explaining how he'd set up a political-action committee in 2009. I try again, saying I am curious about when he first imagined himself worthy of the history books, ready to send soldiers to their deaths and endure the national stage's harsh toll. "I don't know," he replies. "I wish I had a good answer for you on that." Pawlenty says it is not an idea that crossed his mind 15 or 20 years ago but that as he considered life as a relatively young ex-governor, he felt obliged not to take the easy path and "go make some money and play hockey and drink beer." He adds that he almost didn't run at all. "Mary and I talked about this at length, and many times, and it was a close call," he says, mentioning his wife of 24 years. He adds with a laugh, "It could have gone the other way for all the reasons you're suggesting."

Crowley also tweeted on May 20 that the DNC "distorts what he said to me about running," adding that " 'I don't know' referred to when he first saw self as a prez–not WHY he's running."

The video starts off with clips from a local TV report on Pawlenty's battle with the state Legislature over continuing funding for a program that provides health care to low-income adults that do not qualify for other health care programs. The DNC correctly quotes Fox9 as reporting: "Governor Pawlenty eliminated the program that provides health care to 33,000 low-income residents." But then there's some distortion of the rest of the segment, in which the reporter says that "[t]he welfare rights committee will protest over their concern that the governor has systematically been cutting programs for the poor since he took office." The DNC cuts off the first part of that sentence, making it sound like the reporter said that "the governor has systematically been cutting programs for the poor." That's not her assessment, but rather the view of the welfare rights committee.

Pawlenty twice vetoed funding for what's called the General Assistance Medical Care (GMAC) because of cost concerns. He agreed to a compromise to extend the program. (GMAC recipients were moved to Medicaid this year under the federal health care law.)

The rest of the video highlights Pawlenty's change of position on cap and trade, which we've also written about. The DNC plays a clip of a 2008 radio ad, in which Pawlenty says, "Cap greenhouse gas pollution now," and it shows him telling an audience at the the National Press Club the same year: "[W]e have to move to cleaner and alternative energy sources, and we should do that with all dispatch. We should do it boldly, and we should do it aggressively." He touted Minnesota's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 in that speech. But he also added that offshore drilling is part of the solution, saying that the country has to "simultaneously maximize existing sources of energy while we simultaneously transition to a cleaner, more secure energy future." The DNC video then shows Pawlenty saying that cap and trade would be a "disaster" on NBC's "Meet the Press" in 2009. The governor has said that he made a mistake and that he's sorry for his past support of cap and trade.