A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Nov. 22-28


This week, readers had plenty to say about our analysis of Mitt Romney’s first television ad of the 2012 presidential campaign.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the email we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

 

A Matter of Fact or a Matter of Opinion?

I am an almost daily visitor to your site, and after reading Brooks Jackson’s piece on the Romney TV ad [“Romney’s Ad ‘Deceitful & Dishonest’?,” Nov. 22], a disappointed reader.

In the article, he dissects the first TV ad of the Romney campaign. In fairness, he does address the untrue claim about the [Affordable Care Act] killing jobs. But my disappointment comes in his assertion that whether or not the edited quote is deceptive is “a matter of opinion.” I am an independent who has leaned and voted right for most of my life. But a lean to the right doesn’t blind me to the truth as it relates to this ad.

To say this ad isn’t deceptive on the merit of the facts is baffling, and I believe could have long-lasting negative effects on our public discourse. To say it’s up to the reader to decide “whether this was a failed attempt at irony rather than a failed attempt to fool viewers” is a thin argument — at best.

What makes this ad deceptive isn’t the Romney people misleading people as to WHEN this quote was made, though the “when” could add to the overall level of deception in the end. The issue with the ad is that it appears that it is Obama who is making the assertion, “If we talk about the economy, we lose.” Obama didn’t make that statement in 2008, and he didn’t make that statement since. Obama was quoting the McCain campaign when he said this. Quoting someone else, and having the fact that someone else is being quoted be omitted, is by the very definition deception. An “apples-to-apples” comparison is found in the ad that ThinkProgress has since made that cuts various attacks Romney has made into seeming endorsements of the positions he’s attacking (though they are clear that they aren’t really Romney’s assertions or positions).

Jackson references the fact that the Romney campaign released a press release where they admitted Obama was repeating the McCain campaign’s comments, and I credit him for at least mentioning this, but the press release in no way excuses what is seen on the TV ad (unless, perhaps, they were to make sure that everyone who saw the ad was also somehow exposed to the press release). Presenting the statement regarding the economy AS OBAMA’S is the issue, and the issue is that it’s a deceptive presentation.

When an independent fact-checking organization leaves such a straight-forward case “to opinion,” it gives permission to those who would obfuscate the truth to do so. Spin is one thing, and it has already made the public cynical, but making assertions with no basis in fact must be called what it is when it happens. If we are ever to restore the faith in our politicians and political process, ads like this must be called out for what they are. And what they “are” are lies.

Matt Shepardson
Romeoville, Ill.

 

FactCheck is a jewel of the internet, but I am disappointed by this particular article. You have given the Romney campaign a slap on the wrist for twisting an out-of-context Obama quote into the exact opposite of what he meant. The Romney TV ad represents McCain’s words (as quoted by Obama) as Obama’s. The vague “explanation” in the Romney press release isn’t merely insufficient, but completely irrelevant.

I understand that you and other fact checkers won’t always agree, and that’s a good thing, but in this case PolitiFact’s “Pants On Fire” rating was 100 percent correct. The Romney campaign’s ironic intent is questionable, but more importantly, irrelevant. The end result is a classic example of deceit.

Kenneth Fiester
Crofton, Md.

 

While I’m delighted that your analysis of Romney’s first TV spot highlights the exaggerated claim regarding the new health care law’s “job-killing” attributes, I’m puzzled (well, horrified, actually) that you dismiss as a matter of opinion the dishonesty involved in showing an edited version of Obama quoting John McCain and making it sound as if the quote is Obama’s actual opinion. Beyond being a cynical and disgusting campaign tactic, it is a lie, plain and simple. So many things are a matter of opinion; this is not.

I’ve so trusted your analysis in the past; I’ll be less inclined to do so in the future.

Janet Keller
Albany, Calif.

FactCheck.org responds: We clearly failed to convince these and several other readers of our main point. In our judgment, the ad’s claim that the new health care law is “killing jobs” is far more consequential than the out-of-context editing of Obama’s words. The truth is that independent experts predict only a “small” or “minimal” impact on employment, which is a major concern of voters at a time when unemployment is so high.

Regarding the out-of-context editing, we noted the fact that Obama’s words were shown out of context and gave the full quote from 2008. We said: “It is possible that a viewer might be misled into thinking that Obama said this about his own campaign in 2011, since the quote comes 23 seconds after a graphic cites Obama’s comments as being uttered in 2008.”

But we left it to viewers to decide whether or not to agree with the Obama campaign’s harsh characterization of the video editing as “dishonest” or “deceitful.” Our view is that such pejorative terms should be avoided without clear evidence of malicious intent. In this case the Romney campaign’s stated intent was not to deceive, but to make a case that Obama now faces an even worse economy than John McCain did in 2008. Readers can decide for themselves whether or not to accept that. And we’ll continue to be cautious about using such emotionally loaded terms as “dishonest” or “deceitful.”


Presidents Can’t Do It Alone

Sometimes Factcheck.org is as bad as the candidates. Your article on the Romney TV spot states that it is true that President Obama has not fixed the economy and suggests that he is responsible for unemployment being worse today than when he was elected.

Do you need a civics lesson?

Since when can a president fix the economy all by himself? The failure to fix the economy is the fault of both the Congress and the president. In my opinion, Congress is far more responsible, especially the Republicans who have signed the no tax increase pledge of Grover Norquist, so that all solutions to the budget deficit must be through spending cuts. Spending cuts by themselves will not only not solve the deficit problem, they will further slow the economy.

In your search for truth and accuracy, you sometimes don’t see the forest for the trees. Some issues are complex and you need to deal with the complexity.

Neal Mayer
Millsboro, Del.