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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Romney: Foggy on FactCheck

Mitt Romney is a little unclear on the facts when it comes to FactCheck.org — and what we and other fact-checkers have said about Rick Santorum.

In the same CNN interview in which he made a somewhat premature claim that Santorum was at the “desperate end” of his campaign (just before returns came in showing Santorum had won and Romney had come in third in both the Alabama and Mississippi primaries), he said:

Romney, March 13: Well, you know, it’s been interesting that – that FactCheck has looked at Rick Santorum’s claims over the last several ads and the things he said. And – and I think in almost every case, they’ve said that Rick Santorum’s attacks have been baseless and wrong. They – I think they have something called Pinocchios. They gave him four Pinocchios or something like that.

Memo to Romney: We don’t award “Pinocchios.” That’s Glenn Kessler’s department at the Washington Post Fact Checker column. And we don’t try to keep score on who has made the most misstatements, or the worst.

We can see how it would be easy to mix up FactCheck with Fact Checker. But since Romney brought it up, it’s fair to note that Romney himself has received a total of 52 of Kessler’s “Pinocchios” for various statements and claims, while Santorum has received only 31. (Each claim can earn from zero to four of the little guys, with four going to the most deceptive.)

That’s influenced by the fact that Kessler has rated twice as many Romney claims — 26 of them vs. only 13 for Santorum — due to the former Pennsylvania senator’s relatively recent emergence as a strong contender for the nomination. On average, Santorum’s statements and claims rate a little worse on Kessler’s scale; his get an average of 2.38 Pinocchios while Romney’s get exactly 2 (on the nose, if you will.) By that measure, Romney’s own statements are only marginally less deceptive than Santorum’s.

And while Romney didn’t mention it, the Tampa Bay Times‘ Politifact.com website also keeps a listing of its ratings. So far it has given Santorum 11 “False” ratings and 4 “Pants on Fire” ratings (which are somehow even worse), while Romney has received 18 “False” and 12 “Pants on Fire” ratings. (Santorum may be catching up, though. He has had more such ratings recently than Romney.)

We don’t think truthfulness can be so precisely measured — certainly not out to two decimal places. So we avoid that sort of thing. But it’s fair to say we’ve found cause to criticize both Romney and Santorum any number of times, sometimes in the same article.

So Romney was wrong to say that “in almost every case” Santorum’s claims have been found “baseless and wrong,” either by us or by Kessler — or by Politifact.com for that matter. And however you measure it, his own record for getting the facts right is not without blemish.

–Brooks Jackson