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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Group Skews Facts on Obama’s ‘Shameless’ Statements

A group claiming to be backed by veterans has gone too far in a viral Web video that portrays the president as a glory hog after Osama bin Laden’s death.

We cannot dispute the video’s larger point: That President Obama is using Bin Laden’s killing to score political points. But the video – produced by a former Bush-Cheney campaign operative and boasting more than 1 million hits on YouTube — misleads by:

  • Claiming the Washington Post criticized Obama for having the “Shameless Gall” to score political points. But the video uses the headline of an opinion piece by veteran GOP operative and lobbyist Ed Rogers. The piece appeared on the newspaper’s website — and was not something written by the newspaper’s own editorial writers. The ad flashes the 2012 headline over footage of Obama announcing Bin Laden’s death in 2011, making it seem as if the paper criticized the president for hogging the credit last year.
  • Splicing together snippets of Obama talking only about his role in the operation. In fact, the president repeatedly credited the military and intelligence communities for the successful raid.
  • Using Obama’s “spike the football” quote to make it seem as if he’s flip-flopped on the issue of using Bin Laden’s death for political gain. But the president used the term when talking about releasing photos of Bin Laden’s body and his concern that it could incite more violence.

We have no quibbles with the video’s use of Arianna Huffington’s quote criticizing the Obama campaign for its own ad regarding Obama’s role in the operation or the Mother Jones headline “Obama Spikes the bin Laden Football.”

Veterans For a Strong America, the group behind the video, is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which means it can raise unlimited amounts of money and does not have to disclose its donors. The group, which claims to be nonpartisan, is “mobilizing veterans and veterans’ supporters as advocates in the public policy process,” according to its website.

Joel Arends, a 35-year-old Iraq war veteran, is the group’s executive director. He was a South Dakota field operative for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000. He has also been involved with conservative political organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and Veterans for Freedom.

Arends has declined publicly to reveal who funds his group. And it’s unclear how many veterans or current members of the military are involved. Arends told BuzzFeed that he plans to gather Navy SEALs and Special Forces operators to criticize the White House during the 2012 campaign.

“We’re looking to [put together] a coalition, to field SEALs and operators that want to come out publicly,” Arends told BuzzFeed. “I’ve had a lot of discussions with former SEALs and current SEALs. I’ve been talking to operators in the community. There is palatable discontent.”

Arends said the group is considering running the ad on television.

Blog Headline Blowup

The video misleads viewers into thinking that even the Washington Post criticized Obama for using Bin Laden’s death to score political points. In fact, it was only the opinion of a GOP operative who blogs for the newspaper’s website.

The conservative blogger, Ed Rogers, owns a lobbying firm with Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor and former Republican National Committee chair. Rogers also worked on the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and worked in the first Bush White House.


The headline, which lacks all capital letters in its original form, comes from The Insiders blog, which Rogers shares with liberal commentator Carter Eskew. Rogers’ post criticized the Obama campaign’s recent “One Chance” video, which questions whether Mitt Romney would have made the same decision to go after Bin Laden. Rogers’ post — and its headline — is hardly an indictment against Obama from the newspaper’s editorial page, which the video could lead some viewers to believe.

Furthermore, the ad flashes the 2012 headline over footage of Obama announcing Bin Laden’s death a year before, which some could interpret as the paper criticizing the president — even then — for taking too much credit.

Sinister Snippets

The video strings together several snippets of Obama saying the word “I” in reference to the Bin Laden operation, making it seem as if the president took more than his share of the credit. But the selected footage fails to show Obama’s praise and gratitude to the military during the same speeches.

In one instance, the ad takes footage (see 20:19) from a joint press conference Obama gave with Japan’s prime minister on April 30.

Ad: I said that I’d go after Bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did. (editing) I did … I did … I did.

The president was answering a reporter’s question about Romney’s recent statement that “even Jimmy Carter” would’ve made the same decision to go after Bin Laden. Obama praised America’s military and intelligence teams before responding directly to the question about the presidential decision.

Christi Parsons (reporter, Tribune newspapers), April 30: We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Bin Laden. I wonder if you would share some thoughts on that anniversary. And I also wanted to mention that your likely opponent said anybody would’ve made that call — even Jimmy Carter. So, I’m curious to see what you would say about that …

Obama: Let me make a couple of points. First of all Christi, I hardly think that you’ve seen any excessive celebration taking place here. I think the American people rightly remember what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice somebody who killed over 3,000 of our citizens. And it’s a mark of the excellence of our intelligence teams, our military teams, a political process that worked. And I think for us to use that time for some reflection to give thanks to those who participated is entirely appropriate and that’s what’s been taking place.

As far as my personal role and what other folks would do, I just recommend that everybody take a look at people’s previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out Bin Laden. I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That’s been at least my practice. I said that I’d go after Bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they’d do something else, I’d go ahead and let them explain it.

The ad cherry picks several of Obama’s statements – editing together sentences he began with the word “I” — from the speech he gave in May 2011 announcing Bin Laden’s death. The editing implies Obama failed to give credit to the military, when in fact he specifically thanked them four times.

Ad: I can report … I directed Leon Panetta … I was briefed … I met repeatedly … I determined … At my direction … I called President Zardari … I as commander and chief.

Here are four examples from the same speech of Obama thanking the military and intelligence communities. (Our colleagues at FlackCheck.org produced a video that gives a more complete picture of what Obama said that night, and they produced a second one on the president’s April 30 comments.)

Obama, May 1, 2011: (2:13) And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies. Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort.

(4:14) A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability.

(7:19) Tonight we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work nor know their names. But tonight they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.

(7:39) We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country.  And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.

The ad also misleadingly uses Obama’s own term about spiking the football in reference to Bin Laden’s death. The president, speaking during an interview (see 4:20) with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” was explaining why he wanted to prevent photos of Bin Laden’s body from becoming propaganda for al Qaeda. The video’s use of the quote implies Obama initially was against using Bin Laden’s death for his own political gain and then changed his mind.

Steve Kroft, May 8, 2011: Why won’t you release them (photos of Bin Laden’s body)?

Obama: It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos — of somebody who was shot in the head — are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence, as a propaganda tool. That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies. The fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received. And I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he’s gone. But we don’t need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk. …

–Ben Finley