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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Editing Romney’s ‘Apology’ Defense

A new ad from Mitt Romney’s campaign patches together pieces of Romney’s debate defense of his claim that Barack Obama began his presidency on an “apology tour” in the Middle East — leaving out parts that are demonstrably untrue. But even with the benefit of careful editing, Romney’s claim falls short of its billing.

Typically, when we fact-check quotes, it is often a matter of a candidate selectively grabbing bits and pieces of his opponent’s words, leaving out important pieces of context, to create a misleading impression. Here, we have an unusual case of a Romney ad selectively quoting its own candidate to misleading effect.

The ad begins with an edited version of Romney’s statements during the debate (we’ve included the words cut out of the ad in bold).

Romney: And then the president began what I’ve called an apology tour of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness.

During the debate, but not shown in the ad, Obama fired back, saying that “this notion of me apologizing” has been “probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign, and every fact-checker and every reporter that’s looked at it, governor, has said this is not true.”

Obama is right about that. As we noted in our fact-check of the debate, we reviewed all of the speeches that Romney cited in his book “No Apology” to back up his claim that Obama went on an “apology tour,” and we concluded that “we didn’t see that any of them rise to the level of an actual apology.” Our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact and the Washington Post Fact Checker reached the same conclusion.

Romney went on later in the debate to explain what he meant. Again, the ad shortens his words  — conveniently leaving out one grossly inaccurate claim. Here are Romney’s fuller comments at the debate (and again, we have bolded the words left out of the ad).

Romney: Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And, by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region. But you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations and on Arabic TV you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.

So the ad leaves out Romney’s claim that while in the Middle East and on Arabic TV, “you said that America had been dismissive and derisive.” And for good reason. As we noted in our debate fact-check, Obama’s “dismissive” and “derisive” comments were not actually made in the Middle East, as Romney said, but rather during a speech Obama gave in Strasbourg, France, in April 2009. Speaking to a European audience, Obama said that among Americans there has been “a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world” and that “there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.”

As for Romney’s claim that Obama told audiences in the Middle East that America had “dictated to other nations,” the Romney campaign sent us two comments as backup.

The first came during an interview of Obama on Al Arabiya TV on Jan. 27, 2009, shortly after Obama had been inaugurated as president. Obama responded to a question about George Mitchell, then Obama’s personal envoy to the Middle East, and the task of trying to negotiate a cease-fire and ultimately, a lasting peace, between Israelis and Palestinians.

Obama said that with regard to negotiations with Israelis and Palestinians, he told Mitchell to “start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues –and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen.”

Obama went on to say that “ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions.”

In this context, it is clear that Obama is not offering some sort of apology for “dictating” to other nations.

The second example cited by the Romney campaign was from remarks Obama made at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago on April 17, 2009.

Obama: While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values. So I’m here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration.

First, and most important, Obama was not addressing an audience in the Middle East, as Romney said in the debate (and even in the shortened version of his comments in the ad).  And we stick by our assessment that neither these comments Obama made in Trinidad and Tobago, nor any others cited by Romney in his book, rise to the level of Obama apologizing for America.

— Robert Farley