Exclusive: For 10 days, right-wing talkers and Mitt Romney have circulated a deceptively edited quote tricking Americans into thinking that President Obama believes businessmen didn’t build their businesses. Belatedly, one of the “independent fact-checkers” has spoken up, reports Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
It may have taken too long, but Washington Post “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler has finally acknowledged that Mitt Romney engaged in a distortion by using selective editing to make it appear that President Barack Obama was insulting people who build businesses when he actually was talking about building roads and bridges.
In his commentary, Kessler inserted some snide asides about Obama recycling what Kessler apparently regards as stale Democratic ideas about building public infrastructure so private industry can thrive.
But Kessler did concede on Monday that “The biggest problem with Romney’s ad is that it leaves out just enough chunks of Obama’s words — such as a reference to ‘roads and bridges’— so that it sounds like Obama is attacking individual initiative. The ad deceivingly cuts away from Obama speaking in order to make it seem as if the sentences follow one another, when in fact eight sentences are snipped away.
“Suddenly, the word ‘that’ appears as if it is referring to a business, rather than (apparently) to roads and bridges.”
That was precisely the point I made in a story five days earlier, entitled “Mitt Romney’s New Lie.” That article said, “The ‘independent fact-checkers’ might want to dust off their Pinocchios and pull out their ‘truth-o-meters’ in reaction to Mitt Romney’s latest calculated lie, applying deceptive editing to President Barack Obama’s remarks about how public infrastructure supports private enterprise.
“This is a clear case where Romney and the right-wing media know what they’re doing. They clipped Obama’s remarks in such a way as to make it seem that the President was saying that business owners didn’t build their own businesses, when the comment actually refers to the building of roads and other public investments.”
This right-wing disinformation project began after Obama gave a talk in Roanoke, Virginia, on July 13, in which he described the contributions that previous generations and public spending have made toward creating conditions that help businesses succeed:
“Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
Obama’s syntax may have been slightly mangled, but the context was obvious (and is even more so if you watch the full talk). Obama was saying businesses did not build the roads, bridges and such that have helped the private sector flourish. But the right-wing media quickly lopped off the context. Fox News applied its classic selective editing.
Romney joined this adventure in agit-prop on July 17 when he told a rally in Pennsylvania that Obama “said this: ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.’” Romney then extrapolated from the misleading quote that Obama wants Americans to be “ashamed of success” and that Obama is “changing the nature of America.”
“I find it extraordinary that a philosophy of that nature would be spoken by a president of the United States,” Romney said.
But Obama wasn’t saying that someone else built the business; he was saying someone else built “that,” i.e. the public infrastructure that businesses use. Given this clear context, Romney and other right-wing figures knew exactly what they were doing. They were lying – and the lie was soon featured in attack ads flooding the TV.
One might have thought that this was precisely the reason for “independent fact-checkers” – to intervene quickly to prevent the American electorate from being misled. But the major “fact-checking” groups mostly stayed on the sidelines, much as their predecessors did in Campaign 2000 when Al Gore was facing similar distortions.
For 10 days, right-wing talkers, Mitt Romney and the attack ads had pretty much free rein to circulate this calculated lie and deceive millions of Americans.
Ironically, while mostly sitting on their hands in the face of this patent falsehood, Kessler and the “independent fact-checkers” at Annenberg Center’s Factcheck.org were busy pointing fingers at Obama and his campaign for blaming Romney for plant closings and off-shoring of jobs by his Bain Capital — and questioning his claim to have cut ties with the firm in February 1999.
Though the Obama campaign cited Bain Capital’s multiple Securities and Exchange Commission filings that showed Romney still in charge for the next three years – the New York Times tallied 142 such filings – Factcheck.org called the President and his team “all wet” in their suspicions about the contradictory Romney/Bain statements.
Yet, when Republicans and then Romney began ripping Obama’s roads-and-bridges quote out of context, all you could hear around the vaunted “fact-checkers” were the proverbial crickets chirping. Or to use a different metaphor, the lie had time to saunter around the world before the “fact-checkers” finally put their boots on.
So, in that context, perhaps we should be grateful that Kessler finally addressed this Romney distortion and gave the Republican presidential candidate “three Pinocchios” – although one might have thought such a willful lie should deserve the full four.
To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.