Exclusive: Mitt Romney is echoing a lie that has been rumbling through the right-wing echo chamber, a selectively edited comment by President Obama about how roads, bridges and other public spending help business. This is a classic case where “independent fact-checkers” could help out, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
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.
In a talk in Roanoke, Virginia, on July 13, Obama was describing the contributions that the public sector has 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.”
Though Obama’s syntax is slightly mangled, the context is obvious. Obama is saying that businesses did not build the roads, bridges and the Internet. But the right-wing media quickly lopped off the context. Fox News applied its classic selective editing.
On Tuesday, Romney joined in, telling 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 this 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 know exactly what they’re doing. They’re lying.
Yet, reflecting again how poorly the U.S. news media handles such distortions, the Washington Post reported Romney’s rendition of Obama’s statement without context or contradiction. The willful distortion by Romney was allowed to flow unchecked into the public discourse.
If there is a purpose for “fact-checkers,” it is for situations like this, where one candidate wrenches out of context a comment by another with the intention to mislead voters. It also is the responsibility of reporters and editors to supply context even in spot stories.
Blocking the Facts
Where “fact-checkers” are less useful and indeed can be downright harmful is on larger and more nuanced questions, such as the one about Romney’s precise departure date from Bain Capital. In that case, Romney created confusion over when he left by signing a series of conflicting forms and making contradictory statements. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Romney’s Fact-Checker Cover-up.”]
However, the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler chose to accept Romney’s latest assertion that he had nothing to do with Bain Capital after Feb. 11, 1999, when he left to work on the Winter Olympics.
FactCheck.org made a big point that Romney would have committed a felony if he lied on his campaign disclosure form, suggesting that the public should believe him because the potential penalty for filing a false statement would be so high.
FactCheck.org (and Kessler) stuck with that position even after the Obama campaign and many journalists brought forward dozens of Securities and Exchange Commission documents, including some signed by Romney, showing him to be Bain Capital’s owner, chief executive officer, chairman and controlling person.
Despite the obvious contradictions and the fact that is also a felony to make false statements to the SEC the “independent fact-checkers” took the position that the Obama campaign must prove to near 100 percent certainty that Romney actually was continuing to direct Bain Capital’s decisions after February 1999.
However, that evidence was beyond the reach of anyone outside of Romney’s inner circle and his Bain Capital associates and they were stonewalling requests for information like meeting minutes, phone-call records and recollections of Romney’s post-1999 contacts. Romney himself rebuffed media inquiries for details about conversations he might have had with Bain executives.
Thus, by giving Romney a pass and simply accepting his current self-serving claim, the “fact-checkers” became accomplices to a cover-up. Citing these “independent fact-checkers,” Romney stiffened his refusal to answer more questions or to provide more than his last two tax returns.
When I asked Kessler in an e-mail if he felt uncomfortable being used this way a “fact-checker” being exploited to cover up facts he responded by saying:
“I think you misunderstand my role. I vet political statements on a case by case basis, as do the other fact checkers. In the case of Romney’s departure from Bain, I have always maintained that 1999-2002 is a grey area. I have tended to say that transactions in which Romney was personally involved before 1999 are fair game, even if the bankruptcy (such as Ampad) came later.
“Romney could certainly clear this up by releasing more information, but in the meantime the Obama campaign has not provided enough evidence to back up claims of Romney being personally involved in deals post-1999. The burden really is on them since they are making the charge.”
Yet, the same point could be made about any investigation. You start out with some evidence, which especially in the face of stonewalling you can legitimately cite, even if there remain some unanswered questions. In this case, the Obama camp produced official Bain Capital filings with the SEC that contradicted Romney’s current claims.
If you went back four decades and looked at the Washington Post’s reporting on Watergate, you would see a similar pattern: President Richard Nixon and his White House insisted there was no cover-up while reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein kept uncovering contradictory pieces of evidence.
It wasn’t until the end of the process when Nixon was forced to disclose internal tapes that the mystery was solved. Nixon was lying and the Post was vindicated.
However, if Kessler’s standards had been applied, the earlier Post stories would have received four “Pinocchios” for a “whopper” because Woodward and Bernstein could not prove categorically a high-level White House cover-up. They had evidence pointing in that direction but it wasn’t ironclad.
So, Kessler and his fellow “fact-checkers” might want to reexamine how they operate. If they don’t consider themselves investigative reporters but rather people who simply “vet political statements” they should stick to a narrower set of parameters.
They certainly shouldn’t jump into the middle of a complex investigation and begin denouncing the investigators for not knowing everything that might conceivably be known. That only guarantees that the public never gets the full story. However, they might take issue with some dishonest selective editing.
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.
Great stuff FGS! Seems like you may also have heeded George Lakoff. Let me know if I can have your permission to include this in my course pack of readings for my students.
Go for it. But I hope they turn out smarter than me.
The only person doing selective editing is you… and trying to FoxNews did..
There are independant transcipts of Obam’s speech.
You can get video from ABC, CBS, etc..
The funny part is the Liberls believe the nonsense in your blog
Here is yet another ” Gem -featuring phoney Hack – Mitt Romney ”
This kind of fact-checking and research is exactly what we do at the History Commons, and I think we do it very, very well. Unfortunately there aren’t enough of us to cover everything that needs to be covered. I’d LOVE to see us cover the US elections as thoroughly as we’ve done 9/11 or US torture policies (for just two examples). Right now I’m working on creating a comprehensive examination of US voting laws with a sub-focus on the Citizens United decision and its ramifications. If anyone’s interested in documenting the elections for HC, drop me a note: mtuck AT historycommons DOT org
The Democrats never learn. Let me see if I can explain without falling into the same pit which always ensnares them. It’s difficult, because their problem ALWAYS starts with the â€œexplanationâ€. Issues are complicated, so Republications rely on categorization, generalization and simplification. In their zeal to enlighten the public and expose Republican hypocrisy, Democrats try to explain the reality of the situation with a RATIONAL approach, and it’s always boring. Republican â€œsound bitesâ€ use an EMOTIONAL approach, and it’s always exciting. The Democrats just don’t get it.
Here’s an example. Two candidates, Repubney and Demomba are locked in a fierce battle over the vicissitudes of finance capitalism. What legislative initiatives should be pursued in order to stabilize markets, create investor confidence, reduce insider trading, decrease unemployment and insure a healthy economy? After all, the life savings, pensions, mortgages and the education of our children hinge on these issues.
Mr. Repubney makes a big speech. He says, â€œMy opponent has embarked on a strategy which inflames hatred and resentment based on class warfare. He would have you believe that hard working, honest and creative entrepreneurs should have to share the fruit of their labor with shiftless, lazy parasites who rely on government handouts. He fans the flames of envy and resentment that encourage crime and injustice against our most patriotic and dedicated citizens. He supports social initiatives which drive up the cost of business, break the backs of productive industries, and create tax burdens which become the incentive to close factories and move production to facilities which can compete in today’s market realities. These programs are socialist by nature. They stem from the incessant campaign to rob us of our freedom to choose and to engage in fair competition. This socialist agenda, my friends, is destroying our economy.â€
Mr. Demomba predictably responds with an honest explanation of fractional derivatives, marginal trading, market manipulation and currency exchange. He highlights the fact that, â€œCampaign contributions have encouraged legislation which obfuscates oversight responsibility, and despite the inherently convoluted nature of the onerous laws designed to protect the interests of the financial sector, our economy nevertheless continues to recover despite the nature of certain practices which, despite their sometimes distasteful implications, are abused but they are not specifically illegal.â€
ZZZZZZZZZZZZ……….Oh, excuse me. I was about to say that Mr. Demomba’s speech actually sounds like a defense of Mr. Repubney’s position. After ten years of higher education, I don’t understand fractional derivatives either. So, here’s what Mr. Demomba should have said:
â€œThe perpetrators of investment crime and financial fraud support my opponent. They are robbing you of your American Heritage. They hate me, and I welcome their hatred. I hope to see them stew in their own greed. They lack humanity and acknowledge no shame. Their crimes demand justice. They have stolen not just money, but the future of our children, our pride in America, and our rightful place as the beacon of hope and progress in a civilized world. My opponent, Mr. Repubney, is no American patriot. If he were an American patriot, he would invest his money in America. I can enlighten you as to my opponent’s true loyalty with one word: ‘Offshore’. That’s where he invests his money. Offshore, where prostitution is legal, and there are no constraints on the basest immoral practices. Offshore, where the finance criminals entertain themselves in the sordid temples of illicit tourism and human trafficking. Offshore, where children become the commerce of choice in a market based on poverty. Offshore, where money buys immunity from corporate crime and moral duty. Here at home, they have crippled your labor unions. They have saddled you with the sorrow of lowered expectations. You can’t strike, but his cronies have gone on strike. They have moved their liquid capital offshore, and refuse to invest it here. This â€œCapital Strikeâ€ is the strategy they tried against the New Deal. They sowed fear to block Social Security by calling it a tax instead of a shield against poverty and indignity. Unemployment was fostered to keep wages artificially low. They would have subverted victory in World War Two, but they were caught out in their massive schemes to invest in the industrial monopolies of our European enemies…Offshore. Offshore is where they will export your future, and if they are not stopped, their legacy will eventually come home to roost. Their despicable exploitation of human frailty is the plentiful commodity they buy offshore: Poverty. They are investing their capital to import that product, and they are doing so at your expense. Poverty is what makes them rich, and so they despise progress. Offshore, the swaying palms, the balmy beaches and the placid resorts of the tax havens are a facade that hides the squalor of wage slavery. The patrons of those places despise me. They despise you too, but most of all, they despise Democracy. On the other hand, they love poverty, and there is plenty of it at a good price: Offshore. If we permit them to continue, if we weaken our guard or fall for their lies, our beautiful country will become another finance playground. Poverty will provide any amusement for the price of a song, just like it does where my opponent invests: offshore.
Note: Mr. Repubney’s speech was plagiarized from â€œPropaganda for Dummiesâ€, P. J. Goebbels, 1952. Mr. Demomba’s speech was plagiarized from â€œDeals I left Undoneâ€, F. D. Roosevelt, 1948.
Excellent analysis and demonstrative dialogue, Mr FGS! Thanks for the effort.
F. G. Sanford, you clearly understand the problem. But your proposed solution makes another Democrat mistake. Your second word is four syllables,and probably unknown to at least 1/4 of the adult American public. You need an editor who can cut out half of your speech and substitute shorter words for the rest. Somebody purportedly told Adlai Stevenson in 1952 “You have the support of every thinking American!” Stevenson is said to have replied “Oh. I had really hoped I might win the election.” (We respected Stevenson, but we liked Ike.) Repubs know this, and they will win if we don’t learn it.
Thanks-you’re right, and you gave me a good laugh! I guess they understand “perps”, because those are in the news all the time!
The fact checkers could have deferred judgment but felt pressed to make a quick assessment when they had no supporting evidence. You do not get to make that mistake too often in the business they’re in. They stepped into the world of speculating, which put them in way over their head. Too bad they are getting egg on their faces over this; they perform a valuable service for those people who are still looking for correct information. Wonder how long the availability of truth will continue (?) Reducing the number of sources of objective analysis to one or two (snopes and politifact) does not bode well. I agree that the news media should supply the context when talking about who said what and is it being quoted properly. Journalists stopped doing this quite a while ago and we are worse off for it. They are essentially perpetuating lies. Pretty scary.