Even by the measure of modern U.S. political events, the Republican National Convention was fact-challenged. Again and again, Republicans reprised their favorite canards and distortions, including the claim that President Obama has eliminated the work requirement in welfare, writes William Boardman.
By William Boardman
Some people don’t believe in such a thing as objective truth. Other people don’t care what’s true or not true. And then there’s the rest of us, trying to figure out what’s real in the modern media maelstrom. Take Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention, just a snapshot, the truth problem in a microcosm, before, during, and after Rick Santorum spoke.
Rachel Maddow was anchoring the coverage on MSNBC, Maddow is avowedly liberal, but even more avowedly committed to getting facts right. She habitually asks her guests if she got her facts right in stories they are knowledgeable about, something few other newspeople do so consistently. And she is scrupulous in making corrections when she gets something wrong.
In other words, Maddow is a reporter with real integrity and here she is with her assortment of MSNBC talking heads getting ready to listen to former Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, and she predicts that he will lie. (Journalists often do have the benefit of getting prepared texts of major speeches.)
Maddow predicts that Santorum will specifically lie about the waivers that five governors (including two Republicans) asked the Obama administration to consider in relation to the federal welfare rules on work for those receiving welfare.
When the administration agreed to consider waivers, it made clear it would grant a waiver to the law’s work requirements only on the condition that more welfare recipients find jobs than under current rules. To date, the Obama administration has granted no waivers. And the two Republican governors who joined in the original request, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Gary Herbert of Utah, are backing away from their initial position.
In 2005, during George W. Bush’s administration, Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts joined 28 other governors who wrote a letter to Congress seeking broader waiver authority from the law than the Obama administration has agreed to consider. And Gov. Romney also supported a program that provided free automobiles to welfare recipients.
But since early August, presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been running ads claiming that President Obama is eliminating work as a welfare requirement with a racially tinged explanation suggesting that Obama is pandering to his base.
One Romney ad in early August claimed that: “On July 12, President Obama quietly ended the work requirement, gutting welfare reform. One of the most respected newspapers in the country called it ‘nuts’…. Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and you wouldn’t have to train for a job…. They just send you your welfare check. And welfare to work goes back to being plain old welfare.”
Romney’s claims have been widely criticized and debunked as false by fact-checking organizations including CNN, the New York Times, Daily Kos, ABC News, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, and others. PolitiFact called Romney’s claims “pants on fire” bogus, the Washington Post gave Romney four “Pinocchios” for maximum falsity, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center agreed. Even Republican Newt Gingrich said there was “no proof” to support Romney’s claims.
In this context, Maddow made her prediction that Santorum, who has had several dramatic engagements of his own with untruth, would end up lying in his speech about Obama and welfare reform.
Sure enough, Santorum lied when he said, “This summer [Obama] showed us once again he believes in government handouts and dependency by waiving the work requirement for welfare…. I helped write the welfare reform bill; we made the law crystal clear — no president can waive the work requirement. But as with his refusal to enforce our immigration laws, President Obama rules like he is above the law.”
When the MSNBC panel returned after the speech, one of its members, Chris Matthews, commented respectfully on Santorum’s speech and remarked that Santorum hadn’t even mentioned welfare. Moments later Maddow gently and gracefully corrected him and Matthews admitted he’d missed the comments.
The next day, on The Maddow Blog featured Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback reluctantly acknowledging that the Romney campaign’s claims about work and welfare are false.
And the ads are still running.
William Boardman lives in Vermont, where he has produced political satire for public radio and served as a lay judge.