This week, Fox News and CNN offered starkly differing responses to the false claim from conservatives that "the federal government doesn't pay for teachers, firefighters, or policeman." While Fox figures failed to challenge that statement, CNN's Soledad O'Brien strongly pushed back, correctly noting that there are many federal initiatives that help local and state governments pay teachers, firefighters, and policemen.
On June 12, Fox & Friends hosted Mitt Romney, who walked back his suggestion that we shouldn't hire "more firemen, more policemen, more teachers." In doing so, Romney claimed that the "federal government doesn't pay" for the hiring of those workers and that the idea is "completely absurd":
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): [President Obama] says that you're out of touch. He says that you want to cut firefighters and teachers, that you don't understand what's going on in these communities. What do you say to that, Governor?
ROMNEY: Well, that's a very strange accusation. Of course, teachers and firemen and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states. The federal government doesn't pay for teachers, firefighters, or policemen. So, obviously that's completely absurd. He's got a new idea, though, and that is to have another stimulus and to have the federal government send money to try and bail out cities and states. It didn't work the first time. It certainly wouldn't work the second time.
None of the co-hosts challenged -- or even directly responded to -- Romney's statement.
But federal dollars do help pay teachers, firefighters, and policemen. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent pointed out that "the federal government does give billions of dollars to states and localities through programs like Title 1, the COPS program, FEMA and others -- which pay for first responders and teachers." The Associated Press fact-checked the claim, too, stating that it's "simply false."
In stark contrast to the Fox hosts, CNN's Soledad O'Brien debunked the same claim when the subject came up on her show Starting Point this morning.
She and her guest Jim Talent, senior economic adviser to the Romney campaign, discussed Romney's recent comments. After O'Brien read Romney's remarks from Fox & Friends, she asked: "Is Mitt Romney wrong about that? Aren't firefighters and police officers and teachers hired or kept from being fired by some federal dollars?"
When Talent replied, in part, "No -- it hasn't been the practice of the federal government to pay local salaries and really shouldn't be," O'Brien persisted:
O'BRIEN: But you do use federal dollars for teachers.
TALENT: Not traditionally, I mean --
O'BRIEN: But let me just read some of them to you. The Department of Justice -- I mean, correct me if I'm wrong -- spends $247 million on a program which is called COPS for hiring or rehiring of full-time officers. Title I goes to support additional academic for -- support for students in poverty. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FEMA spent, for financial year 2011, $380 million on 400 awards that will go to rehire firefighters that have been laid off. I don't understand. Doesn't that completely contradict what the governor's saying?
Talent then admitted that there "have been some programs" at the federal level that support teachers, police, and firefighters, but he called them "generally temporary in nature" and said that such funding is "not often done." O'Brien still didn't allow Talent's misleading comments to stand:
O'BRIEN: But if you look at -- there are many, not just a few, but many programs that actually support the hiring or rehiring of teachers or firefighters or police officers. So it sounds to me like what the governor is saying is not actually true -- that the federal government, in fact, does fund that, that he's wrong. He's not wrong?
Talent could only reply that he and O'Brien would "have to agree to disagree."
O'Brien came to the interview armed with facts about the subject at hand and wasn't afraid to tirelessly question her guest when he was wrong. Contrast her approach with how Fox & Friends -- the show that's perfected the softball interview -- handled the same false claim.