Media figures are creating false balance in their coverage of the presidential debate by claiming both candidates lied. But the statements from President Obama they are pointing to are true.
John Fund of National Review and Jonathan Karl of ABC News both used factual statements made by President Obama as examples to claim that he "stretched the truth" during the October 3 presidential debate. Fund cited Obama's comments about the power of an advisory board created by the health care reform law, while Karl pointed to Obama's statement that he has proposed a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. In fact, both statements by President Obama during the debate were true, and have been supported by independent fact-checkers.
As a guest on CBS' Face the Nation Fund claimed "both candidates, I think, told things that stretched the truth." Fund specifically criticized Obama for saying in the debate that the Independent Payments Advisory Board instituted by the health reform law "wasn't going to make any decisions on treatment." According to Fund, that board "has unilateral power, unless Congress overrides it with a supermajority, to basically tell all doctors and hospitals this is how much money you have to treat people. That is incredible power. That is effectively the power to ration health care. So I think the President was stretching the truth in a big part of Obamacare."
During the debate, President Obama disputed Mitt Romney's statement that the health reform law "put in place a board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they're going to receive." Obama described the advisory board as "a group of health care experts, doctors, et cetera" who work "to figure out, how can we reduce the cost of care in the system overall? ... [W]hat this board does is basically identifies best practices and says, let's use the purchasing power of Medicare and Medicaid to help to institutionalize all these good things that we do."
Obama's description is accurate. The health reform law forbids the board from submitting "any recommendation to ration health care ... or otherwise restrict benefits," and multiple fact-checkers have made clear the board "wouldn't make any health care decisions for individual Americans" and "cannot by law make recommendations about what treatments people get." Instead, according to Politifact, "it would make broad policy decisions that affect Medicare's overall cost."
From the September 23 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:
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The major Sunday network news talk shows gave less than two minutes of coverage to Mitt Romney's invocation of the conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States. The New York Times reported that Romney's comment was part of a shift by the Romney campaign to a "more combative footing against President Obama in order to appeal to white, working-class voters."
Face the Nation guest host Nancy Cordes falsely suggested that President Obama does not have a plan to cut the deficit. Cordes compared Obama to Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who Cordes claimed has released a plan that makes "tough choices." In fact, Obama has a detailed plan to reduce the deficit.
Cordes said to Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter:
What about this argument by Republicans who point to Paul Ryan's plan and say, "hey, it may not all be popular, but at least he's making the tough choices"? We've got a $15 trillion debt, we've got entitlements that are exploding, and at least he's willing to put his plan out on the table while the president, at least initially, did not embrace his plan, the Bowles-Simpson plan.
Cutter responded that Obama has a plan, which is available on the White House website. She added that Obama's plan "does make those tough choices," but is "not an ideological document like Paul Ryan's plan."
Later, Cordes claimed that Obama may have a plan on his website, but on the campaign trail, Obama mostly talks about "raising taxes on the two percent. Where are the other bold plans that require sacrifice from the rest of the country?" Cutter pointed Cordes again to the White House website and noted that Obama has not only talked about his budget cutting plans, he has given an address to a joint session of Congress about it.
Cutter proceeded to provide details of Obama's plan to reduce the deficit.
Fox News' Greta van Susteren last night became the sixth journalist to interview Mitt Romney without asking him about the conservative conspiracy theory alleging that the Muslim Brotherhood is using supposed ties to an aide for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to infiltrate the U.S. government. Two surrogates for Romney's campaign have defended that conspiracy during the past week, while Republican leaders like John Boehner and John McCain have condemned it.
In the wake of last week's tragic mass shooting in Aurora, CO, some in the media are distorting public opinion and election results to predict that the events will not have an impact on the debate over gun violence prevention. In fact, polls indicate public support for a broad range of stronger gun restrictions, including the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which may have prevented the legal purchase of one of the alleged shooter's guns.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza kicked off the debate with a piece published the morning after the shooting headlined "Why the Aurora shootings won't likely change the gun control debate":
If history is any guide, however, the Aurora shootings will do little to change public sentiment regarding gun control, which has been moving away from putting more laws on the books for some time.
In 1990, almost eight in ten Americans said that the "laws covering the sales of firearms" should be made "more strict" while just 10 percent said they should be made "less strict" or "kept as they are now". By 2010, those numbers had drastically shifted with 54 percent preferring less strict or no change in guns laws and 44 percent believing gun laws should be made more strict.
By Sunday the claim that Americans don't support tougher gun laws was a regular feature on the morning political talk shows. But if Congress is not moved by this tragedy to pass new gun violence prevention laws, it won't be because the American people oppose such measures.
In fact, other polls indicate that contrary to the result of the Gallup poll Cillizza cited, Americans support the passage of an array of new, stronger firearm sale laws.
Note that this appetite among the public for stronger gun laws includes the support of more than three in five for reinstating the nationwide ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. One of the weapons used by the alleged shooter was an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, which reportedly may have been banned under that law. Members of the House and Senate have called for bringing back the ban in response to the shooting. They enjoy the support of 62 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans, according to a June 2011 Time magazine poll.
On CBS Sunday morning, Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer gave a free pass to Mitt Romney's on his changed position on whether an individual mandate should be part of federal health insurance reform.
Schieffer's interview was the first Sunday morning interview Romney has done this campaign cycle with a show other than Fox News Sunday.
Schieffer asked Romney to respond to the assertion that the federal Affordable Care Act enacted by Obama is essentially the same as the plan that Romney enacted in Massachusetts. Romney responded that he believed an individual mandate at the federal level is "unconstitutional."
However, in a 2009 USA Today op-ed, Romney advocated for a federal individual mandate, expressly stating that the federal government follow his Massachusetts law as a model, a fact Schieffer did not bring up.
As TPM explained:
In July 2009, Mitt Romney called on President Obama to require Americans to buy insurance as part of his health care plan, using "tax penalties" as a backstop -- in other words, the individual mandate that Republicans virulently oppose.
In a USA Today op-ed titled "Mr. President, what's the rush?," which is also available on MittRomneyCentral.com, Romney urged Obama to "learn a thing or two about health care reform" from his Massachusetts plan that contained the same policy, and touted it as effective.
"First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance," Romney wrote. "Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages 'free riders' to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others."
The revelation could damage the GOP presidential frontrunner, who has been attacked by conservatives for enacting a similar law as "Obamacare," but has defended himself by saying such an approach is acceptable on a state level, not a federal level.
Watch the interview from CBS's Face the Nation:
Thomas E. Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, are well-respected centrist congressional experts who are often cited by the media. But their recent conclusion that Republicans are responsible for political dysfunction -- laid out in an April 29 Washington Post op-ed and their recently released book -- has been largely ignored, with the top five national newspapers writing a total of zero news articles on their thesis.
A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX has dropped significantly since 2009. In 2011, these networks spent more than twice as much time discussing Donald Trump as climate change.
Yesterday's Face The Nation certainly did not reflect CBS's best efforts in terms of showcasing serious people discussing American politics, or in terms of holding guests accountable for their outlandish attacks on the president.
As Media Matters noted, CBS on Sunday aired an interview with Donald Trump who claimed, yet again, that he was kind of/maybe thinking about running for president as an independent. (Or he might just endorse one of the current GOP candidates; he's not sure.) Why Trump's self-promotion would still pass as news in 2012 remains a mystery.
Worse, Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer never asked Trump about the thoroughly debunked, Obama birther conspiracy theory that the businessman proudly hyped last year only to watch it collapse in spectacular fashion.
What else transpired on Face The Nation yesterday? Discussing this week's Florida Republican primary, the program hosted Rep. Allen West (R-FL), who is widely known for using slanderous, AM radio-style hate rants against Democrats.
In fact, here' what West told a partisan crowd the day before he appeared on Face the Nation:
We need to let President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, (audience boos) and my dear friend the chairman of the Democrat National Committee, we need to let them know that Florida ain't on the table," West said. "Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.
On Face The Nation though, host Schieffer never asked West why he had demanded that Obama, Reid and Pelosi "get the hell out" of the country.
It's possible Schieffer didn't know about West's comments, even though they were reported the night before Sunday's Face The Nation aired. Either way, CBS ought to know better than to treat reckless name-callers (and freshman Congressmen) like West as a important voices in American politics.
Not so long ago, periphery players like Trump and West would have been shunned by the Beltway press and treated as the not-serious people they are. Today, the Obama-bashing duo have been mainstreamed thanks to outlets like Face the Nation that refuse to hold guests accountable for their radical attacks on the president.
This morning, CBS' Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer interviewed Donald Trump about the businessman and reality television star's consideration of a possible independent run for president (consideration that, coincidentally, comes shortly before the season premiere of The Apprentice and publication of Trump's new book). Viewers learned that Trump doesn't want to run for president because he would "rather do what I'm doing now," but if he doesn't see a Republican nominated who he thinks can beat President Obama, he "would certainly think about doing it after the show ends."
CBS viewers heard nothing, however, about Trump's history of pushing debunked birther conspiracy theories. Somehow, in an interview almost entirely concerned with Trump's presidential aspirations, Schieffer did not ask a single question about the central facets of the pseudocampaign for the Republican nomination Trump ran in the spring of 2011: Trump's repeated suggestion that President Obama may not have been born in the United States (and thus could not hold the presidency under the Constitution) and his demands that Obama "show his birth certificate."
On this week's Face The Nation, host Bob Schieffer welcomed a "cross-section of Republicans" for a round table about the state of the GOP campaign season. However, the unbalanced format also allowed Republicans to launch attacks on liberals and President Obama without having anyone on the show present to rebut the allegations.
For instance, addressing the Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie told Schieffer "conservatives believe that liberals" have "a special disdain for black conservatives." He also insisted, "People are fed up with what's going on in Washington and they're frustrated with the Obama economy."
Republican Ken Blackwell attacked the president's "inability to create jobs." And conservative strategist Liz Cheney claimed Americans are "afraid that this president wants higher taxes and more spending and bigger government." (She also insisted Obama had "inherited a victory in Iraq" from president Bush.)
For the record, following the GOP panel discussion, Schieffer then interviewed Republican candidate Jon Huntsman's three daughters, which meant Face the Nation welcomed eight guests to its program this week, seven of which had direct ties to the Republican Party or its campaigns.
The only non-Republican Face the Nation guest? Non-partisan journalist John Dickerson who was addressed just once during the program.
From the November 21 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:
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On today's edition of CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked an odd question of guest and Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons: "Do you think, looking back on it, the president would have been better off if he had simply concentrated first on jobs and then moved to some of these other issues like health care?"
Schieffer seems to have forgotten that within a month of taking office, President Obama had pushed through a stimulus package to "stop the downward spiral" and save or create millions of jobs, with the support of only three Republicans. Schieffer repeatedly described the legislative package as "enormous" back in February 2009. In July 2009, eight months before Obama signed the health care reform bill, Schieffer said that Obama had "embarked on all these different programs to improve the economy."
Many private analysts agree that the stimulus significantly raised employment over what it would be otherwise, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in August that as of the second quarter of 2010, the stimulus has "[i]ncreased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million."
Even Rush Limbaugh agrees that fixing the economy was a higher priority at the start of the Obama administration than health care; the Washington Examiner's Byron York quoted Limbaugh on July 24, 2009, as saying that "we better thank our lucky stars that they did the stimulus first. Because if they had done [health care] first, it would be signed into law already. He would have gotten it." York added, "there's no doubt that the president spent much of his early political capital on the stimulus, and now he needs it back -- badly."
The health care reform debate was certainly more drawn-out and visible than that over the stimulus. Indeed, the quick passage of the stimulus resulted in part because it was such a high priority and Obama's team began drawing it up before he took office. But it's misleading to suggest that just because Obama passed health care reform this year, the economy and jobs weren't his first priority. This type of media coverage might help explain why so few Americans realize that the stimulus package cut their taxes.
The day after her upset victory over Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), Delaware's newest Tea Party Senate candidate, Christine O'Donnell, received some sage advice from Fox News contributor Sarah Palin. In an interview on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Palin suggested that she should "go with her gut, get out there, speak to the American people, speak through Fox News, and let the independents who are tuning into you, let them know what it is that she stands for, the principles behind her positions"
Perhaps O'Donnell wasn't watching the Factor that day. She initially accepted offers to appear on this past Sunday's editions of CBS' Face The Nation and Fox News Sunday. On Saturday, however, O'Donnell canceled those appearances.
Sometime between Saturday and today, someone must have told O'Donnell about Palin's advice, because she found herself being interviewed on Fox News' Hannity.