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First presidential debate exasperates fact-checkers: A round up

John Stodder//October 4, 2012//

First presidential debate exasperates fact-checkers: A round up

John Stodder//October 4, 2012//

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Instantaneous results, a feature of presidential-campaign debates for decades, have reached a new level in 2012. Now, instead of merely declaring a winner and a loser seconds after the candidates’ final handshake, close observers of the debates announce which one was telling more fibs.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, declared the winner Wednesday night by most pundits and snap polls by CNN and CBS, was shot down by several fact-checkers with comments harsh enough to tempt President Barack Obama’s ad-makers.

For instance, the Los Angeles Times’ Noam N. Levey wrote that Romney’s claim that a board created by the health care law known as Obamacare would decide what health care treatments would be available to patients was “a myth advanced repeatedly by critics of the Affordable Care Act and debunked consistently by independent fact-checkers.”

Levey also challenged Romney’s claim that the health care plan he favors to replace Obamacare would cover people with pre-existing medical conditions, just as Obamacare does. In fact, Levey wrote, “[Romney’s] plan would cover only those whose insurance had not already lapsed.”

“Romney sometimes came off as a serial exaggerator,” read a post on, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, a research organization at the University of Pennsylvania. The post, credited to former CNN reporter Brooks Jackson and five other writers, accused the Republican challenger of overstating, by a factor of at least four, how many people would lose employer-sponsored health insurance under Obamacare

Romney’s count of 23 million unemployed is too high, the post said, as is the claim that Obama has doubled the nation’s budget deficit. The post asserts that the deficit has stayed roughly the same as it was when Obama took office.

Sometimes, fact-checkers disagree. For instance, said Romney incorrectly claimed that “half of all college grads this year can’t find work.” However,, a Pulitzer-prize-winning project of the Tampa Bay Times, said this claim of Romney’s was “mostly true,” because while the real percentage of college grads who cannot find work is 25 percent, another 25 percent could only get jobs that didn’t require college degrees.

Like Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, also criticized Romney’s charge that Obama “cut” $716 billion from Medicare.

“While it is correct that anticipated savings from Medicare were used to help offset some of the anticipated costs of expanding health care for all Americans, it does not affect the Medicare trust fund,” Kessler wrote. “In fact, the Obama health care law also raised Medicare payroll taxes by $318 billion over the new 10-year time frame, further strengthening the program’s financial condition.”

However, if Obama was hoping for a recount based on Romney’s questionable statements, he first will have to deal with the fact-checkers himself.

Kessler criticized the president for his “faux deficit plan,” which Obama likens to the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan, but which, in fact, doesn’t save nearly as much money.

“Obama’s $4 trillion figure, for instance, includes counting some $1 trillion in cuts reached a year ago in budget negotiations with Congress,” Kessler wrote. “So no matter who is the president, the savings are already in the bank.” In addition, Obama counts as $848 million in savings “money it never intended to spend” on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Even more critical of Obama’s budget was the Associated Press’ fact-checker, Calvin Woodward, who accused Obama of using “creative bookkeeping to hide spending on Medicare reimbursements to doctors.”

“Take those ‘cuts’ away and Obama’s $2.50/$1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases shifts significantly more in the direction of tax increases,” Woodward wrote.

He and several other fact-checkers also had problems with Obama’s claim that his health care policies have slowed the growth in health care insurance premiums, “slower than any time in the last 50 years.” In fact, “insurance premiums have continued to rise faster than wages and overall economic growth,” Woodward wrote.

Meanwhile, it is apparent that neither candidate consults the fact-checkers. Most of the objections raised to comments in the debate had been published previously, but have not dissuaded either candidate from continuing to use the disputed statements. As Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse, told ABC News, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

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