Bill Clinton courts fact-checkers, earns mostly praise
Former President Bill Clinton’s exhaustive endorsement of President Obama’s reelection Wednesday night was stocked with statistics on nearly every major issue of the election, from healthcare to job creation and the national debt.
With frequent off-the-cuff citations of facts and figures, Clinton’s speech was sure to be scoured by the army of fact-checkers that has been kept busy with the truthiness (instead of truthfulness) of the 2012 election.
For the most part, the fact police gave Clinton high marks.
Bloomberg TV succinctly declared: “No False Claims in Clinton’s Speech.”
Reporter Megan Hughes said the Bloomberg team looked at Clinton’s biggest potential “whoppers.” The assertion, for example, that since 1961 there were 24 million jobs created during Republican presidencies and 42 million created during Democratic ones checked out.
Perhaps some of the high marks stem from savvy appeals to the jury by the former president. Clinton took the Romney campaign to task for continuing to run ads that said Obama gutted the work requirements for welfare, even after myriad fact-checkers and news organizations said the attacks were inaccurate.
“I am telling you, the claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform’s work requirement is just not true. But they keep on running ads,” Clinton said Wednesday night. “You want to know why? Their campaign pollster said, ‘We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.’
“Now, finally I can say: That is true,” he continued, to applause and laughter in the arena. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Even if fact-checkers found vindication in Clinton’s support, they still found some items in his speech to quibble with.
Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact-checker, took exception to Clinton’s claim -- also asserted by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) -- that Obama’s proposed budget would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion.
Kessler said that calculation included $1 trillion in cuts already agreed upon in budget negotiations with Congress last year -- savings that are “already in the bank,” regardless of who wins the November election.
Factcheck.org deemed Clinton’s winding speech a “fact-checker’s nightmare” -- i.e., a litany of statistics -- but ultimately, found fault with few. “Republicans will find plenty of Clinton’s scorching opinions objectionable,” said the site, which is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. “But with few exceptions, we found his stats checked out.”
His biggest factual faux pas was his exaggeration of Obamacare’s impact on the rate of increase in health spending. That rate has indeed slowed, but giving Obama’s healthcare initiative the credit is a leap too far, the nonpartisan outfit said, because most of the law’s major provisions have not yet taken effect.
The site said that Clinton’s “other exaggerations and missteps were minor by comparison.” Medicare would not “go broke by 2016,” if Romney won and repealed Obamacare, as Clinton asserted, but a part of the program would not be able to fully pay benefits for hospital services. Clinton credited Obama’s policies for America’s decreasing dependence on oil imports; more likely, Factcheck.org said, it was due to an oil boom in North Dakota and Texas.
The Associated Press, in its fact-check, took a different approach, implying that considering his foibles in office, Clinton was perhaps not the best arbiter of accuracy.
“Clinton, who famously finger-wagged a denial on national television about his sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky and was subsequently impeached in the House on a perjury charge, has had his own uncomfortable moments over telling the truth,” the wire service wrote.
“’I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,’ Clinton told television viewers. Later, after he was forced to testify to a grand jury, Clinton said his statements were ‘legally accurate’ but also allowed that he ‘misled people, including even my wife.’”
The AP later defended the Lewinsky reference, which some online outlets found gratuitous.
“The reference was not about that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” Mike Oreskes, the wire service’s senior managing editor for U.S. news, told the Huffington Post. “It was about facts. Clinton challenged the Republicans for their attitude toward facts. We were simply pointing out that as president Clinton had his own challenges in this area.”
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