Fact Checker: Who was the biggest Pinocchio in the South Carolina debate?

Jan 20, 2012

Chat with The Post's fact checker, Glenn Kessler, about who told facts who spouted fiction during Thursday's South Carolina Republican candidate debate. Ask your questions now.

Read: Fact checking the CNN debate in Charleston

Note to readers: Unlike many of our other chat series, Fact Checker will not take place at the same day and time every week. The time of these chats will be determined by what Glenn is working on and current events. Chats in this series will be designated by the words "Fact Checker" in the chat title. Thank you.

Lots of questions so let's get started

So the Army corps of engineers takes eight years to do a study and the US won WWII in three years, eight months? Has anybody consulted the British, Soviets, Canadians, Australians, Free French, etc., most of whom started fighting back in September 1939, not December 1941?

Ha, funny comment. That comment by Gingrich puzzled me. I still can't figure out why he thinks the comparison makes much sense. 

Why do the moderators refer to the Healthcare law as Obamacare? Why don't they refer to it as the Affordable Heathcare Act?

You know, I think even Obama has called it Obamacare. I thought it was funny that Romney last night referred to "Romneycare." 

You are right that the Affordable Care Act would be more accurate, though to be sure many of the names of laws based by Congress are thinly disguised advertising slogans. My preference is to simply say "the new health care law." But Obamacare, which started as a perjorative, has now become a figure of speech. 

Two questions - first, since the Army Corps of Engineers does say that it would generally take 5 to 8 years, what is false about the statement. It also occurs to me that if it takes 5 to 8 years to study whether to increase the depth of a port by 5 feet, by the time the study is complete, it will be useless as we may then either not need the 5 feet or need 10 feet. Second - the health care bill was "only" actually over 900 pages, not 2700. It is still a bill that virtually no one who voted for it read. It is absurd that the Congress would vote on a bill of that size and importance without knowing what it contained. That is the point that was being made, and it is 100% true.

Gingrich said "eight years." The Corps actually said it would normally take "five to eight years" but that they would speed it up. So that's an important clarification.

Re the health bill, why do you say "no one read it"? Someone obviously had to write it! In any case, no legislator really reads every word of every bill. They rely on people with expertise, in this case the committees who craft the language. The committees charged with health care laws made the initial drafts, then differences were haggled out, etc. The lawmakers who do not have health care expertise generally would rely on summaries, briefings, conversations with other lawmakers and lobbying groups, etc., to determine how they will vote.  On particular issues (such as abortion), they might look very carefully at the language of the provision.

But seriously, many big bills run hundreds of pages, with highly technical language, and no one  should expect that any one but the lawmakers charged with crafting the bill will read every single word. Otherwise, they would have no time to work on the bills where they bring a particular expertise. 

It seems like many of the the statements have been debunked many times. Why don't the moderators mention this or ask them to qualify their answers?

Good question. Perhaps the moderators dont want to get an argument with the candidates--or perhaps they don't feel confident enough to challenge them. 

"I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans." - How many Pinocchios would this gather? & If NBC,CBS,CNN, etc... are the elite media, then is FOX the non-elite media?

ha, hadn't thought of that. Gingrich has sometimes been tough on the Fox moderators (who, by the way, have been excellent and quite sharp.) These days, I don't think the media is feeling very "elite" anymore. 

Do you see any relationship between factuality of statements and their ability to draw cheers from the audience? In other words, does truth payoff?

I had not noticed much of a connection. There are certain issues that trigger cheers from either conservative or liberal audiences.

While Santorum is correct that Gingrich endoresed and Romney implemented an individual health insurance manadate, shouldn't all three acknowledge that this was first advocated by conservative think tanks as a market-based solution to the problem of the uninsured?

They have admitted that. Romney and Gingrich, in one of the debates, spoke about the fact that this concept was first promoted by the Heritage Foundation. (In fact, if you look at a video of Romney signing his bill, the head of Heritage actually speaks at the event.)

Here's a link to the Romney-Gingrich exchange at the earlier debate.

Willard failed, IMHO, on two huge fronts- his meager deferral and hedge on which, if any, tax returns he will release; his inability to articulate how he and Bain managed to create 1, 10, 1000 or 100,000 jobs. If he truly is at the helm, he should have proudly detailed what unique skills and strategies he deployed. Instead, just fumbles and stumbles... When will he be held accountable by the Republicans, as we know these will be top questions if he ever makes it to be the candidate.

This morning he said the tax returns will be released on April 15.  He assume he will have the nomination wrapped up by then--and that it will get the issue out of the way long before the general election.

Re his jobs claims, I am not sure why he ever started being so specific. If he had stuck with "tens of thousands" it probably would not have become an issue. 

Is it fair to say we're not going to see any hard, factual evidence tossed out by the 4 horsemen from here on out? By that, I mean numbers, data, things one could fairly easily check and substantiate. I'm a registered engineer in private practice. Few pols ever tell me something that adds to my knowledge base. Isn't that a shame? As if governing (law, science, engineering, medicine, agronomy, et al) were merely a matter of opinion. Thanks much. HLB (Mt. Lebanon, PA)

Yep, it's politics. Let's not forget the other side also has trouble with the facts. Obama's first ad had serious problems

Has anyone ever checked to see how much French Newt Gingrich had to learn in order to complete his doctoral dissertation on Belgian colonies in Africa? LOL!

hmm, don't know. good question.

Thanks for your good work, Glenn, but how sure are you that Pres. Obama has slipped and referred to the Affordable Care Act as "Obamacare."? That just doesn't sound likely at all, but even If he did, I would still encourage you to avoid that error. Just because others have given in doesn't mean it's correct--or right.

Here's a link to a video of him embracing the term. He said he had no problem with the phrase if it meant that "Obama cares."

I just wish Wesley Clark was a Republican.

You know, he didn't do too well as a presidential candidate. As Rick Perry found out, it takes a real talent to succeed on the national political stage.

In general, when a debate audience cheers a candidate's response wildly, does it really translate into more votes for him/her at the polls?

I have not seen any studies on that. Cheering might suggest to people watching at home that the person made a good point.

With the recent (4-5 years) prevalence of online fact-checking, do you expect this election cycle to be more fact-based than previous elections. Put another way, do voters care about facts, or more about the charisma of the candidate?

I am hoping we make a difference! No one expects perfection from candidates, but I hope that voters will look at fact-based speeches and a commitment to accuracy as a character trait that should be considered, along with other factors. 

It's a small, but important point: while states can almost always under their constitutions impose an individual mandate, the federal government arguably has a much higher constitutional bar to imposing such a mandate, a point made in the briefs in the several cases before the Supreme Court. So the mere fact only that Gov. Romney supported a state-wide individual mandate doesn't mean that he must support a national one imposed by the federal government.

That's correct, and Romney has made the point repeatedly. However, the Heritage plan was originally offered as an alternative to Hillary Clinton's national plan (and Gingrich embraced as such). 

Please don't tell me that we have to listen to sneering liberals refer to Romney as "Willard", the name he never uses, until election day. That will only prompt sneering conservatives to start referring to Pres. Obama as "Barak Hussein". Does politics really have to be this petty?

It is interesting. I was reading a c-span interview with Romney from 2006, and he explained that he was known as "Billy" until age 5, when he got upset at the lyrics of a song . So his mother suggested he use his middle name, and it's been that way ever since. 

The interview was conducted by Brian Lamb, who (shameless plug!) interviewed me for the same program last week. 

This is from the Romney interview:

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Willard Mitt Romney, where did you get those first two names?

GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: A little unusual. Willard was after J. Willard Marriott, the founder of the Marriott Hotel chain. He was my dad’s very close friend. They were both boys in Utah, moved back here to Washington, D.C., so I was named Willard after J. Willard Marriott.

Mitt is my given middle name, and that’s after a man named Mitt Romney who in the 1920s was a professional football player for the Chicago Bears, quarterback, and the greatest athlete the Romney family has ever known. So I’m really named after two great heroes, one an industrialist and the other a great athlete.

LAMB: Why did you pick Mitt over Willard?

ROMNEY: Well, I actually used the name Billy when I was in kindergarten. And there was a song when I was a boy called ”Oh Where Have You Been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Oh Where Have You Been, Charming Billy?” And it talked about kissing and your mother and so forth. And I decided that was a terrible song. And I came home and said, I can’t live with that name any longer.

And I talked with my mom about what name I could use. She said, well, you could use your middle name. And so sometime in kindergarten I switched to Mitt and I have been on the Mitt name ever since.

Actually, Newt would not have had to know any French to do original research on the Belgian Congo, as the country's dominant languages are Flemish and Walloon. (Not sure which language official govt. records were kept in, though.)

Walloon is pretty close to French but point taken! Since my family is Dutch, I have no excuse for forgetting the Flemish....

What proof is there that no one read the health care bill in its entirety, for starters? And who could proof read 900 pages with speed and accuracy? As someone whose job involves writing implementing regs., it's tough enough to read those after having worked on them. Most likely, staffers read and wrote separate sections, just as with any other large bill.

Yep, that's my point. People are not superhuman. And my feeling is that if a lawmaker is really reading every word of every bill, then they have no time to do something useful, such as become an expert in a field and craft their own legislation.

Okay, we've run out of time. Sorry I could not get to all of the questions. We have two more debates next week--and a State of the Union address!

In This Chat
Glenn Kessler
Glenn Kessler is an acclaimed diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post and has been recipient of numerous awards, including two shared Pulitzer Prizes. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he has reported from dozens of countries and also has covered the White House and Congress. Kessler is the author of The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy. He is a graduate of Brown University and Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and lives in McLean, Virginia.
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