Fact checking the GOP debate

Sep 23, 2011

Chat with fact checker Glenn Kessler about how truthful the Republican presidential candidates were during the Sept. 22, 2011 GOP debate. Ask questions and give your opinions now!

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!

You have yet to respond to Powerline's proof of how you were completely wrong in your assessment of Gov. Perry's statement on Palestine. Why are you too cowardly to respond to the factual claims of your critics (other than to say they're biased)?

Thanks for asking this question. I immediately responded to their challenge and sent a lengthy email yesterday morning. But it was never posted. So just now I put the response I had sent in the comment page of that article. 

Glenn: From the beginning, this story has sounded bizarre. The HPV vaccine is generally given at the onset of puberty, yet Bachmann says she was told that the woman's daughter became mentally retarded (not the preferred term now, by the way) after receiving the vaccine. But the condition once described as mental retardation is congenital--it doesn't appear in puberty. Did she mean the woman's daughter became brain damaged? Has anyone asked her to clarify this? Thanks for your work trying to sort out the truth in these so-called debates.

Yes, I agree it is a muddle. Bachmann has a reputation for repeating the last thing she heard. Who knows if she is telling the story correctly or not? Her mistake was to not have a staffer meet with the woman, vet the tale and then talk about it if she decided it had any credibility (which most experts say it does not). 

My prediction: it will either be Perry or Romney, and one of them will pick Cain as his VP.

Cain as VP candidate would certainly be entertaining! But would Romney really pick him--two businessmen on the ticket? Normally, you go for balance or to fill a gap in your own background. 

Michelle Bachman said Obama has lowest approval rating of presidents in modern times is that true

Nope. My colleague Josh Hicks is looking into that and we hope to post something later today. But at quick glance, something like 8 or 9 presidents had lower approval ratings than Obama does now. In other words, she looks like she is headed for four Pinocchios....

Michelle Bachmann said President Obama has the lowest approval rating of any American president in modern times. Didn't George W. Bush have that distinction, hitting 25 on three separate occasions according to Wikipedia? Even Nixon and Truman had lower approval ratings than Obama.

Yep, see my answer to the previous question. Doesn't pass the laugh test. 

Has anyone followed up to see if Gary Johnson's neighbor's two dogs have truly created more shovel-ready jobs than the Obama White House? With two dogs, let's say that's an average of four shovel-ready jobs a day; it's been roughly 975 days since Obama was sworn in, so that's roughly 3,900 jobs created by these two dogs. I think the Post should follow up on this.

That was the best line of a kind of dull debate. (Maybe I am biased but I prefer sharp-edged questions crafted by journalists; these you tube questions often did not challenge the candidates.)

I like the math you've done on this....

Perry for President! Yes!

posting this comment....most of the commentators says your man didn't do too well. Jennifer Rubin, the Post's right-wing blogger, called it a collapse

Would you mind telling us your political affiliation: Republican or Democrat? Just want to know where you're coming from in your analysis.

I have no political convictions but to the truth.  If you read my column over time, you will see I play no favorites. 

Where are any of these candidates on this topic? And why?

hmm..I don't know! does anyone else?

Last Night, Gov. Perry said of the HPV Vaccine decision: I was lobbied by one young woman with stage 4 cancer. Please correct me if I didn't get it exactly right. However, I heard on NBC this morning that the Cancer Patient came a month AFTER Gov. Perry made his decision on making the vaccine manditory for those girls entering high school. If so, that would earn him Four Pinnocchios, wouldn't it?

Yes, I wrote about that today in my fact check of the debate. It was a pretty egregious claim, using a dead woman to bat away the accurate suggestion that he was influenced by a drug-company lobbyist (who happened to be his former chief of staff). 

... she obviously meant within the past three years. Duh!

hmm, the modern era only started when Obama was elected?

Has the moderator ever called a candidate on a factual inaccuracy, e.g. in a follow-up question? If not, why not?

Not that I have seen. I wish they would do that. The Washington Post is sponsoring a debate with Bloomberg next month and I hope we try to do something like that.  (The logistics may be complicated, and the moderator obviously would want to be sure he/she is right!)

Perry had stated Romney changed something from his hard copy book when the soft copy was published. Romney claimed it was not true. Was it?

this is what I wrote in the fact check of the debate on that issue. Romney did change things between editions but I couldn't find the line that Perry claimed was in the book. 


Romney did change portions of his book, “No Apology,” between the hard cover and paperback editions to add sharper language on Obama’s stimulus plan and health-care law. Here is how the Boston Phoenix reported on the differences, which Romney’s spokesman did not dispute at the time:

The first rewrite excises a relatively even-handed assessment of the 2009 economic-stimulus package. In the original, Romney wrote that it “will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery, but not as much as it could have.” The paperback pronounces the stimulus “a failure,” and blasts Obama’s “economic missteps” with conservative red-meat language — for example: “This is the first time government has declared war on free enterprise.”
The other major change comes in a chapter on health care. In the original hardcover, Romney tried to carefully distinguish between the Massachusetts law and the national version that was nearing passage as he wrote.
But the Massachusetts model has become Romney’s bête noire among conservatives, who loathe the national reform they call “Obamacare.” The rewritten paperback swings much harder, proclaiming that “Obamacare will not work and should be repealed,” and “Obamacare is an unconstitutional federal incursion into the rights of states.”
Other additions in that section blame the Massachusetts legislature for altering his plan, and the current Democratic administration of Governor Deval Patrick for botching the implementation.
Asked about the changes, Eric Fehrnstrom, spokesperson for Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC, responded by e-mail: “The book was originally written in the months immediately following President Obama’s inauguration. A lot has occurred over the last two years, and these updates reflect those happenings.”

Scrolling through Romney’s book last night, we could not find the line in the hard cover that Perry claims is in there. The chapter on health care is mostly a critique of the current health-care system and what needs to be done to fix it.

Is there any basis at all to Cain's charge that the Obama healthcare law puts bureaucrats between patients and their doctors in deciding what care is provided? I can see criticizing the law for being too expensive in guaranteeing private insurance coverage and mandating insurance, but would there really be any change from the current system, where it's the private insurers between a patient and doctor, deciding what they will fund and what they won't? Cain's line is repeated by many candidates, commentators, etc.

No, there is no basis at all. I also covered that in my fact check of the debate. Here's what I wrote:

Herman Cain’s story of surviving cancer is inspiring, but it’s unclear how the Obama health-care law would have affected his medical treatment because it builds on the current insurance-company system. Of course, it’s true that insurance companies might put someone between you and your doctor, as Romney put it, but that’s what has been happening for years under so-called managed care. Most studies indicate that most people currently on private insurance would experience little change once the Obama health plan is implemented.

In fact, the main goal of the Obama law was to cover the millions of Americans who are uninsured. A major study by the American Cancer Society in 2008 found that uninsured cancer patients are nearly twice as likely to die within five years as those with private coverage, because people without health insurance are less likely to get recommended cancer screening. So cancer survival rates in theory would improve under universal health care.


Does being factual in a debate matter? Does even having a good grasp in a debate of your talking point fibs matter? Do debates matter? I don't mean to be flip but after 3-4 debates Perry is still strongly ahead of this field of presidential candidates.

Ronald Reagan certainly had trouble with facts (ie, 50 percent of pollution came from trees) but that didn't hurt him either in debates or in his presidency. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't hold politicians accountable for what they say!

How about fact checking the Jobs Bill? For something that has the potential to impact Americans in the nearer future than the R nominee for President, and that will shape the economic landscape in the next year, why not spend time fact checking that???

I have done that--three time! Take a look by clicking the links....

Column One

Column Two

Column Three

How do you expect the Republican nominee to handle this issue in the general election?

Well, maybe you saw Santorum's answer--he would reinstate it but not kick out gays and lesbians who have identified themselves. Not sure how that's going to work!

....fact check Ahmadinejad's UN speech.

Oh my, it was bad enough when I had a job in which I had to listen to the UN speech! I interviewed him once. That was quite an experience. 

I expect her to start repeating the contents of Nigerian spam e-mails. "I have a solution to our budget problems! If we just send $25,000 to this address in Lagos..."


So, how much does the GOP get hurt by all of their wacko stands on social issues. It seems like the ship has sailed on all of this stuff, and they have lost. Why did no one on that stage say anything nice to the gay soldier who asked if they would kick him out of the service? Why could none of them shush the people in the crowd booing an active duty soldier in harm's way? I thought they were supposed to be the party that supports the military.

I wondered what people thought of that moment. You can disagree about gays in the military without being disagreeable about people who serve in the military.

For what it is worth, I have spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and concluded there are few more professional organizations than the U.S. military. They do a remarkable job under very difficult circumstances, and I have nothing but respect for anyone who volunteers to join the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. 

Glenn Kessler for debate moderator!!! (BTW, have you read Jim Lehrer's new book on the topic of debates?)

Thank you! I haven't read it but intend to get it. 

I can't find the link for your article fact checking the debate on the main page. Can you help?

I can help! Here is Glenn's Fact Checker piece on the debate:  Fact checking the GOP debate in Orlando.

Glen, I have a lot of respect for the work you've done over the years with the Post, including when you were reporting on the middle east. So, I would respectfully tell you that your statement that your have no political convictions except for the truth doesn't hold water. Political convictions are like accents -- everyone has one, even when you think you don't. Surely you have views on the legality of abortion, the death penalty, taxation of the wealthy, US foreign policy, and a host of other issues. You may not be registered in one party or the other, or vote at all, but saying that you have no political convictions is not credible. It would be more accurate for you to say that, while you do have views on subjects, some more passionately held than others, you do your best to not let your own personal convictions interfere with your professional work. It's just silly to pretend that you or any other reporter is a blank slate when it comes to topical issues. You wouldn't be much good as a reporter if you were so outside the norm.

Thank you for this response. Maybe my earlier comment was too flip. I certainly do have opinions on those subjects, though I keep them strictly within my family (my kids are warned never to repeat what they heard at the dinner table.) But I don't think those opinions affect my ability to look at the facts. It gives me some satisfaction that I am regularly bashed for being either a liberal or a conservative, depending on the subject.

Before I covered foreign policy I wrote about economic policy, in particular the debate over private accounts for Social Security. When I was leaving the beat, one of my sources asked me: "Since you won't be writing on this anymore, can you please tell me your personal opinion on private accounts, because I could never tell from your articles." It was one of the nicest compliments I ever received. And I didn't tell her--which is good, because now I am writing on Social Security again from time to time. 

Glenn, Thank you for the columns, there really needs to be more accountability for politicians just making statements without having the facts behind them. I've noticed that you seem to excuse or dismiss the mistatements of politicans whom you only assign one or two pinocchios to as "everyone does it" or "that's just how Washington works". While that may be true, that language sounds dismissive of the fact that a politician is deliberatly making misleading statements. I'd like to see you be more critical of the politicians that twist the facts or make white lies to support their case, not just the ones whose pants are on fire.

Thank you for the critique. I try to keep the Threes and Fours for really bad stuff that is unique. But you are right, I don't want to sound like I am excusing bad behavior. 

re: DADT because it was the Rs who got it overturned in the first place. The log cabin Rs to be exact. People forget this...

good point

BUT you just don't know the type of people who might not have health insurance aren't the types of people who don't typically take care of themselves. what is to say that they would get screened even if they had insurance? Correlation doesn't mean causation. AND...because you have health insurance doesn't guarantee care. There will be an even larger shortage of medical care after obamacare is in place, I suspect...

yes, this is a fair point

really, you don't even need to fact check in real time. just say something like: you said XYZ at the last debate, but reality is ABC. or something like that...

oh, that's an interesting idea. thanks

Did anyone even check to see if his neighbor has two dogs?


Have you fact-checked the responses on this topic? What's Perry's actual record in Texas?

We are looking into each of the candidates's records and how they portray it.  Stay tuned. 

Once upon a time, when I was but a lass, those issues did not define one's political party affiliation.

That's exactly right. It shouldn't be that way. 

The Log Cabin Republicans (who, like Rudolph, get excluded from reindeer games quite often) brought the court case. But it was a Democrat who initially tried to end it in Congress, and it was an act of Congress that overturned it. Acts of Congress are the only way to change the UCMJ. And the people who voted for the end of DADT were largely Democrats, with a few mostly NE Republicans thrown in for good measure.

and another good point

Evidently, per Morning Joe this morning, this came from Rush Limbaugh's radio show -- I think yesterday but may also have been earlier in the week.

really? it still was a funny line. 

Has any new Organization found the Mother who talked to Michelle Bachmann after the Tampa Debate? Any chance she could have been a plant from Plant City?

A couple of doctors offered to give $10,000 if she was found but so far, she has not shown up to collect it. 

Your even-handed, cool-headed response to the first "questioner" - who called you "cowardly" for not doing something you had, in fact done - is one of the reasons I follow you and trust your work. It's the kind of work we all should be doing as citizens, but - alas - most don't have the time, and many don't have the inclination. The work you do is the kind that's going to save this country, if people will just READ IT! You ROCK, Mr. Kessler!

Thank you very much for the vote of confidence. I hope to live up to your endorsement in the coming months. 

Why not? A party decides what is important to it. Could mean it ends up a fringe party, but it does get to decide.

Well, what I meant by that is that the two parties used to have more diversity of views on various issues, and now on many issues people seem to walk in lockstep (especially the party representatives in Congress).

Rush Limbaugh is now saying that he stole the zinger from him. How many Pinnocchios would that rate?

Well, it was not intended to be a true statement (I don't think). It was just a zinger. Stealing a fact, in any case, doesn't get you Pinocchios. Stealing an incorrect fact does. 

Okay, we have to wrap it up. I have to get back to work. Thanks again for the interesting questions!

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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