March 11, 2012 · 3 Comments
By Marie Burns:
Google “Mitt Romney Lies” and you’ll find lie after lie, most documented by the left, but some by the right and some by nonpartisans. Dan Amira of New York magazine ferreted out perhaps the best example, noting that in a debate on January 23: “Mitt Romney … somehow managed to stuff three lies into a single, 26-word sentence: ‘We’re headed to a Greece- type collapse, and [Obama] adds another trillion on top for Obamacare and for his stimulus plan that didn’t create private-sector job.’” Not true, not true and not true. Amira provides the evidence.
Romney does not just distort, evade or shade as most politicians – and the rest of us – sometimes will. His lies are straightforward, completely at odds with the facts and easily refutable. He lies about his personal history, he lies about American history: he lies about his own policies and actions, he lies about his opponents’ policies and actions. He even lies about his own name.
For the past couple of months, Steve Benen, who now works for the “Rachel Maddow Show,” has been “Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity.” Each Friday, Benen produces a list of “Romney’s biggest falsehoods of the week.” A few times Benen’s weekly list has been limited to five lies; usually it’s ten – or more. So I wondered this: how are New York Times reporters handling Romney’s daily doses of fancy?
The short answer: New York Times reports ignore Romney’s lies. If your only source for news was the print edition of the New York Times, you would have no idea that Mitt Romney is a serial liar.
Long answer: let’s look at how the Times covered a few of the lies of the week which Benen laid out Friday. Here’s Lie No. 1:
Commenting on his health care reform law in Massachusetts, Romney told voters in Ohio this week, ‘Early on, we were asked if what you did in Massachusetts should be something you’d have the federal government do? I said no from the very beginning. No. This is designed for our state and our circumstance.’
But, as Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed reported,
Republican Presidential front runner Mitt Romney has taken heat from his rival for a 2009 USA today op-ed touting RomneyCare, including the individual mandate as model for national health reform. But the former Massachusetts Governor’s op-ed wasn’t the only time he thought the President could ‘learn’ from Massachusetts.
Kaczynski supplies three video clips from 2009 where Romney told interviewers the President should imitate RomneyCare for national health reform. When the 2009 USA Today op-ed resurfaced, the story got a lot of media attention. As Benen wrote, former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Florida), the star of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” hammered Romney. “Scarborough replayed a clip of Romney insisting that he never supported implementing Massachusetts’ health care reform plan nationally. The MSNBC host bluntly alleged that Romney ‘lied’ about his stance on an individual mandate.”
How did the New York Times report this popular story? They didn’t. I cannot find a single Times story about it. (If you find one, please do let me know.) Not a word; not even a he-said/he-said. The closest the Times came to “covering” Kaczynski’s find was a Caucus blogpost, published, without byline, six days after Kaczynski’s first story on Romney’s USA Today op-ed. The blogpost is not about Romney’s lie, though. Its subject is a pro-Santorum SuperPAC that “is up with a new ad in Alabama and Mississippi that ties Mitt Romney‘s Massachusetts health care initiative to President Obama’s.” The ad is embedded in the post. Even then, six days after the story broke, the Times reader learns only that a political rival has made a charge against Romney. Readers who rely on the print edition of the Times would not know even this much: the post is not published in the paper.
To be fair, Romney’s lie about his (former) position on the individual mandate did not go entirely unnoticed in the online version of the paper. Rather than actually reporting on the revelation, the Times left it to opinion writers to out Romney’s big lie:
In a blogpost published on Super Tuesday, editorial writer David Firestone wrote,
Rick Santorum closed out his Super Tuesday campaign by coming quite close to calling Mitt Romney a liar. At a packed rally here in northeast Ohio Monday evening, Mr. Santorum said Mr. Romney had endorsed the Massachusetts health care program as a model for the nation as a whole, and was deliberately misleading the public into thinking otherwise.
Firestone went on to back Santorum’s claims about Romney and added, “At a town hall in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday, he even claimed that he’d advocated against adopting the Massachusetts plan at the federal level.” Although again, the focus is on Santorum, Firestone does at least reveal that Romney has lied, and continues to lie, about his position on a national individual mandate.
There are three things wrong with the paper’s handling of what should be a major story – irrefutable evidence that the GOP presidential frontrunner has repeatedly and routinely lied about his position on one of the top political and legal issues of the day: the individual mandate. First, Romney wrote that 2009 op-ed in a major newspaper three years ago. Why hadn’t the Times itself (or USA Today or any other major news outlet) reported this evidence of Romney’s mendacity, evidence that was hiding in plain sight? Romney’s “problems” with the correspondence between RomneyCare and ObamaCare have been a central campaign issue since the campaign began. Second, notice how Firestone fairly dismisses the revelation that Romney has been caught in a bald-faced lie: “If Mr. Romney does well in today’s primaries, it may be because Republican voters have come to an accommodation with his contortions, or at least consider them preferable to Mr. Santorum’s unbending right-wing extremism.” In Firestone’s retelling, a big ole lie becomes another “contortion” voters may have come to “accommodate.” Third, Firestone’s post appears in the online Times only; the newspaper reader will never see it.
Arguably of more importance than Romney’s lying about his position on a federal individual mandate were the lies Romney told at the AIPAC conference last week about President Obama’s actions regarding Iran. Steve Benen named two Romney prevarications on that topic in his roundup of Romney’s lies of the week: “Pretending to understand U.S. policy in Iran, Romney said Obama ‘failed’ to place sanctions on Iran…. Also on Iran, Romney said this week that Obama ‘failed to communicate that military options are on the table’ with regards to Iran’s nuclear program.”
Both of Romney’s assertions are flat-out false. You might think Romney would be more careful at an AIPAC meeting, where members are more invested in the issue than is Romney. Unlike Willard, most of the AIPAC attendees probably know, for instance, that Syria is not Iran’s route to the sea. The sanctions the Obama Administration has placed on Iran have been widely reported, and are, well, common knowledge. In a post titled “Memo to Republicans: Obama is Tougher on Iran than George W. Bush,” pro-Israel Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg wrote, “… the Obama Administration has constructed a sanctions program without precedent….” In a much-cited interview with Goldberg, published four days before Romney’s AIPAC speech, President Obama “stated specifically that ‘all options are on the table,’ and that the final option is the ‘military component.’” In fact, in his own widely-reported speech to AIPAC just two days before Romney spoke, President Obama told the group, “I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.” Romney and his speechwriters might have gone to the White House Website to check out the transcript.
How did the Times reporters handle Romney’s lies about President Obama? Again, they didn’t. In a Caucus blogpost reporting on Romney AIPAC speech, Jodi Rudoran wrote nothing about Romney’s mendacity. Instead, she reported that “Mitt Romney vowed on Tuesday to ‘bring the current policy of procrastination toward Iran to an end’ if elected president, saying … that he would impose ‘crippling sanctions,’ station carriers and warships ‘at Iran’s door,’ and suspend all diplomatic relations.” Her report continued in that vein, merely repeating Romney’s criticisms of Obama’s supposed policies. Romney’s AIPAC speech did not make it into the print edition of the paper, except tangentially.
Here again, the only criticism of Romney’s speech to AIPAC came on the op-ed page, and – again – in a post that didn’t appear in the print edition. Andrew Rosenthal, the Times editorial pages editor, in a March 8 blogpost, wrote,
Massachusetts Mitt, at any rate, might have run a more adult campaign, one less dependent on reflexively attacking the president. At Aipac, he might have displayed dignity and maturity by admitting that he supports Mr. Obama’s stringent sanctions on Iran (instead of pretending that his identical policies are radically different).
Oddly, Romney lies about things that don’t matter at all to his candidacy. His fate will not rise or fall on what Ronald Reagan did or didn’t do in 1980. But that doesn’t stop Mitt. Benen reports on a third lie Romney told the AIPAC crowd: “Romney told AIPAC that Reagan’s philosophy of ‘peace through strength’ is why ‘the Iranians released the hostages on the same day and at the same hour that Reagan was sworn in.’” Benen calls the claim “laughably untrue.” PolitiFact gave the remark a “Pants-on-Fire” rating. Reagan has nothing to do with the release of the hostages. In fact, Reagan’s most famous – or rather, infamous – policy regarding Iran was the Iran-Contra scandal:
Mr. Reagan’s subordinates sold arms to Iran as ransom for hostages in Lebanon and diverted profits from the sales to the rebels fighting the Marxist Sandinistas then governing Nicaragua. A joint Congressional investigating committee reported that the affair had been ‘characterized by pervasive dishonesty and secrecy’ and that Mr. Reagan bore ultimate responsibility for the wrongdoing of a ‘cabal of zealots.’
How did Times reporters deal with this Romney lie? Again, they didn’t. There is no mention at all in the Times of a Romney “history lesson” which PolitiFact thought important enough to research and report in a stand-alone post.
Some Times writers even seem to go out of their way to cover for Romney. Look at this March 9 post by veteran reporter Richard Stevenson, who purports to outline what it is about Romney that Tea Party voters don’t like. Here’s Stevenson’s summary:
There is his Massachusetts health care plan, complete with an individual mandate of the sort that helped fuel the rise of the Tea Party movement when President Obama adopted it on a national level. There is his willingness as governor to turn to revenue increases as well as spending cuts to balance the budget in his state, the kind of fiscal compromise that almost no Republican in Washington could support these days without provoking Tea Party wrath. There is his history of evolving ideologically along with changing political circumstances, raising a flag among those Tea Partiers who demand steadfast principles.
Stevenson mentions both the healthcare issue and Romney’s “evolving ideology.” But he never mentions Romney’s evolving “facts.”
There is no unwritten journalistic “code” that says it’s verboten to call out candidates’ lies or to at least let the public decide:
Here’s how Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe – a New York Times company –covered the individual mandate story on March 5:
Mitt Romney, slammed repeatedly by both Democrats and his Republican rivals for the GOP nomination for perceived flip flopping on universal health care, got hit again Monday ahead of Super Tuesday.
Andrew Kaczynski, a journalist from Buzzfeed, has unearthed three television news clips from the summer of 2009 in which Romney bragged about taking on health care reform in Massachusetts and said the federal government could learn from the Bay State and use it as a model to get everyone insured.
Kaczynski also dug up a USA Today op-ed penned by Romney in July 2009 that urged President Obama to adopt an individual mandate to purchasing health insurance as part of national reform.
Robert Mackey, who writes The Lede blog for the New York Times, was even more specific about one of Rick Santorum’s recent whoppers. Mackey wrote, “The Dutch Embassy in Washington declined to comment on Wednesday on recent remarks by Rick Santorum, the Republican presidential candidate, in which he claimed, falsely, that forced euthanasia accounts for 5 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands.” Mackey goes on to provide extensive evidence refuting Santorum’s remarks, which he calls “erroneous comments.” In a follow-up post, Mackey describes Santorum’s charge as a “false claim” three times. Yet here again, The Lede is a blog that doesn’t appear in the dead-tree edition of the paper. The Caucus blog made reference to Mackey’s post. But the story never made it into print.
In the past, Times reporters have been willing to contradict candidates’ misstatements of fact. For instance, in this Caucus blog dated October 11, 2008, here was Michael Grynbaum’s lede:
Gov. Sarah Palin again insisted on Saturday that an investigation by Alaska lawmakers into the firing of her former brother-in-law found ‘no unlawful or unethical activity on my part,’ and added that ‘there was no abuse of authority at all in trying to get Officer Wooten fired.’ (The report did in fact conclude that she had abused the power of the governor’s office.)
Paul Krugman, an opinion writer, wrote the only Times print article I found that hit Romney’s lies. In an op-ed column published last month, Krugman wrote,
[Romney's] stump speeches rely almost entirely on fantasies and fabrications designed to appeal to the delusions of the conservative base. No, President Obama isn’t someone who ‘began his presidency by apologizing for America,’ as Mr. Romney declared, yet again, a week ago. But this ‘Four-Pinocchio Falsehood,’ as the Washington Post Fact Checker puts it, is at the heart of the Romney campaign. In fact, this February 14, 2012, New York Times article by Michael Cooper lays out the way the Massachusetts plan coalesced support for the individual mandate.
Krugman documents Romney’s lies in his online blogposts, too. Here Krugman called Romney’s claims about President Obama – and about himself – “completely false.” In the post – titled, “Untruths, Wholly Untrue, and Nothing But Untruths” – Krugman wrote,
Mitt Romney … [is] running a campaign so dishonest that it makes [George W.] Bush look like a model of truth-telling. I mean, is there anything at all in Romney’s stump speech that’s true? … I can’t find a single true assertion anywhere. And he keeps finding new frontiers of falsehood….At this rate, Romney will soon start lying about his own name. Oh, wait.
Times reporters do spot-fact-check some statements the candidates make during debates. Here’s their debate fact-check on a January 19 debate. “Mitt Romney said the private equity company he founded, Bain Capital, “started a number of companies” that eventually hired 120,000 workers. That language is not accurate,” Michael Barbaro wrote. The fact-checking in these posts is spotty, and here again. For instance, the Times reporters did not find fault with Romney’s three-lie sentence which Dan Amira highlighted and which I mentioned at the top of this column. Here again, the fact-check posts appear only online.
Early this year the New York Times public editor Art Brisbane famously asked readers if “The Times should be a truth vigilante.” Brisbane wondered if Times reporters “should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” In response to Brisbane’s post – and to the massive derisive blowback his query received – Jill Abramson, the Times‘ executive editor, wrote an e-mail to Brisbane, which he published online. Here’s what she wrote:
Of course we should and we do. The kind of rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing you describe is a fundamental part of our job as journalists. We do it every day, in a variety of ways…. Of course…, we have to be careful that fact-checking is fair and impartial, and doesn’t veer into tendentiousness.”
At the time, I wrote in a column here at the New York Times eXaminer that I doubted the Times would change its ways and begin fact-checking candidates’ misstatements and fabrications. (My column is here.) This week, New York Times reporters, who are covering the GOP presidential candidates 24/7, did not report on a single one of Mitt Romney’s lies of the week. The reporters were on the scene with the candidate, they heard his lies, and they let the lies pass.
So consider this column a fact-check of the assertions of Times executive editor Jill Abramson. I hope she wears fireproof pants.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com