The "independent fact-checkers" might want to dust off their Pinocchios and pull out their "truth-o-meters" in reaction to Mitt Romney's latest calculated lie, applying deceptive editing to President Barack Obama's remarks about how public infrastructure supports private enterprise.
This is a clear case where Romney and the right-wing media know what they're doing. They clipped Obama's remarks in such a way as to make it seem that the President was saying that business owners didn't build their own businesses, when the comment actually refers to the building of roads and other public investments.
In a talk in Roanoke, Virginia, on July 13, Obama was describing the contributions that the public sector has made toward creating conditions that help businesses succeed:
"Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
Though Obama's syntax is slightly mangled, the context is obvious. Obama is saying that businesses did not build the roads, bridges and the Internet. But the right-wing media quickly lopped off the context. Fox News applied its classic selective editing.
On Tuesday, Romney joined in, telling a rally in Pennsylvania that Obama "said this: 'If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.'" Romney then extrapolated from this misleading quote that Obama wants Americans to be "ashamed of success" and that Obama is "changing the nature of America."
"I find it extraordinary that a philosophy of that nature would be spoken by a president of the United States," Romney said.
But Obama wasn't saying that someone else built the business; he was saying someone else built "that," i.e., the public infrastructure that businesses use. Given this clear context, Romney and other right-wing figures know exactly what they're doing. They're lying.
Yet, reflecting again how poorly the U.S. news media handles such distortions, the Washington Post reported Romney's rendition of Obama's statement without context or contradiction. The willful distortion by Romney was allowed to flow unchecked into the public discourse.
If there is a purpose for "fact-checkers," it is for situations like this, where one candidate wrenches out of context a comment by another with the intention to mislead voters. It also is the responsibility of reporters and editors to supply context even in spot stories.
Blocking the Facts
Where "fact-checkers" are less useful -- and indeed can be downright harmful -- is on larger and more nuanced questions, such as the one about Romney's precise departure date from Bain Capital. In that case, Romney created confusion over when he left by signing a series of conflicting forms and making contradictory statements. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Romney's Fact-Checker Cover-up."]
However, the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org and the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler chose to accept Romney's latest assertion that he had nothing to do with Bain Capital after Feb. 11, 1999, when he left to work on the Winter Olympics.
FactCheck.org made a big point that Romney would have committed a felony if he lied on his campaign disclosure form, suggesting that the public should believe him because the potential penalty for filing a false statement would be so high.
FactCheck.org (and Kessler) stuck with that position even after the Obama campaign -- and many journalists -- brought forward dozens of Securities and Exchange Commission documents , including some signed by Romney, showing him to be Bain Capital's owner, chief executive officer, chairman and controlling person.
Despite the obvious contradictions -- and the fact that is also a felony to make false statements to the SEC -- the "independent fact-checkers" took the position that the Obama campaign must prove to near 100 percent certainty that Romney actually was continuing to direct Bain Capital's decisions after February 1999.
However, that evidence was beyond the reach of anyone outside of Romney's inner circle and his Bain Capital associates -- and they were stonewalling requests for information like meeting minutes, phone-call records and recollections of Romney's post-1999 contacts. Romney himself rebuffed media inquiries for details about conversations he might have had with Bain executives.