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Facts Got Twisted Again In Last Debate

Fact checkers got a shout out Monday night from President Obama when he declared that Republican challenger Mitt Romney had repeated "the biggest whopper that's been told during the course of this campaign."

"Every fact checker and every reporter who's looked at it, governor, has said this is not true," the president pointed out — correctly — during Monday's debate after Romney charged that Obama went on an "apology tour" during his first year in office.

Indeed, PolitiFact called the "apology tour" such a baseless claim that it earned that fact-checking website's worst ruling: "pants on fire."

But while Romney may have gotten the harshest review of the night for repeating that allegation, the fact checkers from news outlets and independent organizations had some negative things to say about the president as well.

During a discussion about the bailout of the U.S. auto industry, Romney drew Obama into overstating his case in much the same way that Obama had done to his rival over Libya in the last debate.

Obama insisted over Romney's objections that Romney's recipe for a managed bankruptcy of Detroit automakers didn't include any role for the federal government.

But, as several truth sleuths tweeted in the midst of the debate, Romney's now-famous New York Times column on the subject did include in its final sentences the statement that "the federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing ..."

Like Romney on Libya, Obama may have had a point in that some economists have said the plan Romney outlined for Detroit wouldn't have worked in the midst of the financial crises that froze private credit markets. But did Romney propose federal loan guarantees? Yes.

Some of the other claims and counterclaims that got checked:

-- Romney repeated a line he has used before that the U.S. Navy has the smallest fleet it's had since 1916. The Washington Post checked this before and called it a "nonsense fact" because the Navy of today is nothing like the Navy of a century ago.

-- Obama said that "we've cut our oil imports to the lowest level in two decades." But the Times pointed out that although that is technically true, the trend predates Obama's term in office.

-- Romney had the facts and the context on his side in an exchange over troop withdrawals from Iraq. Obama tried to argue that Romney has waffled on his position about having troops remain there. More important, The Washington Post fact checker said Obama has glossed over the fact that he tried to arrange a deal with the Iraqi government to keep more troops in the country.

-- Obama claimed that exports to China have doubled since he came into office, but National Journal found that to be an optimistic assessment. Exports have grown — from $69.5 billion in 2009 to $103.9 billion in 2011 — but not as much as Obama said.

-- As PolitiFact previously noted, Romney was correct that Obama has not visited Israel during his time as president. However, PolitiFact also pointed out that Obama visited Israel twice before his election — trips the president described in his reply to Romney Monday night.

And, the Post's Fact-Checker noted that seven of the 11 presidents who served since Israel's creation never visited the country during their time in office: Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

-- In the "gaffe" category, meanwhile:

Romney said at one point in the debate that Syria is Iran's "route to the sea." That country, of course, has an extensive coastline along both the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

Moderator Bob Schieffer made a slip many have made in recent years when he said that "Pakistan has arrested the doctor who helped us catch Obama's — bin Laden."

-- And in the "only in a Twitter world would this happen" category:

President Obama's zinger in response to Romney's claim about a smaller Navy immediately lit up the micro-blogging website and had amateur fact checkers out in force. The president quipped that "we also have fewer horses and bayonets." Some conservatives, claiming Obama had said the military no longer uses any bayonets, started tweeting that Marines still use them in training. But as the transcript shows, the president didn't say bayonets had been eliminated.

As for horses, we expect we'll hear from their fact checkers in coming days.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
Scott Montgomery
Mark Stencel is managing editor for digital news. He is responsible for overseeing the journalism on NPR's website and other platforms and gizmos.