Nov
18
2011

Media Get 'Lazy' Factchecking Rick Perry's Ad Claim

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry's new TV commercial is based on a lie. Will reporters say so?

The ad starts with a Barack Obama quote: "We've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades."

To which Perry responds: "Can you believe that? That's what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That's pathetic. It's time to clean house in Washington."

Now, it would be rather unusual for a president to say that.

Obama didn't.

The quote comes from an event where Obama spoke about efforts to woo corporations to do more business in America. Obama's response was that government should being doing more to improve the business environment for corporations–to "make it easier for foreign investors to build a plant in the United States."

If anything, Obama is saying the government has been lazy in its approach to pleasing corporations. As MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell explained last night, this is the kind of thing you can imagine coming from the mouths of Republican politicians and candidates.

So how are media doing fact-checking Perry's claim?

Today (11/18/11) the New York Times has a piece headlined "Perry's Latest Attacks Distort Obama's Words and Past." That's pretty good–though it's a little strange to see the paper's somewhat passive description of Perry's mendacity: "Some of his recent attacks have drifted into the realm of falsehood." How on Earth did they drift into that realm?

But the piece is an improvement over the Times' take on the ad a day earlier, written by the same reporter (Richard Oppel). That article led with the news that that the commercial "takes a sharper tone" than Perry's previous ads, and that it "may be an effort to shift attention from Mr. Perry's recent stumbles by attacking the White House."

In the sixth paragraph, readers are finally told that "the ad takes Mr. Obama's remark out of context."

Mitt Romney has also been twisting Obama's "lazy" comment, with little push back from the press. Another Times piece described Romney's attack:

Mr. Romney's critique sounded a familiar theme in the Republican primary contest–that the president is out of touch with the ordinary American worker.

Later in the article, an Obama spokesperson says Romney is taking the comments out of context–which is the kind of thing journalists should point out themselves.

In the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza reported the Perry ad this way:

His latest ad, which began airing Wednesday in Iowa and on national cable stations, takes Obama to task for a recent comment that America has grown "a little bit lazy" in attracting foreign investment.

He added:

Romney also took issue with the comment this week, accusing Obama of calling Americans lazy. "I don't think that describes Americans," he said.

And once again, an Obama spokesperson steps in, near the end of the piece, to try and set things straight.

If this is any indication of how the press is going to handle campaign season lying, things look pretty bleak.

One bright spot came on the CBS Evening News (11/17/11):

SCOTT PELLEY: As we get pulled into this campaign season, you'll be seeing a lot of ads by the candidates. And from time to time, we're going to offer some background on the claims that all the candidates are making. This one caught our eye today. Texas Governor Rick Perry is running a spot about what he describes as an outrageous comment made by President Obama.

OBAMA: We've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Can you believe that? That's what our president thinks is wrong with America, that Americans are lazy? That's pathetic.

PELLEY: That would be pathetic. So we hunted down the full comments the president made during an interview Saturday at the Pacific Economic Summit. He'd been asked about U.S. businesses marketing themselves overseas.

OBAMA: There are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the U.S. as a great opportunity. Our stability, our openness, our innovative, free-market culture. But, you know, we've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We've kind of taken for granted, well, people will want to come here, and we aren't out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new businesses into America.

PELLEY: There it is in context.

There–that wasn't so hard, was it?

UPDATE: Syntactical glitch in first sentence fixed.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.