Truth, Lies and Videotape at the Second Debate

Yes, President Obama defeated  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney Tuesday night  in Hempstead, NY  in what may have been the nastiest televised presidential debate ever.

Both candidates challenged each other repeatedly on the veracity of their statements—or, to put it more bluntly, they called each other liars.

But how much did they really lie? And who told the truth more?

In politics, of course, truth is relative, and there are many fact-checking organizations that put candidates’ feet to the fire.

According to PolitiFact, the president again made more true or mostly true statements than Romney did.

President Obama made three true statements, four mostly true assertions, told one half truth and made one false statement.

Romney made one true and two mostly true assertions, told two half truths and uttered one “pants on fire” lie.

Mitt Romney and President Obama debate at Hofstra University, with moderator Candy Crowley of CNN. Source: PBS.

The president told the truth when he said that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney had said of a coal-burning power plant, “this plant kills”; that Romney wants to add $2 trillion to defense spending, and that Romney had promised to veto any new DREAM Act on immigration.

His mostly true assertions included a comment that Romney had avoided questions about the equal pay act; that the president had cut taxes for small businesses 18 times; that Romney would turn Medicare largely into a voucher system, and that immigration reform used to be a bipartisan issue.

Romney’s only true statement was that the president didn’t keep his promise to pass an immigration bill in his first term. His mostly true assertions were that half the college graduates didn’t have jobs and that Massachusetts has the nation’s best schools.

Obama was responsible for only one half truth: that Romney had actually wanted Detroit to go bankrupt; PolitiFact said he did not favor liquidation of the auto manufacturers.

Romney told three half-truths: that oil production was down significantly on federal land (he may have been cherry-picking data); that President Obama’s spending added $5 trillion in debt, and that “it took the president 14 days before he called the Benghazi attack an act of terror.”

Actually, as you know, the president had used the term “acts of terror” the very next day in the Rose Garden, and moderator Candy Crowley backed him up on that. But his administration didn’t formally declare the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans a terrorist attack until two weeks later and various officials referred to it as the result of popular protest against an anti-Muslim video.

The president’s sole falsehood was his claim that Romney called Arizona’s restrictive immigration law a “model” for the rest of the country; Romney actually  singled out a small section of that law for his approbation.

And Romney’s one “pants on fire” lie was his repetition of the claim that “the president’s policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour.” There was no such tour, many have found, and PolitiFact dubbed it a “ridiculous charge.”

Bottom line: The president’s true and mostly true statements comprised 77% of all his assertions that PolitiFact fact-checked. Romney’s represented 44% of all his. is out with its own appraisal. It includes a few more exaggerations and misstatements by both candidates, mostly by Romney.

Maybe the fact checkers missed other remarks that could change the totals. Or perhaps the fact checkers are judging the candidates in a completely biased way.

But based on these numbers, this is the third straight debate in which the Democratic standard bearers were relatively more truthful than their Republican counterparts. Sorry, folks, I’m just the messenger.



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