Many media conservatives have recently embraced and promoted the accusation, almost in unison, that President Obama has "lied" or broken promises. In many cases, these accusations are based on distortions of comments he has made or misrepresentations of campaign pledges.
In recent weeks, many media conservatives have launched attacks on President Obama, claiming, for instance, that he "lied" and accusing him of having, in the words of The Washington Times, "broken so many promises during the first month-and-a-half of his presidency that it is hard to keep track." Following his February 24 address to a joint session of Congress, some in the media singled out Obama's comment that he doesn't "believe in bigger government" to accuse him of dishonesty, lying, and even in one case of committing "a huge, brazen, audacious, demonstrably outrageous lie." In fact, in the speech Obama said that, while he does not believe in "big government," a strategy on the scale he is proposing is necessary in the current economic situation. Moreover, many in the media have falsely claimed that Obama "promised no earmarks" in spending bills during his administration and that he has since broken that pledge. In fact, Obama consistently said during the campaign that he intends to "clean up" the process in an effort to curb spending on earmarks, not eliminate the process entirely.
During his February 24 address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama spoke to the necessity of passing the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to improve the economy and commented that he wanted the stimulus bill passed "not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't -- not because I'm not mindful of the massive debt we've inherited -- I am."
In the days following the speech, media figures have contrasted that comment -- that "I don't" believe in bigger government -- in isolation with the cost of Obama's proposals to say that Obama "lied," that he committed a "the biggest whopper of all" and that his "rhetoric does not match with his policies." But, as is clear from the speech, Obama was taking the position that that failure to act on the scale he is proposing "would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships" and "would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years."
From Obama's February 24 speech:
As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by Presidents Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets, not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't -- not because I'm not mindful of the massive debt we've inherited -- I am.
I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. And that's why I pushed for quick action.
And tonight I am grateful that this Congress delivered and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.
Over -- over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90 percent of these jobs will be in the private sector, jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges, constructing wind turbines and solar panels, laying broadband and expanding mass transit.
Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis, [Minnesota] tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.
Because of this plan, 95 percent of working households in America will receive a tax cut, a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1.
Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college.
And Americans -- and Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm. Now I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work, and I understand that skepticism.
According to a February 19 New York Times article, Obama's proposed budget outline is "$2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear, according to administration officials" due to new accounting rules that include in the Office of Management and Budget's calculations "spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare reimbursements to physicians and the cost of disaster responses."
Examples of media figures citing Obama's statement that he doesn't "believe in bigger government" as an example of dishonesty include:
- In his March 3 Washington Times column, headlined "Obama Lied; The Economy Died," Tony Blankley asserted: "President Obama told a whopper last week when he claimed he was not for bigger government." He went on to say: 'This he asserted though the budget he proposed the next day asks for federal spending as 28 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), higher by at least 6 percent than any time since World War II."
- In a February 26 Cleveland Plain Dealer column, Kevin O'Brien wrote: "President Barack Obama doesn't believe in big government. He said so Tuesday night. The statement was one of two things. Best case: It was a huge, brazen, audacious, demonstrably outrageous lie. Worst case: It was testimony to a sincere belief that even the all-pervasive, all-powerful federal government he envisions doesn't qualify as 'big.'
- During the March 1 edition of CNN's State of the Union, The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes suggested that Obama's comment that he didn't like bigger government should have been "corrected," adding: "I mean, we have seen nothing but big government for five weeks, and this is the kind of line that, had President George W. Bush uttered it a year ago or two years ago, we would have seen front-page, above-the-fold analyses, saying, you know, 'President's rhetoric does not match with his policies.' And I've been a little surprised about that."
- In a column published in the March 9 Weekly Standard, editor Fred Barnes cited the purported disparity between Obama's comment and his proposals in accusing him of "liv[ing] in a world of political make-believe in which everything from reconciling conflicting interests to paying for costly programs is easy":
But there's a problem. Candidates don't have to deal with reality. They talk about the wonderful things they can accomplish as if advocating them is the same as achieving them. They live in a world of political make-believe in which everything from reconciling conflicting interests to paying for costly programs is easy.
That's the world Obama continues to inhabit. Like a candidate, he's a quick-change artist, constantly switching roles. Twice last week, he insisted he doesn't favor "big government." Then he proposed a budget that would vastly expand the size and reach of the federal government, add $600 billion to the deficit, and produce a one-year shortfall of $1.2 trillion (or more). This prompted House Republican leader John Boehner to proclaim, quite accurately, that the "era of big government is back."
- In his February 28 Newsweek column, George Will mocked Obama's campaign slogan and wrote: "Addressing Congress last week, the president said he is strengthening government 'not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't.' Chant it, everybody: Yes you do."
- A March 3 FoxNews.com Fox Forum blog post by Phil Kerpen, director of policy for Americans for Prosperity, listed this comment as "Promise #1" to be broken and asserted "it's the biggest whopper of all."
Media figures have also broadly accused President Obama of having lied or of breaking a promise by stating that he would sign an omnibus appropriations bill that contains earmarks when he had previously "promised no earmarks." However, as Media Matters noted, Obama consistently said while campaigning that he intends to "clean up" the process in an effort to curb spending on earmarks, not eliminate them entirely.
While Sen. John McCain repeatedly said during the presidential debates that he would "veto every earmark pork-barrel bill" if elected, Obama said in the first debate that "the earmarks process has been abused" and said he had "suspended any requests for my home state ... until we cleaned it up." During the second presidential debate, Obama said McCain's criticism of earmarks was "important," but that he wanted "to go line by line through every item in the federal budget and eliminate programs that don't work and make sure that those that do work, work better and cheaper." And in the third presidential debate, Obama said: "There's no doubt that the system needs reform and there are a lot of screwy things that we end up spending money on, and they need to be eliminated. But it's not going to solve the problem."
Similarly, in May 2008, Obama issued a statement that "the entire earmarks process needs to be re-examined and reformed." The statement said:
I also have championed greater disclosure requirements for earmarks to ensure that the public knows which member of Congress is sponsoring an earmark.
However, even with all of these reforms, I have come to believe that the system is broken. We can no longer accept a process that doles out earmarks based on a member of Congress' seniority, rather than the merit of the project. We can no longer accept an earmarks process that has become so complicated to navigate that a municipality or non-profit group has to hire high-priced D.C. lobbyists to do it. And we can no longer accept an earmarks process in which many of the projects being funded fail to address the real needs of our country.
The entire earmarks process needs to be re-examined and reformed. For that reason, I will be supporting Senator DeMint's amendment and will not be requesting earmarks this year for Illinois. Over the next year, I hope to work with my colleagues, both Democratic and Republican, to improve the earmarks process."
But in spite of Obama's campaign statements, media outlets and figures have suggested he has broken "a campaign promise" about earmarks by stating that he would sign the omnibus appropriations bill:
- A March 4 Washington Times editorial claimed "President Obama has broken so many promises during the first month-and-a-half of his presidency that it is hard to keep track. ... Last October Mr. Obama promised a net cut in government. He promised no earmarks."
- On the March 3 edition of CNN's Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull, anchor Campbell Brown said, when referring to the omnibus bill "President Obama made a campaign promise to put Washington on a pork-free diet. No more spending on earmark projects he vowed. But they just can't help themselves. We're going to tell you who's spending how much of your money on their pet projects." Later, she continued: "President Obama keeps saying he is an anti-earmark crusader. But watch out, a monster spending bill working its way through Congress contains some 8,500 earmarks worth more than $7 billion."
- On the February 26 edition of Fox News' Hannity, Fox News anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle suggested Obama was engaging in "two-faced politics" and "trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people" because "[h]e said that he wasn't going to do this. We elected him because he said he was going to change things."
- On the March 3 edition of Sean Hannity's radio show, Hannity asserted that "we have a president that has lied to us. ... A president that promised to eliminate earmarks. And you know what? This is a president that is far more radical than anybody ever dreamed. You bet -- I'm angry."
Further, Washington Times chief political correspondent Donald Lambro misrepresented Obama's February 24 address to Congress to suggest he lied in that address regarding earmarks. In his March 2 column, Lambro wrote, "Nine thousand pork barrel earmarks were buried in the $410 billion omnibus budget that passed the House last week," and added that "President Obama told Congress the day before it passed that he was happy it didn't contain any earmarks, eliciting gales of laughter from the Republican side of the chamber who knew better." But as Media Matters for America noted, Lambro's claim that Obama made a false statement about earmarks is itself false. Obama was not referring to the omnibus spending bill, as Lambro claimed, but to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act when he said the bill did not contain any earmarks.
From the February 26 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
HANNITY: Nine thousand earmarks. Now, I don't think that is the big spending we've got to worry about; I believe it's entitlement spending. How do -- and Republicans, by the way, are just as guilty, Kimberly. They're 40 percent of the earmarks.
GUILFOYLE: Forty percent, to the Democrats' 60 percent. And I'm with John McCain on this one, because I think this is two-faced politics. Didn't Obama say that he was not going to do this -- that there wouldn't be pork? But now it's like, back-doored in in an area that they normally don't scrutinize, and trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people. And it's got to stop.
JUAN WILLIAMS (Fox News political contributor): Wait a second. How is it pulling wool over anybody's eyes? We all know it's there.
GUILFOYLE: It shouldn't be there.
WILLIAMS: Well, that's another point.
GUILFOYLE: He said that he wasn't going to do this.
WILLIAMS: No, no. But this is not his --
GUILFOYLE: We elected him because he said he was going to change things.
From the March 3 edition of CNN's Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull:
BROWN: President Obama made a campaign promise to put Washington on a pork-free diet. No more spending on earmark projects, he vowed. But they just can't help themselves. We're going to tell you who's spending how much of your money on their pet projects.
And tonight on Larry King Live: Tavis Smiley, live from his town hall in Philadelphia.
BROWN: President Obama keeps saying he is an anti-earmark crusader. But watch out: A monster spending bill working its way through Congress contains some 8,500 earmarks worth more than $7 billion. And guess who is leading the fight against them? No, not the president but, rather, Senator John McCain. When it comes to the top earmark offenders, McCain's more than happy to get specific, and he did just that when senior correspondent Joe Johns caught up with him today on Capitol Hill -- Joe.
From the March 1 edition of CNN's State of the Union:
HOWARD KURTZ (host): And I wonder, Steve Hayes -- Steve Hayes, if you think the media overhyped this speech at all, because this whole drumbeat about, "Well, he's got to be optimistic, but he can't appear to be out of touch."
HAYES: Right, right. I think there's a lot of that, and there's some truth to what he said about the chatter in Washington. What struck me about the speech, though, is one line that he didn't really get corrected on, and it's his line that he's not a believer in big government.
I mean, we have seen nothing but big government for five weeks, and this is the kind of line that, had President George W. Bush uttered it a year ago or two years ago, we would have seen front-page, above-the-fold analyses, saying, you know, "President's rhetoric does not match with his policies." And I've been a little surprised about that.
KURTZ: We'll come back to the policies.
From the March 3 edition of ABC Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
HANNITY: You know something? I am angry. You know what I'm angry about? Because we have a president that has lied to us. A president that puts tax cheats in office. A president that tells us he's not going to have lobbyists in office. We have a president that says on and on again that he's gonna, "Oh, every single dollar, I'm going to go over it" -- he's lied to us about that. A president that promised to eliminate earmarks. And you know what? This is a president that is far more radical than anybody ever dreamed. You bet -- I'm angry.