Media outlets scrutinizing Palin's "Bridge to Nowhere" statement haven't noted her claim that "I told the Congress 'Thanks, but no thanks' " is a lie

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

While media outlets reporting Gov. Sarah Palin's claim that "I told the Congress 'Thanks, but no thanks' on that 'Bridge to Nowhere' " have noted that Palin had previously supported the bridge, or that Palin did not refuse the funds previously allocated for the bridge or reimburse the federal government, they did not report that Palin's claim is false, because Congress abdicated responsibility for determining how the money would be spent a year before Palin was elected governor.

In reports over the last 10 days, the Associated Press, The Washington Post, ABC, and CNN have repeatedly reported all or part of Palin's repeated false claim, "I told the Congress 'Thanks, but no thanks' on that 'Bridge to Nowhere.' " But while those reports noted that Palin had previously supported the bridge, or that Palin did not refuse the funds previously allocated for the bridge or reimburse the federal government, they did not report that Palin's claim that she "told the Congress 'Thanks, but no thanks' on that 'Bridge to Nowhere' " is false. As Media Matters for America previously noted, Palin was not in a position to tell Congress " '[T]hanks, but no thanks' on that 'Bridge to Nowhere,' " as she has repeatedly claimed. As The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby noted, a year before Palin was elected governor, Congress abdicated responsibility for determining how the money would be spent. After authorizing funds to be spent specifically on the bridge project in August 2005, in an appropriations bill in November 2005, Congress earmarked the money for Alaska, but specified that it did not have to be spent on the bridge. Somerby wrote, "[N]o one had to 'tell Congress' anything about the 'Bridge to Nowhere,' because Congress had removed itself from decision-making about the project."

From the September 2 Washington Post article:

But McCain's enthusiasm for Palin sometimes leads to embellishment. For instance, Palin's rise in Alaska politics was fostered by the political culture that she turned against and eventually battled for control of state government. And she and McCain never fail to mention that as governor she opposed a federal earmark for a bridge to a sparsely populated island that became a symbol of pork barrel politics.

As a senator, "I tried to stop the $233 million 'bridge to nowhere' in Alaska," McCain said. "She got it done."

Palin said she told the federal government, "Thanks but no thanks."

But she does not mention that she endorsed the bridge when she was a candidate for governor. And the money did not go back to Washington. It stayed in Alaska for a different road project.

From the September 8 AP article:

McCain and Palin together have told a broader story about the bridge that is misleading. She is portrayed as a crusader for the thrifty use of tax dollars who turned down an offer from Washington to build an expensive bridge of little value to the state.

"I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere," she said in her convention speech last week.

That's not what she told Alaskans when she announced a year ago that she was ordering state transportation officials to ditch the project. Her explanation then was that it would be fruitless to try to persuade Congress to come up with the money.

"It's clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island," Palin said then.

Palin indicated during her 2006 campaign for governor that she supported the bridge, but was wishy-washy about it. She told local officials that money appropriated for the bridge "should remain available for a link, an access process as we continue to evaluate the scope and just how best to just get this done."

She vowed to defend Southeast Alaska "when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative" something that McCain was busy doing at the time, as a fierce critic of the bridge.

Even so, she called the bridge design "grandiose" during her campaign and said something more modest might be appropriate.

Palin's reputation for standing up to entrenched interests in Alaska is genuine. Her self-description as a leader who "championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress" is harder to square with the facts.

The governor has cut back on pork-barrel project requests, but in her two years in office, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation. And as mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million.

From the September 4 AP article:

PALIN: "I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending ... and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere."

THE FACTS: As mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million. In her two years as governor, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation. While Palin notes she rejected plans to build a $398 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport, that opposition came only after the plan was ridiculed nationally as a "bridge to nowhere."

From the September 3 AP article:

At the same time, Palin's campaign trail braggadocio last week that she told Washington "'thanks but no thanks' on that 'Bridge to Nowhere' " didn't tell the whole story.

In fact, Palin was for the infamous $398 million bridge to connect the town of Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport on it before she was against it, speaking in favor of it during her 2006 race for governor.

From the September 9 edition of CNN's American Morning:

PALIN [video clip]: I told the Congress "Thanks, but no thanks on that 'Bridge to Nowhere.' " If our state wanted to build a bridge, we were going to build it ourselves.

JESSICA YELLIN (Capitol Hill correspondent): It's a big applause line, but before she became governor, Palin was for the "Bridge to Nowhere." After being elected, she was against it, saying it was too expensive. But Alaska kept the more than $100 million Congress gave for the bridge.

Palin has used her line-item veto to cut funds for special interest programs called earmarks, but Democrats criticize her for slashing programs even for people with disabilities, a group she's vowed to defend. Her Democratic critics complain she has the wrong priorities.

From the September 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

WOLF BLITZER (host): Governor Palin fired up the crowd by echoing statements she's been making about herself. Listen to this.

PALIN [video clip]: So as mayor, I took a voluntary pay cut, which didn't really thrill my husband. And then as governor, I cut the personal chef position from the budget, which didn't really thrill my kids. And then I put the state's -- our government's state checkbook, I put it online for all the world to see. You're going to see every penny that we spend up there. So -- doing that, though, of course, I didn't thrill all the bureaucrats. But, OK. And then the luxury jet. It came with the office, but I put it on eBay.

So, I came to office promising to control spending, by request if possible, but by veto if necessary. Today, our state budget is under control. We have a surplus. I have put the veto pen to nearly half a billion dollars in wasteful spending. We suspended the state fuel tax. And now that we have a surplus, I'm returning a chunk of that surplus straight back to the people because they can spend it better than government can spend it for them. We gave their money back to the hard-working Alaskans. And in these tough times, I'm ready to help John McCain bring tax relief to all Americans. To all of you.

I championed earmark reform -- you're going to hear about this from the senator -- to stop Congress from wasting public money on things that don't serve the public interest. I told Congress "Thanks, but no thanks for that 'Bridge to Nowhere.' " If our state wanted to build a bridge, we would build it ourselves.

Just the other day, our opponent brought up earmarks. And, frankly, I was surprised that he would even raise the subject at all. I thought he wouldn't want to go there. In just three years, our opponent has requested nearly $1 billion in earmarks. That's about a million dollars for every working day.

So we've reformed the abuses of earmarks in our state. And I'm ready to help President John McCain end these corrupt practices once and for all.

BLITZER: All right, Governor Palin speaking earlier today. Meanwhile, Senator Obama has not requested any earmarks this year, that according to the Associated Press. Last year, he did ask for some $311 million in earmarks. The AP says that's about $25 for every Illinois resident.

But under Governor Palin, Alaska has asked for almost $200 million in earmarks, the AP saying that's almost $300 for every person in Alaska. The AP says Alaska is by far the biggest recipient of these federal pet project spending per capita.

From the September 7 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

BILL WEIR (co-anchor): Well, let's talk a little bit about federal dollars despite all that oil wealth. They still lead the nation receiving federal aid, like the much-ballyhooed "Bridge to Nowhere," $223 million. The governor has said she killed that project. What does the record show?

LISA FLETCHER (ABC News correspondent): Well, in her stump speech -- and her acceptance speech, she said "Thanks, but no thanks." But when you look back, there is some indication that she supported it. And then once she got into office, she did kill the project, but she kept the $223 million here in the state of Alaska to use for other state projects.

From the September 5 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

RANDI KAYE (correspondent): And where did she really stand on the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere"? A $330 million project, a symbol of Alaska's dependence on federal handouts.

PALIN [video clip]: I told the Congress "Thanks, but no thanks for that 'Bridge to Nowhere.' " If our state wanted to build a bridge, we would build it ourselves.

KAYE: She takes credit for having killed the "Bridge to Nowhere" project. Is that fair?

LYDA GREEN (president, Alaska Senate): That was after she supported it in her campaign.

KAYE: And Green says even though the bridge project was canceled, the federal money was not, but directed to other Alaska projects. Come Election Day, how much will her record matter? Well, here in Alaska, many predict voters will choose style over substance.

From the September 5 edition of CNN's American Morning:

DEBORAH FEYERICK (CNN correspondent): That famous $398 million "Bridge to Nowhere"?

PALIN [video clip]: I told the Congress "Thanks, but no thanks."

FEYERICK: In fact, Alaska got that money but it was used for other projects. Steven Ellis is with an advocacy group that tracks public spending.

STEVE ELLIS (Taxpayers for Common Sense Action): Certainly she has got Wasilla into the earmarks game. She, you know, worked the system and was able to bring home earmarks and then certainly has been part of the earmark system in Alaska. And so, it's just something that is interesting to juxtapose with Senator McCain's position, which has been stalwart no earmarks ever.

From the September 4 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

DIANE SAWYER (co-host): There are going to be more fact checks of the speech. And here's one line from it. I know that you were listening to it carefully last night.

PALIN [video clip]: I told the Congress "Thanks, but no thanks on that 'Bridge to Nowhere.' " If our state wanted to build a bridge, we were gonna build it ourselves.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host, This Week): Governor Palin put her own record front and center last night on that "Bridge to Nowhere." The story is a little more complicated. When she was campaigning for governor in -- in 2006, she was actually for the bridge. She opposed it when she got elected, after Congress had already taken away the earmark for the "Bridge to Nowhere." And as we've reported before, when she was mayor of Wasilla, she did seek $27 million in earmarks --

DIANE SAWYER: Earmarks.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: -- and also as governor. So one thing that is gonna happen, I think, will continue to happen, more scrutiny of her record, even -- despite this performance last night.

From the September 3 edition of American Morning:

KYRA PHILLIPS (correspondent): And then there's the controversial "Bridge to Nowhere." A favorite target of Senator John McCain because of the enormous cost of building a bridge to a remote Alaskan community.

McCAIN [video clip]: The next vice president of the United States --

PHILLIPS: But when John McCain introduced Palin to America last week ...

PALIN [video clip]: I told Congress "Thanks, but no thanks" on that "Bridge to Nowhere."

PHILLIPS: While running for governor, Palin supported the bridge, saying it was essential for local prosperity. But in office she spiked it, citing rising costs and the needs of other projects. A longtime opponent of Palin accuses her of a flip-flop.

ANDREW HALCRO (former gubernatorial candidate): It was a bridge to somewhere. And then when she got elected and the political winds had changed, it became a "Bridge to Nowhere."

From the September 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

PHILLIPS: Speaking of earmarks, running for governor, Palin supported the "Bridge to Nowhere" -- now known as the poster child for government pork projects.

MCCAIN: The next vice president --

PHILLIPS: But when John McCain introduced Palin to America last week ...

PALIN: I told Congress "Thanks, but no thanks" on that "Bridge to Nowhere."

PHILLIPS: A long-time opponent of Palin's accuses her of a flip-flop.

HALCRO: It was a bridge to somewhere. And then when she got elected and the political winds had changed, it became a "Bridge to Nowhere."

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, ABC, CNN, Associated Press
Person
Sarah Palin
Show/Publication
Anderson Cooper 360, American Morning, Good Morning America, The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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