Media figures advance false claim that Obama is breaking campaign promise of no earmarks

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

Media figures have advanced the false claim that President Obama promised during his campaign to stop earmark spending and is breaking that promise by signing the omnibus spending bill currently being considered in the Senate. In fact, Obama promised to reform the earmark process and cut wasteful spending.

In recent days, media figures -- including CNN's Campbell Brown and Kitty Pilgrim, and Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, Neil Cavuto, and Bill O'Reilly -- have advanced the false claim that President Obama promised during the 2008 presidential campaign to stop earmark spending and is breaking that promise by signing the omnibus spending bill currently being considered in the Senate. In fact, as Media Matters for America documented, Obama actually promised to reform the earmark process and cut wasteful spending.

During the March 5 edition of Fox News' On the Record, claiming to have "done a little research," host Greta Van Susteren cropped comments Obama made during a September 22, 2008, campaign event to advance the falsehood that he promised to end earmarks. Van Susteren asserted of Obama, "[W]hether it was at debates with Senator McCain or even at a campaign event on September 22, in which he says, 'As President, I will make it impossible for congressmen or lobbyists to slip pork-barrel projects' -- basically, he goes into this whole thing about he will not let earmarks or pork-barrel projects go forward. I don't think it's courageous, I think it's keeping your promise." But in his September 22, 2008, comments, Obama did not promise to put an end to earmarks; rather, he promised to increase transparency. Obama stated: "As President, I will make it impossible for Congressmen or lobbyists to slip pork-barrel projects or corporate welfare into laws when no one is looking because when I am president, meetings where laws are written will be more open to the public. No more secrecy" [emphasis added].

Van Susteren's comments echo those she made on the March 4 edition of her show, when she claimed, "President Obama said during his campaign that there weren't going to be any earmarks, and he's now trying to say that this is really a Bush bill that happens to come across his desk, the Oval Office now, when he could veto it. He doesn't have to have it. He could draw a line in the sand now."

Other media figures have also advanced the myth that Obama is breaking his promise to end earmarks:

  • During the March 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed, "Obama said, 'No earmarks.' Now there are 9,000 earmarks." During the segment, Fox News' Neil Cavuto also claimed, "Here is what galls me, though. I mean, this is why there's a disconnect. There's an inconsistency. You have the president saying, 'I'm going to stop the waste and the earmarks,' but prepared to sign all of this."
  • During the March 5 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, correspondent Kitty Pilgrim asserted, "With more than 8,000 pet projects, it seems the Obama administration's promise to end pork-barrel spending is broken."
  • During the March 4 edition of CNN's No Bias, No Bull, host Campbell Brown claimed, "While it's fair to criticize the president after he campaigned on a promise to end earmarks in spending, it's important to remember who put him in that position this time around."

As Media Matters documented, a March 1 New York Times article reported that Obama made "campaign promises to put an end to the practice" of earmarks. Echoing the falsehood, Times columnist Maureen Dowd falsely claimed in her March 3 column that "[i]n one of his disturbing spells of passivity, President Obama decided not to fight Congress and live up to his own no-earmark pledge from the campaign."

From the March 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: OK. Let's get to the -- [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV]. He's your favorite guy. You like him.

CAVUTO: Yes, I do.

O'REILLY: Didn't you guys go fishing together in the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead? Where --

CAVUTO: That would be me. Yes.

O'REILLY: OK. Now, this guy -- you know, 9,000 earmarks. Even some Democratic senators are saying, it's just -- you can't do it, but he doesn't care. He doesn't care.

CAVUTO: Well, to be fair, I mean, 40 percent of them are Republican. And here is what galls me, though. I mean, this is why there's a disconnect. There's an inconsistency. You have the president saying, "I'm going to stop the waste and the earmarks" --

O'REILLY: But he doesn't.

CAVUTO: -- but prepared to sign all of this. His Treasury secretary -- I'm going to go after the rich tax cheats, totally ignoring -- hello? You know, I'm just saying you can't preach and say one thing and do another.

O'REILLY: But he gets away with it. Obama said, "No earmarks." Now there are 9,000 earmarks and 68 percent of -- 63 percent of people like him. He's getting away with it.

From the March 5 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

KITTY PILGRIM: Tonight, the Senate votes on the $410 billion federal spending bill. With more than 8,000 pet projects, it seems the Obama administration's promise to end pork-barrel spending is broken. [CNN senior political analyst] Bill Schneider reports.

[Begin video clip]

SCHNEIDER: Last year, John McCain vowed to end earmarks for special interest projects that members of Congress add to spending bills often at the request of lobbyists or contributors.

McCAIN: This is a bipartisan disease.

OBAMA: I want earmarks reform just like John McCain does.

SCHNEIDER: Congress is now voting on this year's budget. What's in it?

From the March 5 edition of Fox News' On the Record:

VAN SUSTEREN: All right now, a couple of things. One is, you say that he made the remark last week about the earmarks, and the second thing you said is that you think it would be courageous.

I have a little different take on that, because I've done a little research, and there are a number of times -- whether it was at debates with Senator McCain or even at a campaign event on September 22, in which he says, "As President, I will make it impossible for congressmen or lobbyists to slip pork-barrel projects"


basically, he goes into this whole thing about he will not let earmarks or pork-barrel projects go forward. I don't think it's courageous, I think it's keeping your promise.

From the March 4 edition of Fox News' On the Record:

VAN SUSTEREN: The other big problem with it too is the fact that President Obama said during his campaign that there weren't going to be any earmarks, and he's now trying to say that this is really a Bush bill that happens to come across his desk, the Oval Office now, when he could veto it. He doesn't have to have it.

KARL ROVE (former Bush White House senior adviser): Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: He could draw a line in the sand now.

ROVE: I've got a column about this, too.

From the March 4 edition of CNN's No Bias, No Bull:

BROWN: The president trying to save his political capital for bigger battles will likely bite the bullet, hold his nose, and sign this thing.

While it's fair to criticize the president after he campaigned on a promise to end earmarks in spending, it's important to remember who put him in that position this time around.

It may only add up to a measly $7 billion and change in additional taxpayer money, but, when every penny counts, Congress would be well-served to see which way the winds are blowing when it comes to the anger of voters.

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