“You Didn't Build That”: How Fox News Crafted The GOP's Convention Theme

After weeks of Fox News pushing the dishonest “you didn't build that” attack on President Obama, the Republican National Convention will reportedly adopt the Fox News lie by adopting “We Built This” as a convention theme. Independent fact checkers have said this line of attack is dishonest.

President Obama: Public Infrastructure Contributes To Business Success

Obama: Individual Drive, Infrastructure, Teachers Contribute To Small Business Success.  During a July 13 speech in Roanoke, VA, Obama touted the role infrastructure and education, in addition to individual drive, plays in the success of business owners:

OBAMA: [L]ook, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own.  You didn't get there on your own.  I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. 

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you've got a business -- you didn't build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn't get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. 

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together.  That's how we funded the GI Bill.  That's how we created the middle class.  That's how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.  That's how we invented the Internet.  That's how we sent a man to the moon.  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that's the reason I'm running for President -- because I still believe in that idea.  You're not on your own, we're in this together. [WhiteHouse.gov, 7/13/12]

Fox Distorted Obama's Comments To Manufacture Outrage Over “You Didn't Build That”

Fox & Friends Deceptively Edited Obama's Comments On Small Business. Fox News deceptively edited Obama's remarks to make it seem as though he was claiming that small business owners do not deserve any credit for their own success. Obama's actual remarks made clear that he attributed the success of businesses to both the individual drive of business owners and to the benefits provided by influences such as great teachers, and government-created infrastructure. [Media Matters, 7/16/12]

Within Two Days, Fox Spent More Than Two Hours Of Airtime On “You Didn't Build That” Lie. In the two days that followed Fox's initial misrepresentation of Obama's remarks, the network devoted 42 segments and more than two hours of airtime to misrepresenting Obama's “you didn't build that” remarks.  [Media Matters, 7/18/12]

Rupert Murdoch Endorsed The Falsehood On Twitter. In a post to his Twitter account, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch wrote: “Yesterday Obama went off script, showed real self ie government omnipotent, individuals secondary. Must be big damage.” [Media Matters7/19/12]

Fox Attacked Nonpartisan Journalists For Ignoring The Made-Up Story. Fox blasted mainstream media outlets for not covering Obama's remarks for four days, despite the fact that the remarks were ripped out of context. [Media Matters, 7/19/12]

Fox & Friends Tried To Rebut Charge That Video Was Deceptively Edited With New Deceptively Edited Video. Fox & Friends subsequently offered to rebut assertions that they had misrepresented Obama by showing the context of Obama's remarks. But the new clip that Fox & Friends played still omitted the relevant context. [Media Matters7/26/12]          

Fox Hosted Karl Rove And His New Anti-Obama Attack Ad Repeating “Didn't Build That” Falsehood. Karl Rove produced an ad based on the misrepresentation of Obama's remarks and then touted that ad on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor. [Media Matters7/25/12]

Romney Repeated The Fox Narrative

Mitt Romney Repeated Fox's “You Didn't Build That” Distortion. The day after Fox deceptively edited Obama's remarks, Romney repeated the distortion and characterized it as “insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America, and it's wrong.”  [Media Matters7/17/12]

Romney Campaign Adopted The “You Didn't Build That” Distortion As A Major Part Of Its Campaign. The Romney campaign has put out press releases and television ads touting small business owners telling Obama that they did build their businesses. [MittRomney.com, 7/30/12; Breitbart.com, 7/30/12]

Independent Fact-Checkers Have Debunked The “You Didn't Build That” Narrative

Wash. Post's Kessler: “Focusing On One Ill-Phrased Sentence” Amounts To “Pretend[ing] That Obama Is Talking About Something Different.”  The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler criticized the Romney campaign for distorting Obama's comments in an attack ad:

Obama certainly could take from lessons from [Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth] Warren or [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt on how to frame this argument in a way that is less susceptible for quote-snipping. And Romney certainly could answer Obama's argument by engaging in a serious discussion about whether the wealthy should pay much more in taxes as a matter of social good and equity. That would be grounds for an elevated, interesting and important debate.

But instead, by focusing on one ill-phrased sentence, Romney and his campaign have decided to pretend that Obama is talking about something different -- and then further extrapolated it so that it becomes ridiculous. That's not very original at all. [The Washington Post7/23/12]

FactCheck.org: “Taking Snippets Of” Obama's Speech “Ignores The Larger Context Of The President's Meaning.” A FactCheck.org analysis criticized efforts to take Obama's comments out of context to distort the meaning:

There's no question Obama inartfully phrased those two sentences, but it's clear from the context what the president was talking about. He spoke of government -- including government-funded education, infrastructure and research -- assisting businesses to make what he called “this unbelievable American system that we have.”

In summary, he said: “The point is ... that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”


We don't know what the president had in mind when he uttered those words, and his intent is not clear. Regardless, our conclusion is the same: Taking snippets of his speech ignores the larger context of the president's meaning that a business owner does not become successful “on your own.” [FactCheck.org, 7/23/12]

PolitiFact.com: “When You Read The Full Text Of [Obama's] Remarks, That Quote Distorts The Meaning Of Obama's Claim.” A July 25 post to the Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact.com determined that it was false to use a portion of Obama's comments to accuse him of denigrating business owners:

In this item, we'll rate the claim that Obama was saying success “is the result of government,” not “hard-working people,” when he said, “If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

In case you didn't catch it the first 5,000 times the snippet ran on cable, yes, those words were uttered by Obama.

But as you can see when you read the full text of his remarks, that quote distorts the meaning of Obama's claim.


We believe, as do our friends at FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact Checker, that Romney has seriously distorted Obama's comments.

Romney cherry-picked a quote that made it sound like Obama was dismissive of businesses when in fact he was making a point that success comes from the combination of “individual initiative” and the fact that “we do things together.” [PolitiFact.com, 7/25/12]

AP Fact Check: Republicans Have Taken Obama “Out Of Context.” An August 12 AP Fact Check article noted that the “you didn't build that” attacks took Obama “out of context”:

RYAN: “I'm proud to stand with a man who understands what it takes to foster job creation in our economy, someone who knows from experience, that if you have a small business -- you did build that.”

THE FACTS: Ryan, like Romney and scores of Republicans in recent weeks, has used comments Obama made at July 13 campaign appearance in Virginia against him. But the rhetorical jab takes Obama out of context. Republicans have seized on only part of Obama's quote -- “If you've got a business, you didn't build that” -- but the full quote makes clear Obama is talking about the conditions that help businesses and individuals succeed, such as teachers and infrastructure.

The more complete quote from Obama: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.” [AP, 8/12/12, via CBS News] 

And Now Fox Is Reporting That The GOP Convention Has Adopted The Narrative As One Of Its Themes

FoxNews.com: “GOP Convention Session To Be Themed 'We Built This!' ” A FoxNews.com article reported: “The GOP is turning what some see as a presidential slight aimed at business owners and entrepreneurs into a theme for a night of the Republican National Convention next week, titling Tuesday night's session 'We Built This!' ” [FoxNews.com, 8/21/12]

Fox's Carlson: GOP Convention Theme Is Based On “Obama's Infamous Line.” On the August 21 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson stated that the Republican convention theme was based on “Obama's infamous line a couple of weeks ago”:

CARLSON: Maybe I shouldn't say what the theme of the convention is. Can we say what the theme of the convention is?

STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Winning.

CARLSON: No. I think it was something about building it based off of we built this based off of President Obama's infamous line a couple of weeks ago. And now the Republicans are going to capitalize on that and make that the theme of the Republican National Convention. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/21/12]