How The Media Used Biden's Smile To Deflect From Ryan's Dishonesty

Media outlets largely focused on criticizing Vice President Joe Biden's demeanor during the October 11 vice presidential debate, ignoring the substantive arguments being addressed in the discussion. Meanwhile, fact-checkers were busy pointing out the inaccuracies in Congressman Paul Ryan's claims.

Media Figures Attacked Joe Biden For Smiling In The Debate

Fox Nation: “The Joke's On Joe.” After the October 11 vice presidential debate, Fox Nation published a story linked to a Politico article claiming that “a third character emerged: Joe Biden's laugh, which didn't escape the notice of tweeting politicos,” adding the headline, “The Joke's On Joe.” Among the noted tweets in the Politico article repeated at Fox Nation:

Weekly Standard's Mark Hemingway: “Joe Biden's laughing through talking about Iran sanctions?”

TIME's Michael Scherer: “Not sure debate cameras have been light tested for Biden's teeth. Best to watch with sunglasses.”

Washington Examiner's Philip Klein: “Biden's strategy seems to be to laugh at Ryan constantly. Will it work to infantalize Ryan, or backfire like Gore sighing?” [Fox Nation, 10/11/12; Politico, 10/11/12]

Gloria Borger: “I Think I Could Have Done With A Lot Less Eye-Rolling And Chuckling On The Part Of Joe Biden.” Commenting during CNN post-debate coverage on “who won the debate,” CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger said that Biden came off as condescending because of his" eye rolling and chuckling." She claimed:

It was condescending at times to Paul Ryan. I think I could have done with a lot less eye-rolling and chuckling on the part of Joe Biden. However, I thought it was a great debate. I think it was one of the most substantive debates or engagements we've seen throughout this campaign. I think if people are undecided, they would decide after tonight. [CNN, post-debate coverage, 10/11/12]

Fox News' Bernard Goldberg: “If Biden Laughs One More Time I'm Going To Jump Through The TV And Slap Him.” Fox News contributor Bernard Goldberg commented that he would “jump through the tv and slap” Biden if he “laughs one more time”: 

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

Ann Coulter: “Biden Laughing - Just Thought Of A Funny Polack Joke.” Conservative pundit Ann Coulter tweeted that “Biden laughing” made her think “of a funny Polack joke”:

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

MSNBC Contributor Michael Steele: “Biden Stop Smiling. You're Giving Me The Heebeejeebeez!” MSNBC contributor and former Republican Party chairman Michael Steele tweeted, “Biden stop smiling, you are giving me the heebeejeebeez”:

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

Rich Lowry: “Biden Is Acting Like A Horses Ass.” National Review editor Rich Lowry stated that “Biden is acting like a horses ass”:

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

MSNBC's Luke Russert: “Biden Laughing And Interrupting Comes Across As Very Agist [sic].” NBC's Luke Russert described Biden's smiling as “very agist [sic]” on his Twitter account.

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

Fox's Eric Bolling: Mr. VP Interrupting And Laughing... Is He Still Drinking? Fox News host Eric Bolling tweeted, “Mr. VP interrupting and laughing .. is he still drinking?”


[Twitter, 10/11/12]

CNN's Piers Morgan: “Biden's Smirking Teeth Are ... Disturbing.” CNN host Piers Morgan described Biden's smiling as “disturbing” on his Twitter account.

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

But Even As Biden Was Smiling, Fact-Checkers Were Calling Out Ryan's Dishonest Claims

Fox's Juan Williams: Ryan Was “Distorting Facts. ... That's What [Biden] Was Laughing About.” On Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity fixated on Biden “laughing” during the October 11 vice presidential debate and implied it was inappropriate. Guest and Fox contributor Juan Williams pushed back, arguing that Biden was laughing at Paul Ryan's “distorting facts”:

HANNITY: I think, to be laughing when 23 million Americans are out of work and 49 million Americans are on food stamps and one in six Americans are in poverty and Iran is a real threat to world security, I don't think it's funny, Juan. I really don't.

WILLIAMS: I think when you see someone distorting facts, when you see someone who is going off without the facts --

HANNITY: You mean the vice president?

WILLIAMS: No, I'm talking about Representative Ryan. And then he sits there and he says, you know what, this is absurd. What did he call it? Malarkey. That's what he was laughing about. [Fox News, Hannity, 10/11/12]

Ryan Falsely Claimed Administration Blocked Iran Sanctions

Ryan: “The Administration Was Blocking Us Every Step Of The Way” On Sanctions. Ryan claimed during the debate that the Obama administration “blocked” efforts to put sanctions on Iran:

RYAN: We cannot allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability. Now, let's take a look at where we've gone -- come from. When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough fissile material -- nuclear material to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five. They're racing toward a nuclear weapon. They're four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability.

We've had four different sanctions, the U.N. on Iran, three from the Bush administration, one here. And the only reason we got it is because Russia watered it down and prevented the -- the sanctions from hitting the central bank.

Mitt Romney proposed these sanctions in 2007. In Congress, I've been fighting for these sanctions since 2009. The administration was blocking us every step of the way. Only because we had strong bipartisan support for these tough sanctions were we able to overrule their objections and put them in spite of the administration.

Imagine what would have happened if we had these sanctions in place earlier. You think Iran's not brazen? Look at what they're doing. They're stepping up their terrorist attacks. [Transcript of vice presidential debate, 10/11/12, via Politico]

NY Times: “The Sanctions In Place Today Are Far Greater Than They Were Under President Bush.” According to The New York Times' live fact-check of the debate, the sanctions on Iran “in place today are far greater than they were under President Bush” and that they could be “tighter ... only if other countries agree”:

The sanctions in place today are far greater than they were under President Bush. But they could be tighter still, even "crippling'' to use the phrase Mr. Romney likes.

On the question of Iran sanctions, Mr. Obama has got a lot of history on his side. Until Mr. Obama came to office, the United Nations sanctions on Iran were pretty ineffective - travel bans on scientists, some banks on sales of certain kinds of equipment. But they didn't go after the heart of the Iranian economy, oil sales. Mr. Obama did exactly that, step by step, making it hard for Iran to get access to dollars, to get international loans, and even to deliver oil. Even today, scores of loaded Iranian oil tankers are bobbing off the country's coast, with nowhere to go.

The result is that the sanctions in place today are far greater than they were under President Bush. But could they be tighter still, even “crippling'' to use the phrase Mr. Romney likes? (He borrowed it from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.) Certainly they could - but only if other countries agree. Because the U.S. has not had diplomatic relations or any significant trade with Iran for more than three decades, this is all a matter of persuading allies and other countries, and giving them an alternative to Iranian oil. Mr. Romney has not said how he would do that. [The New York Times, 10/11/12]

PolitiFact Rated 'Mostly False' The Claim That Obama Administration “Couldn't Get 'Crippling Sanctions' Against Iran.” During the debate, PolitiFact tweeted that Ryan's statement, similar to a previous Mitt Romney claim, that the “Obama admin couldn't get 'crippling sanctions' against Iran” was “Mostly False”:

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

PolitiFact Previously Rated Claim That Obama “Could Have Gotten Crippling Sanctions Against Iran” But “Did Not” As “Mostly False.” PolitiFact previously rated a similar claim by Mitt Romney, that Obama 'could have gotten crippling sanctions against Iran. He did not," as “Mostly False”:

The reality is that a combination of international and U.S. efforts are now in place that some consider crippling to Iran's economy. Romney's campaign argues he was specifically referring to a failure to get the United Nations to enact sanctions against Iran's Central Bank in 2010. But some experts argue he couldn't have achieved tougher U.N. sanctions, given opposition from Russia and China. Meanwhile, Romney's campaign argues Obama hasn't fully supported U.S. sanctions against Iran. It's true that Obama resisted Congress dictating the administration's strategy. But that's not support for the statement that he “could have gotten crippling sanctions against Iran” but “did not.” We rate Romney's statement Mostly False. [PolitiFact, 2/22/12]

Ryan Dismissed Economic Benefits Of The Stimulus

Paul Ryan Dismisses The Economic Benefits Of The Stimulus. During the debate, Ryan dismissed the economic benefits of the stimulus, saying:

RYAN: They passed the stimulus. The idea that we could borrow $831 billion, spend it on all of these special interest groups, and that it would work out just fine, that unemployment would never get to 8 percent -- it went up above 8 percent for 43 months. They said that, right now, if we just passed this stimulus, the economy would grow at 4 percent. It's growing at 1.3.


Was it a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland, or on windmills in China? [Transcript of vice presidential debate, 10/11/12, via Politico]

NY Times Fact Check: Stimulus “Did Save Or Create Jobs, Lower The Unemployment Rate And Help The Economy Grow In The Short Term.” According to The New York Times live fact-check of the vice presidential debate, the stimulus did in fact “create jobs, lower the unemployment rate and help the economy grow in the short term”:

Fact Check: What Did the Stimulus Accomplish?

Mr. Ryan issued a broadside against Mr. Obama's stimulus plan, noting that it did not keep unemployment below 8 percent, as the Mr. Obama's economic advisers projected it would before he took office. Mr. Biden defended the bill, saying it helped the economy recover. Who is right?


There is plenty of debate over how effective Mr. Obama's economic policies have been, especially given the painfully slow recovery. But even critics who believe that the president's stimulus law was a missed opportunity -- from liberals who say it was too small to conservatives who say it was wasteful and poorly targeted -- tend to acknowledge what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has found: that it did save or create jobs, lower the unemployment rate and help the economy grow in the short term.

The budget office used ranges to estimate the impact of stimulus. At its peak in the third quarter of 2010, the budget office found, the stimulus saved or created the equivalent of between 1 million and 5.1 million full time jobs, lowered the unemployment rate by between .4 and two percentage points, and increased the real gross domestic product by between .7 percent and 4.1 percent. [The New York Times, 10/11/12]

PolitiFact: Ryan's Statement On Foreign Stimulus Dollars Is “Mostly False.” With respect to the car company Fisker Automotive, to which Ryan's statement about “electric cars in Finland” referred, PolitiFact pointed out that “the program that provided loan guarantees for the Fisker cars was not part of the stimulus,” and that “the cars were supposed to be built in the United States. ”As for the windmills in China," PolitiFact notes that  some windmills and components came from China, but “the statement greatly exaggerates China's role in the overall use of stimulus money.” They rated Ryan's claims “Mostly False.” [PolitiFact, 10/11/12]

For More On The Success Of The Stimulus, Click Here

Ryan Falsely Claimed Obamacare Cuts $716 Billion From Medicare

Ryan: “Obamacare Takes $716 Billion From Medicare To Spend On Obamacare.” During the debate, Paul Ryan stated that “Obamacare takes $716 billion from Medicare to spend on Obamacare”:

[L]ook what Obamacare does. Obamacare takes $716 billion from Medicare to spend on Obamacare. Even their own chief actuary at Medicare backs this up. He says you can't spend the same dollar twice. You can't claim that this money goes to Medicare and Obamacare. And then they put this new Obamacare board in charge of cutting Medicare each and every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors. [Transcript of vice presidential debate, 10/11/12, via Politico] “Ryan Says Obama Turned Medicare Into A 'Piggy Bank.' Not So.” tweeted during the vice presidential debate “Ryan says Obama turned Medicare into a 'piggy bank.' Not so.”

[Twitter, 10/11/12] Obama's “Cuts” To Medicare “Prolong The Life Of The Medicare Trust Fund.” The tweet linked to an August post titled “Medicare's 'Piggy Bank',” which stated: “Republicans claim the president's $716 billion 'cuts' to Medicare hurt the program's finances. But the opposite is true. These cuts in the future growth of spending prolong the life of the Medicare trust fund, stretching the program's finances out longer than they would last otherwise.” [, 8/24/12]

For More On The False Claim That Obamacare “Guts” Medicare, Click Here

Ryan Falsely Claimed U.S. Navy Shrinking To WWI Levels

Ryan: “If These Cuts Go Through, Our Navy Will Be ... The Smallest It Has Been Since Before World War I.” During the debate, Paul Ryan stated that the propsed cuts to defense would reduce the Navy to World War I levels which “invites weakness”

If these cuts go through, our Navy will be the small it is -- it -- the smallest it has been since before World War I. This invites weakness. [Transcript of the vice presidential debate, 10/11/12, via NPR]

PolitiFact Rated Claim That “US Headed To Smallest Navy Since 1916” As “Pants On Fire.” During the debate, PolitiFact tweeted that Congressman Ryan's claim that the “U.S. is headed to smallest navy since 1916” was “ridiculous” and rated the claim “pants on fire”:

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

PolitiFact: “The United States Is The World's Unquestioned Military Leader Today.” PolitiFact's tweet linked to a previous fac-check that made clear the U.S. military's unparalleled strength:

In recent years, the number of Navy and Air Force assets has sunk to levels not seen in decades, although the number of ships has risen slightly under Obama.

However, a wide range of experts told us it's wrong to assume that a decline in the number of ships or aircraft automatically means a weaker military. Quite the contrary: The United States is the world's unquestioned military leader today, not just because of the number of ships and aircraft in its arsenal but also because each is stocked with top-of-the-line technology and highly trained personnel.

Thanks to the development of everything from nuclear weapons to drones, comparing today's military to that of 60 to 100 years ago presents an egregious comparison of apples and oranges. [PolitiFact, 1/16/12]

Ryan Claimed Tax Plan Is Supported By “Six Studies”

Ryan: “Six Studies Have Verified That This Math Adds Up.” From the debate:

RYAN: Mitt -- what we're saying is, lower tax rates 20 percent, start with the wealthy, work with Congress to do it...

RADDATZ: And you guarantee this math will add up?

RYAN: Absolutely. Six studies have guaranteed -- six studies have verified that this math adds up. [Transcript of vice presidential debate, 10/11/12, via Politico]

PolitiFact: “Six Studies Back Up Romney Tax Plan? Mostly False.” During the debate, PolitiFact tweeted that Ryan's claim that “six studies” back up Romney's tax plan is “mostly false”:

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

PolitiFact: “Romney Is Using The Word ”Studies" Generously ... We Rate The Statement Mostly False." PolitiFact's tweet linked to a previous fact check that rated a similar claim by Romney that “five different economic studies” back up the claims in his tax plan as “mostly false”:

Romney is using the word “studies” generously. Two items on his list are newspaper editorials that can be analytical but are rarely treated as independent research. One article comes from a campaign adviser, a connection that generally suggests a less than independent assessment.  That leaves just two reports out Romney's five.

There is a fair argument to be made that the Tax Policy Center used an arbitrary dividing line of $200,000 to separate high-income households from all others. The same problem lies in setting the breakpoint at $100,000, a choice preferred by at least one of the defenders of Romney's proposal.

The studies from Feldstein and Rosen use 2009 data.  That was an abnormal year and one that made it easier to make the math work for the Romney plan. The analysts could have chosen other years but decided not to.

We see no more than two independent studies out of the five claimed. We rate the statement Mostly False. [PolitiFact, 9/9/12] Romney's Six-Studies Claim Is “Not Quite True.” During the debate, tweeted a response to Ryan's statement that “six studies show math adds up in Romney's tax plan.” The tweet linked to a previous review of Romney's “six studies” claim which said it's “not quite true,” and found “that two of those ”studies" were blog items by Romney backers, and none was nonpartisan." [, 10/4/12]

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

Ryan Claimed Obama Apologizes For American Values

Ryan: “What We Should Not Be Apologizing For Are Standing Up For Our Values.” During the debate, Paul Ryan implied the Obama administration was “apologizing” for “standing up for our values”:

[W]hat we should not be apologizing for are standing up for our values. What we should not be doing is saying to the Egyptian people, while Mubarak is cracking down on them, that he's a good guy and, in the next week, say he ought to go.

What we should not be doing is rejecting claims for -- for calls for more security in our barracks, in our Marine -- we need Marines in Benghazi when the commander on the ground says we need more forces for security.


Of course there's an investigation, so we can make sure that this never happens again, but when it comes to speaking up for our values, we should not apologize for those. [Transcript of vice presidential debate, 10/11/12, via Politico]

NY Times: Obama “Has Never Explicitly Apologized For American Values Or Diplomacy.” During debate, The New York Times live fact check found Ryan's statement “inaccurate”:

Mr. Ryan suggested that Mr. Obama has apologized for American values, similar to repeated assertions made by Republicans that the president went on an “apology tour” after his inauguration, or that he has sought to apologize for American principles. “What we should not be apologizing for is standing up for our values,” Mr. Ryan said at the debate. Are those charges correct?

The claim of Mr. Obama apologizing for American values has been repeatedly found to be inaccurate: While Mr. Obama has acknowledged American failings at times -- and, like his predecessor, George W. Bush, has on at least one occasion apologized for a specific act of American wrongdoing abroad -- he has never explicitly apologized for American values or diplomacy. [The New York Times, 10/11/12]

For More On The False Obama Apology Narrative, Click Here

Ryan Accused Obama Of Imposing “Devastating Defense Cuts”

Paul Ryan: “We Should Not Be Imposing These Devastating Defense Cuts.” During the debate, Ryan said “we should not be imposing these devastating defense cuts”:

[W]e should not be imposing these devastating defense cuts, because what that does when we equivocate on our values, when we show that we're cutting down on defense, it makes us more weak. It projects weakness. And when we look weak, our adversaries are much more willing to test us. They're more brazen in their attacks. [Transcript of vice presidential debate, 10/11/12, via Politico]

NY Times' Carl Hulse: “Like Most Of His Colleagues,” Ryan “Voted For The Deal That Put Those Cuts In Play.” New York Times deputy Washington bureau chief Carl Hulse fact-checked the debate in real time on Twitter, tweeting, “Rep. Ryan goes at the defense cuts in the sequester -- like most of his colleagues, he voted for the deal that put those cuts in play”:

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

Huffington Post: “A Central Contradiction In [Ryan's] Campaign Rhetoric: Why He Is Opposing The Defense Sequestration For Which He Voted.” In an September article headlined “Paul Ryan Questioned On Defense Cuts He Voted For But Is Campaigning Against,” The Huffington Post noted the “contradiction” in Ryan's “rhetoric” on sequestration:

GOP vice-presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was questioned Tuesday on a central contradiction in his campaign rhetoric: why he is opposing the defense sequestration for which he voted as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act that ended the showdown over the debt ceiling.

“So we don't agree with that. That's the point we're trying to make,” said Ryan.

“But did you vote for it?” interjected reporter Ben Swann, of Fox affiliate WXIX in Cincinnati, Ohio. [Huffington Post, 9/26/12]

Ryan Falsely Claimed Obama Promised “Unemployment Would Never Get To 8 Percent”

Ryan: “Idea” Of The Stimulus Was “That Unemployment Would Never Get To 8 Percent.” During the debate, Ryan said the “idea” of the stimulus was “that unemployment would never get to 8 percent”:

They passed the stimulus. The idea that we could borrow $831 billion, spend it on all of these special interest groups, and that it would work out just fine, that unemployment would never get to 8 percent -- it went up above 8 percent for 43 months. They said that, right now, if we just passed this stimulus, the economy would grow at 4 percent. It's growing at 1.3. [Transcript of vice presidential debate, 10/11/12, via Politico]

PolitiFact: “Ryan Said Obama Promised Unemployment Would Never Go Above 8 Percent. Mostly False.” Following the debate, PolitiFact tweeted a “mostly false” rating for Ryan's claim:

[Twitter, 10/11/12]

PolitiFact: “We Rate Ryan's Statement Mostly False.” PolitiFact reviewed Ryan's statement during the debate that “the Obama administration promised 'unemployment would never get to 8 percent'” and found it to be “Mostly False”:

Ryan said the Obama administration promised “unemployment would never get to 8 percent.”
Obama didn't say that. Rather, his Council of Economic Advisers predicted that the stimulus would hold it to that level. Their report included heavy disclaimers that the projections had “significant margins of error” and a high degree of uncertainty due to a recession that is “unusual both in its fundamental causes and its severity.”
The sub-8 percent prediction did not hold true, but it's still incorrect to characterize it as a promise or guarantee.
We rate Ryan's statement Mostly False. [PolitiFact, 10/11/12]