REPORT: How The Media Covered Two Romney Falsehoods

Two recent falsehoods from the Mitt Romney campaign have received media attention: the false claim that President Obama removed the work requirement from welfare, and the false claim that the health care reform bill “cuts” $716 billion from Medicare. While many mainstream media outlets debunked the false claims in much of their coverage, several -- particularly Fox News and The Wall Street Journal -- repeatedly failed to debunk the falsehoods.

Romney Makes Welfare, Medicare Claims That Fact-Checkers Rate As False

Romney Ad: “Under Obama's [Welfare] Plan, You Wouldn't Have To Work ... They Just Send You Your Welfare Check.” A Romney ad released on August 6 claimed that “on July 12, President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check, and 'welfare to work' goes back to being plain old welfare.” [, accessed 8/29/12]

PolitiFact Rates Romney Ad's Claim “Pants On Fire.” In an August 7 post, PolitiFact noted that the July 12 memo from the Department of Health and Human Services was intended “to give states more flexibility in meeting those [work] requirements” of the welfare program. The post called Romney's ad “a drastic distortion of the planned changes” and concluded:

By granting waivers to states, the Obama administration is seeking to make welfare-to-work efforts more successful, not end them. What's more, the waivers would apply to individually evaluated pilot programs -- HHS is not proposing a blanket, national change to welfare law.

The ad tries to connect the dots to reach this zinger: “They just send you your welfare check.” The HHS memo in no way advocates that practice. In fact, it says the new policy is “designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.” [PolitiFact, 8/7/12]

Romney Claims Obama “Has Cut Medicare Funding By $700 Billion.” During his August 11 remarks in Norfolk, Virginia, announcing his selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney said that he and Ryan would “preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security” "[u]nlike the current president who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion." [, accessed 8/29/2012]

PolitiFact Rates Romney's Claim “Mostly False.” In an August 15 post, PolitiFact rated as “mostly false” Romney's claim on CBS' 60 Minutes that Obama “robbed Medicare” of "$716 billion." PolitiFact wrote that "[n]either Obama nor his health care law literally cut a dollar amount from the Medicare program's budget" and continued:

Rather, the health care law instituted a number of changes to try to bring down future health care costs in the program. At the time the law was passed, those reductions amounted to $500 billion over the next 10 years.

What kind of spending reductions are we talking about? They were mainly aimed at insurance companies and hospitals, not beneficiaries. The law makes significant reductions to Medicare Advantage, a subset of Medicare plans run by private insurers. Medicare Advantage was started under President George W. Bush, and the idea was that competition among the private insurers would reduce costs. But in recent years the plans have actually cost more than traditional Medicare. So the health care law scales back the payments to private insurers.


The only element of truth here is that the health care law seeks to reduce future Medicare spending, and the tally of those cost reductions over the next 10 years is $716 billion. The money wasn't “robbed,” however, and other presidents have made similar reductions to the Medicare program. [PolitiFact, 8/15/12]

WELFARE: Fox Debunked Only 17 Percent Of Segments With Romney's False Welfare Claim; WSJ, AP Debunked Fewer Than Half

CNN, MSNBC Debunked Romney's Welfare Claim In Most Segments; Fox News Did Not. Media Matters examined how CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and the print outlets discussed below treated Romney's false claim about Obama removing the work requirement from welfare between the day Romney's ad was released, August 6, and August 26. CNN debunked the claim in 69 percent of its segments that mentioned it, and MSNBC debunked the claim in 87 percent of such segments. Fox News, however, debunked the claim in only 17 percent of such segments.

Romney lies welfare cable

NY Times, Wash. Post Debunked Romney's Welfare Claim In Most Articles; Associated Press, WSJ Debunked Claim In Fewer Than 50 Percent. Media Matters also looked at how the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post covered Romney's false welfare claim over the same time period. The New York Times debunked the claim in 78 percent of the articles that referenced it, and The Washington Post debunked the claim in 64 percent. The Associated Press, however, debunked the claim in only 48 percent of its articles that mentioned it, and The Wall Street Journal debunked it in 25 percent -- just one of its four articles mentioning the claim.

Romney print welfare

MEDICARE: Fox Debunked Only 4 Percent Of Segments With False Medicare Claim; WSJ Debunked Zero Articles With Claim

MSNBC Debunks Romney's Medicare Claim In 84 Percent Of Segments; CNN Debunks Claim In 43 Percent; Fox Debunks Claim In 4 Percent. Media Matters also examined the same seven media outlets' coverage of Romney's false claim about the Affordable Care Act cutting billions of dollars from Medicare. Media Matters searched for articles and segments between August 11, when Romney first made the claim, and August 26.

Among the cable networks, MSNBC debunked the claim in 84 percent of segments that discussed Romney making it, while CNN debunked the claim in 44 percent of relevant segments. Fox News did so in just 4 percent of relevant segments.

Romney lies cable Medicare

No Print Outlet Debunked Romney's Medicare Claim More Than 50 Percent Of The Time; WSJ Debunked The Claim In None Of Its Articles. No print outlet in Media Matters' study debunked Romney's Medicare claim in the majority of relevant articles. The Associated Press debunked the claim in 45 percent of its relevant articles, and The New York Times did so in 37 percent of its articles; The Washington Post debunked it in only 28 percent of articles mentioning Romney's Medicare claim. No Wall Street Journal article that mentioned the claim debunked it.

Romney print Medicare


Media Matters searched the Nexis database for news segments and articles beginning on the date that Romney or his campaign first made the claim -- August 6 for the welfare claim and August 11 for the Medicare claim -- and ending with August 26 for the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. We searched the Factiva database for The Wall Street Journal.

We counted any segments or articles that specifically mentioned Romney, Ryan, or a Romney / Ryan campaign ad making the false claim.

If a segment or article presented Romney's claim and also quoted the opposing view of an Obama spokesperson, White House official, or other Democratic source, but failed to identify which view was accurate, we coded that segment or article as “he said / she said.” For example, an August 14 Associated Press article, “Debate joined on Medicare; Romney, Obama go at it,” described a Romney ad that made the false Medicare claim, then also noted that "[t]he charge drew a blistering response from Obama's campaign, which labeled the ad dishonest and hypocritical."

If a segment or article presented Romney's claim and called it “debunked” or “discredited,” or noted that independent fact-checkers have found it to be false, or otherwise clearly labeled the claim as untrue, we coded the segment or article as “debunked.”

If a segment or article presented Romney's claim and failed to either cite a Democratic perspective or facts counter to the claim, we coded that segment or article as “no pushback.”

For television, we did not include teasers.

We found the following raw numbers of segments and articles for the welfare claim:

Welfare table

We found the following raw numbers of segments and articles for the Medicare claim:

Medicare table