CNN’s pitiful fact-check: Last night, after Bill Clinton’s strong address, a terrible horrible bad thing occurred.
CNN asked Tom Foreman and Erin Burnett to conduct a fact-check. “You know what?” Burnett said. “There were lots and lots of numbers in here, some of them accurate, some of them not.”
The notion of Burnett conducting a fact-check made the analysts tear at their hair. But it fell to Foreman to air the claim which would be under review.
“Listen to some of what the president had to say,” the CNN newsman thoughtfully said. Then he played tape of this statement:
CLINTON (9/5/12): President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now. No president—no president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.It’s hard to believe that someone could doubt the accuracy of the highlighted statement. Somehow, though, Foreman managed.
Or something. Very few things end up being clear when our press corps gets to work.
This is the way Tom Foreman proceeded. We were especially stunned by the highlighted passage:
FOREMAN (continuing directly): Now, see, that was a key, key line in terms of context here. Because (inaudible) try to say really is, “Vote for President Obama because he'll be like me, but now let me explain why he didn't succeed the way I did.” And look at the comparison here, because I think this is important context, no matter how you look at this.Foreman kept “proving” the point that Clinton conceded—good times returned more quickly during his own first term.
Like President Obama, President Clinton came into office with soaring joblessness, 7.1 percent for Mr. Clinton. That's within just a few points—tenths of a point of what Mr. Obama faced. But there the similarity ends.
Under President Clinton, the rate steadily dropped down to the 5 percent range at the end of his first term, deep down into the 4 percent range by the time he left office, pretty much full employment at that point.
Not the case for Mr. Obama. In the Clinton years, average wages rose about 30 percent. Nothing like that really happened during the Obama years. Wages did not rise anything—nothing like that.
Clinton inherited a $290 billion deficit, changed it to a $236 billion surplus by the time the Clinton years were done. Mr. Obama has inherited a $459 billion deficit. Yes, that's worse. But it's even worse now, $1.3 trillion.
And home ownership rose to a record high during the Clinton years. It's declined under President Obama, and the mortgage crisis, although we have to be fair about that, it still is quite high in the mid-60 percent range.
But it's really clear when you look at those numbers, very different economic performance from these two administrations, and they're at pains now to explain this and try to make that context work for them and not against them.
But what about Clinton’s explanation? What about his claim that Obama “started with a much weaker economy than I did?”
Good God! Foreman compared the deficits the two men inherited—but in Obama’s case, he gave the deficit for the fiscal year which ended in September 2008! By the time Obama entered the White House, fiscal year 2009 was well underway—and as the economic collapse continued, the projected deficit for that year was soaring past $1 billion.
Duh. This report appeared in the Washington Post two weeks before Obama took office. The reporter was Lori Montgomery:
MONTGOMERY (1/8/09): The nation's budget deficit will soar to an unprecedented $1.2 trillion this year, congressional budget analysts said yesterday, a startling tide of red ink that could dampen enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for some of President-elect Barack Obama's most ambitious priorities.In the wake of the financial collapse, that was the deficit picture Obama inherited. Foreman gave the deficit for the fiscal year before the financial collapse.
In the first official estimate of the damage done to the nation's finances by a weakening economy and various financial-sector bailouts, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the gap between government spending and available revenue will exceed 8 percent of the overall economy by the end of September, a chasm not seen since the end of World War II.
In his entire life, Bill Clinton has never made a more obvious factual statement: “President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did.”
Amazingly, CNN wondered if that statement was true! And Foreman proceeded to demonstrate a very troubling fact:
Your mainstream press corps can’t explain squat! They’re very good at reciting scripts. But that’s the extent of their range.
Truth to tell, it has been years since we actually had a press corps. Last evening, Foreman left our team of young analysts keening and tearing their hair.