February 23rd, 2012
01:40 AM ET

Truth Squad: Fact checking Wednesday's debate

CNN examines statements made by Republican presidential candidates during Wednesday night's CNN/Republican Party of Arizona debate in Mesa, Arizona.

Newt Gingrich criticized the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for characterizing Iran as a "rational actor" in international affairs and defending the possibility of preventing an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites

 The statement: "The fact is this is a dictator, Ahmadinejad, who has said he doesn't believe the Holocaust existed. This is a dictator who said he wants to eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth. This is a dictator who said he wants to drive the United States out of the Middle East. I'm inclined to believe dictators ... If you think a madman is about to have nuclear weapons, and you think that madman is going to use those nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear weapons."

 The facts: Gingrich gives a fairly accurate summary of Ahmadinejad's greatest hits. The Iranian president, now in his second term, has indeed questioned the existence of the Holocaust, the genocidal Nazi campaign against European Jews, and talked about seeing the destruction of the state of Israel.

There's one catch, though: According to U.S. intelligence agencies, Ahmadinejad isn't the guy who would be making any decisions about whether to build nuclear weapons. They say that authority belongs to the Islamic republic's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee last week that any Iranian decision to build nuclear weapons "would be made by the supreme leader himself, and he would base that on a cost-benefit analysis."

Meanwhile, since winning a second term in Iran's hotly disputed 2009 presidential election, analysts say Ahmadinejad has been on the losing end of a power struggle with Khamenei's allies. And Iran's economy is being squeezed by international sanctions over its refusal to halt its nuclear fuel production and demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program.

Tehran insists that it is enriching nuclear fuel only for civilian reactors. But in November, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it believed Iran had carried out some weapons-related research, and the agency says it's up to Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program remains peaceful.

The verdict: Misleading. While Ahmadinejad's colorful public language has led to him being characterized as a "madman" in the West, as Gingrich put it, he's not believed to be the man who would make the critical decision about whether the Islamic republic would pursue the bomb.

Rick Santorum pointed out the growth of government benefits compared to defense spending

The statement: "When I was born, less than 10% of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60% of the budget. Some people suggest defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60% of the budget. It's now 17%. If you think defense spending is the problem, you need a remedial math class to go back to."

The facts: Santorum was born in 1958. At that time, two of the three major federal entitlement programs - Medicare or Medicaid - didn't exist, and Social Security had cut its first check only 18 years before.  The federal government spent $82 billion that year. Social Security cost $8.2 billion, 10% of that total.

By 2011, federal spending had grown to $3.6 trillion, and $2.1 trillion of it was "mandatory human resource programs," according to the White House budget office. That includes about $480 billion for Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors; $275 billion for Medicaid, which funds health care for the poor; and $725 billion for Social Security. With other programs such as disability payments, federal pensions and food aid included, those programs work out to 58.3 % of federal outlays.

Defense spending, meanwhile, went from about $47 billion in 1958, near the height of the Cold War, to nearly $706 billion in 2011, the 10th year of a "war on terror." But as a percentage of federal government outlays, it shrank from 57% to just under 20%.

The verdict: True, within a couple of percentage points, anyway. Santorum's statement accurately characterizes the changing ratio of U.S. spending over his lifetime, as federal insurance programs grew to take up a much larger percentage of the budget.

soundoff (246 Responses)
  1. mommers

    CNN keeps doing these "fact checks" on TV when there is no chance for rebuttal. Very dishonest.

    February 23, 2012 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
    • LOL

      How can you rebut a fact? Just asking... seems like a weird post, at any rate. What's the complaint? Looks like Santorum (shock) and Gingrich got it right this time.

      February 23, 2012 at 4:40 am | Report abuse |
    • James in SC

      Dishonest?? Why don't you research the facts and set them straight, then? Don't you think they do that before they report? Of course, most people on these sound-offs do exactly that..sound-off without researching any facts first.

      February 23, 2012 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      mommers is voicing the frustrations of 98% of Americans. The "fact-changing" is selective and is spun so that no harm comes to certain people.

      February 23, 2012 at 6:10 am | Report abuse |
    • nothing new here

      The potential candidates have plenty of time, money and staff to check these facts BEFORE heading into these debates.

      February 23, 2012 at 6:25 am | Report abuse |
    • DaveinSC

      I'd like an open forum on Fox too.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • logic N LA

      Fact Check IS the rebuttal to what was said! The organization known as Fact Check is a non-partisian group designed to follow up on comment made and see if they are true, false or misleading.
      What they should do is break the debate into 4 parts of 20 minutes each. After each segment, the Fact Check information should be put into the debate so that the candidates are held responsible for their comments. Trust me, they could do ti that fast.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  2. chrissy

    Does Ron Paul EVER get air time in these stupid debates?

    February 23, 2012 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob Ramos

      I agree with you. Don King broke his promise to give all candidates equal time. Paul was the only adult in the bunch.

      February 23, 2012 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
    • sumday

      I agree to, he is not even mentioned in this article. I guess the people have the government they deserve when they continue to allow the media to pick their people for them.

      February 23, 2012 at 5:01 am | Report abuse |
  3. Superman

    Gingrich is CHUCKY,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,santorum is PENNYWISE,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and romney is BOZO,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,ron paul is CAPTAIN KANGAROO

    February 23, 2012 at 3:09 am | Report abuse |
    • James in SC

      Hey, Ron Paul (Captain Kangeroo), where is Mr. Bunny Rabbit & the banana-man? I miss them.

      February 23, 2012 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
  4. JohnnyC

    Love Fact Checks but could CNN do a fact check on some of Barack Obama's comments.

    February 23, 2012 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
    • DDanny1

      They actually did a fact check on the State of the Union Address.They had many more facts checked than any of the debates. Obama usually comes out pretty good because he doesn't use hyperbole. When a Repub candidate says something like "The stimulus didn't create one single job" or "There's not a person in this country who.....". When they say that they of course are lying. But what's much worse in my mind is who they are directing those comments to. You would only say something that ridiculous when you know your target audience does not have the mental capacity to know you are so obviously lying.

      February 23, 2012 at 3:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Realitybites

      Johnny C,
      Yet another imbecile ranting about something he/she has not validated. Facts checks are done quite often on Obama's speaches. You'd probably know this is you tuned out Fox more often.

      February 23, 2012 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. chrissy

    Personnally, i think this side show has over stayed its welcome! Enough already! The only thing positive to come from these debates is Obama doesnt have to campaign!

    February 23, 2012 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
    • LOL

      Yah... it's like an open book test. How can he lose? LOL

      February 23, 2012 at 4:42 am | Report abuse |
  6. stevenG

    So let me understand this, CNN does a fact squad. Which Regardless of the side or the candidate is great! should be done every time someone wants to make statements like these, and all I see are TWO? Now, I am not a very educated person but last i checked there was four people in the running for the GOP nomination, and you're telling me out of the whole debate CNN checked only two? On one statement each? Now either the other two didn't say anything.... or this isnt much of a "TRUTH SQUAD" I should be a journalist. I guess it doesn't take much these days.

    February 23, 2012 at 4:38 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Steve, these were two statements involving several interrelated figures-the kind of thing there is a record for, that can be checked. Most of the debate though involved statements that are qualitative (eg good v evi) rather than quantitative. l think the fact checkers assume we can decide for ourselves if we agree with the judgments or not.

      February 23, 2012 at 4:52 am | Report abuse |
  7. CliffHanger

    OK... so we're spending proportionally more now on our health care and less on weapons to kill people. In Santorumstan this is a bad thing?

    February 23, 2012 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. LakeBill

    And, with this "Truth Squad" analysis, we can now declare CNN to be "Fair and Balanced"? PULEAZE!!! Although, to be fair and balanced myself, I must concede that declaring two Republican statements out an entire debate to be mostly – but not entirely – true is a BIG step for CNN. Maybe next time they will find three!!!

    February 23, 2012 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
    • strategic bob

      But that would require Republicans to say three true things. Ain't gonna happen. Not on anything that matters, at any rate.

      February 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    While more accurate than Gingrich's statement, the fact check is still fairly inaccurate. Ahmadinejad does not question that the Holocaust occurred in some form. Rather, he acknowledges that many of the forced confessions have been revealed untrue (such as soap being made from Jews) and that the numbers are often exaggerated. As such, he has stated that he would like it to be possible to further investigate and research the events for the sake of truth. Doing so, or even expressing the desire, is a severe crime in much of Europe. And his oft-quoted remark regarding destroying Israel was a mistranslation. His actual statement was a quote from a prominent figure in the islamic revolution and expressed a desire for (non-violent) change in the Israeli regime.

    February 23, 2012 at 5:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. James in SC

    Over and over again, the GOP & their candidates play fast & loose with the facts. They midlead & distort the truth time & time again. That is how they play to their base & get them so riled up, and their base does so, while they actually believe the GOP & the candidates. The GOP likes to use the fear factor against their opponents: religion, gay issues, abortion, & constitution, are some of the most common.

    February 23, 2012 at 5:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. Phil

    The important thing is that John King can't lob softball questions to his boy, nor can Stephanopolis possibly correct someone on what his religion is during the coming presidential debate.

    February 23, 2012 at 5:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. Poindexter718

    How about checking Romney's lie about Mass. not requiring Catholic organizations' insurance to cover contraception? or His statement that Pres. Obama opposed sanctions?? Or Santorum's puzzling contention that birth control is responsible for MORE teen pregnancies and pregnancies among the unwed (for that matter, why didn't milquetoast John King challenge that whopper on the spot?)??

    February 23, 2012 at 6:08 am | Report abuse |
  13. freedom

    I like how the CNN poll on the front page says CNN watchers/internet goers prefer Mitt Romney.
    You know, the guy whos pro-war and has his speeches written for him? the guy who doesn't care one bit about you and your family, but rather his campaign donators and making his friends rich off tax payer money.

    Ron Paul 2012.

    February 23, 2012 at 6:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. nothing new here

    I have had enough of these debates.
    As far as I'm concerned – Ron Paul is the only candidate that is consistent in his platform, and does not have all the excess personal baggage that the other 3 candidates have.
    The GOP should do the right thing...start promoting Ron Paul. If not Paul, then another decent candidate.
    But please bring someone to the table with a purpose and a plan of action, and not just mouthing off on who is the most "Christian" or "conservative". Enough already.

    February 23, 2012 at 6:29 am | Report abuse |
  15. Dottie

    How about the way Mitt Romney decided NOT to answer John King's last question???? Obviously he doesn't like to talk about himself because he isn't comfortable in his own skin. GO RICK!

    February 23, 2012 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      Yeah, I'm not sure when you changed the channel... but Santorum didn't answer the question either. The only one that ACTUALLY gave an answer about a misconception about them was Ron Paul. The other three took one final moment to desperate try to grab another vote or two.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
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