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. MIchael Debinder

    Santorum said that when he was in Congress the members would "publicly request" earmarks in an "open process."

    FALSE: Congress did not have to publicly disclose their earmarks when he was in Congress. The requests were privately submitted to the relevant appropriations committees. Even earmarks that were inserted into spending bills did not carry the sponsors' names. Public disclosure was left up to the individual members, many of whom took credit for projects in their districts or states. The rules requiring public disclosure did not pass until 2007 — after Santorum left office.

    FALSE: Santorum said that "Romneycare … was the model for Obamacare and the government takeover of health care." But neither the federal law nor the Massachusetts law is a "government takeover." Sorry Rick, repeating it doesn't make it true. While both laws expanded access to Medicaid, they also increased business for private insurance companies, which stand to gain millions of new customers under the federal law.

    FALSE: Santorum said a conservative magazine rated his record for conservatism on tax & spend the best in the senate:

    The article is referring to some political handicapping which gave Santorum extra credit for being from a state that often votes Democratic. They didn't say Santorum was the most fiscally conservative senator, period.

    Santorum will have real problems in the general election with women & defending his voting record. Voting is not a team sport its about core values.

    February 23, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dontbow

    There is only one truth we need to know. obamya is crazy stupid just like bill mahr

    February 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. leavthisplace

    AP and WaPO have MUCH better fact checking articles.

    February 23, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. pancho

    Name calling does not get us anywhere.
    How does Romney's economic plan compare to the plans of George Bush? How many jobs were created because of the Bush tax cuts?
    On foreign policy, Ron Paul made an interesting comparison. How many nuclear weapons did the Soviets posses in the 1950s? What were politicians warning us about the threat from the Soviets? The Soviets had hundreds of missiles and politicians had us building bomb shelters. Paul pointed out that the Iranians have no nuclear weapons and their threats are exaggerations. We avoided war with the Soviets which were a much greater threat to both Europe and the US than Iran ever will be. BTW Whatever happened to all those nuclear weapons that Iraq had? Let's look closely at our history before bullying our way into the future.

    February 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • TAK

      That is a misleading comparison. It's certainly true that the Soviet Union's military was far greater than anything Iran could ever muster. But the actual threat doesn't come from the weapons themselves but the leaders with their fingers on the button. Despite what we may think of their ideology, the Soviet leadership were fundamentally rational people. They knew the consequences of war. The Iranian leadership, not so much. Of course they know there would be massive retaliation but do they care? They might think of it as some sort of glorious martyrdom. So yes, we should be far more concerned about one small fission nuke from Iran than 15,000 big fusion nukes from the Soviets because the Soviets knew better.

      February 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ConservativeVoice

    CNN debates are a joke anyway. They ask about birth control but not soaring gas prices. Come on. The first question at the last CNN debate was about Gingrich's ex-wife and they don't ask about gas prices at all this time. They are trying to mislead the public so badly, why should we believe their analysis of anything much less what's the truth.

    February 23, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan5404

      Why wouldn't the moderator ask about the charges from Gingrich's ex-wife? It had been one of two major topics in the news that day and he is a newsman. As for gas prices, everyone knows why they are high and a president can't control oil prices when OPEC has control, and will have for a long time. A better question is how much effort and money will be agreed on to develop alternative energy use and intensified research. That is the ultimate answer. The keystone oil deal is a major pollution problem that won't affect American gas prices or jobs very much.

      February 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deej59

      He asked about it because Santorum's rhetoric over the years suggests he would attempt to remove contraceptives from this country, in accordance with his religious beliefs. If that doesn't sound like the biggest imposition of government into our personal lives, then maybe you're not thinking it through.

      February 23, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Gingrich brought up gas prices. And any educated voter know the President has nothing to do with gas prices.

      February 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      Brian is 100% correct: Educated voters understand that the president does not drive up gas prices. The only way a president can even be linked to rising gas prices is to start a war with an oil producing country (like.. say.. George W. Bush, for example.) Gas prices go up because of oil speculators feeling uncertainty surrounding possbile tensions in oil producing nations (or because there's a shortage... and there's no shortage.) Obama has NOT been racheting up war talk against Iran. Not yet, anyway. Meanwhile, turn on Fox and all you hear is Republican pundits salivating over the thought of dropping bombs on Iran. So gee, I wonder where the uncertainty over tensions with Iran is coming from, causing world oil market speculators to drive up gas prices? Right wing media in the U.S., like Fox News, looks like a great place to start.

      February 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • SteveinSeattle

      Conservative Voice – Ummmm... the current rise in gas price is at the hands of an unregulated free-market industrial group of corporations and investors. This seems to be what the GOP/"conservative" folks would like to have assume authority and responsibility for all industries. If you want Obama to do something about gas prices, give him the legal right and oversight (through another government agency) to regulate the prices that a private sector "for profit" corporation is allowed to charge... As it sits, President Obama has no more power or right to control gas prices than I have to control a conservative's understanding of personal freedom.

      February 26, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. medianone

    Santorum along with many other people refuse to break out or point to the fact that Social Security is funded by payroll taxes, separate from income taxes. CNN is complicit by also lumping social programs into the 'general budget' for comparisons. Payroll taxes have generated trillions of dollars in surpluses over the decades since Reagan raised the tax rates (which are much higher than when Santorum grew up.) If you re-draw the federal budget and show payroll taxes and the programs they support when contrasting how much they cost, and re-draw all 'discretionary spending' contrasting those items with revenue from income taxes, you come up with a completely different view of what has been driving up the national debt. In fact, if CNN did an apples to apples timeline/graphic showing both of these as separate, and (choosing whatever metrics they wanted but keeping them consistent) showing the change in fund/spend over the last thirty years in percentage change (increase decrease), they would be doing readers and voters a great service. As it stands now, everyone mixes and muddles these big issues to push policy toward their own benefit.

    February 23, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • mac

      Thanks, Medianone, for an intelligent comment. You are right and that's a good suggestion for CNN. Unfortunately, simplified stories about "out of control spending" and "staggering debt," etc are much more attention getting than dealing with a host of facts.

      February 23, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • jboHDrider

      Yes-THose pesky facts get in th way of their entertainment. That's all these debates were about for CNN, they want to sensationalize everything for some ratings...Neither CNN or Fox news are real news agencies, they are entertainment companies.

      February 23, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      Calling this true was odd, making it not fair and balanced for fact checking. Since the fund has always been raided to aid in balancing the budget it has wrongfully served as a slush fund that Santorum should be endorsing in his perverted logic. The "lock box" treatment should restore it to a real insurance measure, not a tax.

      February 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DEW

    obama, do you lie to people to get votes.,no.truth squad yes obama will lie about anything to get votes.

    February 23, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Oh that's rich. An accusation of lies coming from a repuglican.

      February 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      When Obama is debating the eventual Republican nominee, they will fact check him. In fact, they did a fact check on the SOTU address in Jan. I have no idea why Repubs keep thinking that Democrats should be fact checked during Repub debates.

      February 23, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jimmyhd53

    Too bad there were only two references to facts in this article. I watched the debates (again) and there were a lot of things mentioned that could have been investigated.
    On a separate issue, it amazed me how all of the candidates agreed to push the education issue down to local levels and let the parents deal with the success of their children. These are the same children, 40% of whom the candidates said are born to single moms with no fathers in the home. Why don't they think about all sides of an issue instead of just giving the obvious answers. They tend to forget (within a five minute window) how these social issues are all connected....single parents, education, welfare, health care insurance. The people of this country are not being helped by the current administration and I fear the next won't be any help either. Where's FDR when you need him?

    February 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Johnny

    Wondering how you can present a fact-check and totally ignore this one: "This is a dictator who said he wants to eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth." The other candidates (except Ron Paul) use this statement as well, and it's been pretty well proven to be an inaccurate translation/misrepresentation of what he said. I guess it's easier to build a case when you make him out to be a "madman" and put words in his mouth...

    February 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. R.M. Beauchesne

    This "fact-check Truth squad" is just a ruse to allow "journalists" to respond politcally to those they do not agree with. Teh Weekly Standard had a fantastic artickle on this "truth squad" dodge in January. I encourage all who might be taken in by this pseudo-objectivity to read the article.

    February 23, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Howard

    Rick Santorum's point is a good one, but not as he intended. I'm happy we are spending much more of our money on our citizen rather than building expensive, highly complex weapons we will never use.

    February 23, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Franko

    This is a great idea. I wonder why CNN or whoever has never done it for Obama?


    February 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • McBain05

      They have. The last one was during the State of the Union. Try again.

      February 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jason DePue

    I read everyone's comments; I think more could be accomplished with less personal attacks on one another. At the end of the day, we're all still Americans, and each person deserves respect. The famous quote in relation to the economy: "A Recession is when your neighor loses his job. A Depression is when you lose your job." Keep the faith all!

    February 23, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dot

    The debate was disappointing. Sounded like a rerun and even the farfetched stuff was repeated. So tired of these guys!

    February 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Al

    Jordan, Ahmadinejad does not run Iran, the Supreme Leader rules. Ahmadinejad is just a puppet. Much of his bluster is for domestic consumption. It keeps his conservative base happy. He knows he can't do anything, just like the Republicans here know they can't outlaw contraception, close our borders, or make the US a Christian theocracy. They just flap their jaws.

    February 23, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
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