The Fact Checker Gets One Right

Last week I criticized Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post reporter who writes a regular feature called “The Fact Checker,” for wrongly claiming that certain comments by Rick Perry on the Middle East were false. My last post on the subject is here.

Yesterday, Kessler went after Perry–who seems to be a favorite target–once more, but this time, Kessler was right. He analyzed Perry’s claim in the last GOP presidential debate that Mitt Romney had written one thing about Romneycare in the original version of his book, and then surreptitiously changed it in the paperback edition. Perry’s attack was carefully planned, as he followed it up with an ad. I will turn the floor over to The Fact Checker:

The Rick Perry campaign on Monday released an advertisement that reiterates the Texas governor’s charge, made during last week’s debate, that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney altered the text of his book “No Apology” between the publication of the hardcover edition in 2010 and the paperback version in 2011. Specifically, Perry claims that Romney deleted a sentence suggesting that the health-care plan he passed in Massachusetts was a model for the rest of the nation.

Romney forcefully denied that claim during the debate — a clip the Perry campaign uses in this ad. …

The key sentence that Perry focuses on in his ad is this one, which is in a chapter on Romney’s successful drive to bring universal health care to his state: “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care.” (Page 177.)

In the paperback, the sentence is simply this: “And it was done without the government taking over health care.”(Page 192.)

Now readers should always be suspicious when a politician clips little snippets of a quote and blows them up into an ad. For instance, what is in the paragraph just above this sentence, unchanged in both editions of the book? You will find these two sentences (which can actually be spotted in the Perry ad, if you look quickly enough):

“My own preference would be to let each state fashion its own program to meet the distinct needs of its citizens. States could follow the Massachusetts model if they choose, or they could develop plans of their own.”

In other words, Perry is simply making up the claim that Romney advocated his health-care plan as a model for the rest of the country — and that he deleted words praising it. Perry’s claim is directly contradicted on the very page from which he draws his gotcha quote. (You can see this clearly if you click on this PDF of Pages 176-177, courtesy of our friends at PolitiFact.) …

We closely compared the chapter on health care in the two editions so you don’t have to. Essentially, it is clear that the hardcover edition was written when Obama’s health-care plan was still a work in progress. For instance, Romney spends some time denouncing the idea of a public option as “government-supplied insurance.” The paperback was published after the health-care law was passed, so the paragraphs on the public option — which had been abandoned by Obama — are dropped.

Romney also must have sensed that GOP anger at Obama’s health-care law might make his own signature legislative achievement less attractive to Republican voters, so he added a few paragraphs emphasizing how the Democratic governor who followed him made changes in the law that he did not approve of. But otherwise the changes are minimal — the standard updating that takes place in paperback nonfiction books. …

Romney has long said he did not view his plan as a model for the nation, and he has not wavered on that stance.

I give The Fact Checker a “Gepetto checkmark,” Kessler’s own symbol of truth-telling.

Unfortunately, Perry’s misfire is not an isolated event. Every day, his campaign sends out emails attacking Mitt Romney, often, in my view, unfairly. I think Perry misapprehends what Republican voters are looking for this year. We want to defeat Barack Obama and elect a Republican Congress. Candidates for the presidential nomination are competitors, not enemies, and needlessly harsh attacks, let alone false ones, should be out of bounds.

Which highlights, I think, one of Mitt Romney’s real strengths. We live in a time of bitter political division, but Romney, whatever you think of his policy positions, completely lacks a mean streak. In this respect, he matches up very well against the divisive Barack Obama, who only knows how to campaign by stirring up hate against his opponents. In my view, Romney’s unwillingness to launch false or unfair attacks is a significant asset.

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