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Decision 2012

Welcome to the 'Out of Context' campaign

Welcome to the 'Out of Context' campaign

POSTED: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 9:30am

UPDATED: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 9:44am

The latest ad from President Barack Obama's re-election campaign accuses Mitt Romney of being "number one in state debt" during his time as governor of Massachusetts.

"Eighteen billion dollars in debt. More debt per person than any other state in the country," the spot states.

But the ad leaves out some important context. The state was already $16 billion in debt at the end of Romney's first year in office. Under Romney's watch, that debt load rose by $2.5 billion to $18.5 billion, a 16% increase. However, that smaller, less sexy 16% figure is left out of the spot.

The omission leaves the viewer with the impression the entire $18 billion debt was amassed during Romney's administration, a nearly impossible feat given that state lawmakers are required under the Massachusetts constitution to balance the budget ever year.

"Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, the numbers don't lie," Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement defending the ad.

"Independent fact-checkers and the state's Treasurer agree, Romney increased Massachusetts's long-term debt by $2.6 billion, which was a 16 percent increase in just four years," he added.

The latest ad from the Obama re-election team debuted one day after the White House complained the president's "private sector is doing fine" comment on the economy was being taken out of a larger context.

When asked whether the president's team would extend Romney the same courtesy and pledge not to take the GOP contender's words "out of context," White House press secretary Jay Carney turned the challenge back on journalists.

"If you ask me if we're for good reporting filled with context, the answer is yes," Carney said.

Romney may be getting little sympathy from Democrats given that his campaign's first official ad of the cycle deliberately took Obama's words out of context.

The ad featured a clip from a speech Obama delivered in 2008 in which he was quoting then GOP nominee John McCain. "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose," then-candidate Obama said in citing a statement made by his Republican challenger.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson with the Annenberg Center for Public Policy said ad distortions from both candidates in both parties are typical of a campaign that has "specialized in taking words out of context."

"It was the slur du jour of the primary season. And now it's coming back with a vengeance in the general election," Jamieson said.

Romney has complained his own comments about public workers are being twisted by the Obama campaign.

"He says we need more teachers, more firemen, more policemen. Did he not get the message from Wisconsin" Romney quipped about the president's "private sector" comments last Friday.

The Obama campaign turned the remarks into a web video that accuses the GOP contender of planning to cut the jobs of public workers.

In an interview on Fox News, Romney called the attack "absurd."

"Of course, teachers and firemen and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states. The federal government doesn't pay for teachers, firefighters or policemen," Romney said.

The Obama campaign later pointed out federal funds are used by local governments to hire public workers.

Bill Adair, the editor of the Pulitzer Prize winning web site, said his fact-checks of the candidates in recent days have rated nearly all of their claims to be half-truths.

"The campaigns are cherry-picking statistics that don't tell a full story," Adair said.

Jamieson's office launched its own fact-checking site,, to police campaign ads for their distortions. The web site features a montage of television spots that are guilty of using a wide array of deceptive techniques, including the age of the actors in the commercials.

But it's the sound bite of the moment that can have the most dramatic effect on a campaign, Jamieson said.

"The danger is people hear the sound bite repeated in ads, see it repeated in the news, and lose track of the original context. It becomes the reality and in the process, there's a serious deception," she added.

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By Jim Acosta

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