Fact-Checking The Florida Mudslinging

With two days left before the pivotal Florida GOP primary, the front-runners have taken over the airwaves. A steady stream of political ads is filled with insinuations and accusations. Host Rachel Martin speaks with Angie Holan of PolitiFact, which fact-checked some of the ads.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. With two days left before the pivotal Florida GOP primary, the front-runners have taken over the airwaves. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and some outside groups have unleashed a steady stream of political ads, filled with insinuations and accusations. To sort through the mudslinging, we are joined now by Angie Drobnic Holan. She is the Florida editor for PolitiFact.com, which is a nonpartisan fact-checking website. Angie, welcome to the program.

ANGIE DROBNIC HOLAN: Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: OK. Let's jump right in from an ad from AFSCME, which is a public workers union. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What kind of businessman is Mitt Romney? While Romney was a director at the Damon Corporation, the company was defrauding Medicare of millions. The company was fined $100 million, but Romney himself made a fortune.

MARTIN: What do you think about this on, Angie?

HOLAN: We rated this one mostly true. Damon Corporation was a company that Bain Capital took over as part of its turnaround business. And the company became publicly traded. Romney was a director. And then later, after the company was sold, federal prosecutors announced the company had been defrauding Medicare by overcharging physicians for blood tests. Now, it was never shown that Romney was personally involved in this. Romney said he wasn't aware of it, so we rated it mostly true.

MARTIN: We're going to bounce now to an anti-Gingrich attack ad paid for by Mitt Romney's superPAC, which is called Restore Our Future. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Newt attacks because he has more baggage than the airlines. Newt cosponsored a bill with Nancy Pelosi that would have given $60 million a year to a U.N. program supporting China's brutal one-child policy.

MARTIN: OK, Angie. Break it down for us.

HOLAN: Well, what caught our attention was the attention that he cosponsored a bill with Nancy Pelosi to support China's one-child policy. We gave this our worst rating, Pants on Fire.

MARTIN: Which means this is absolutely not true.

HOLAN: Absolutely not true. The bill was not to support China's one-child policy. It funded a U.N. population fund. Now, the bill specifically said that no money should go to a sort of coercive family planning. And as far as the cosponsors go, there were more than 100 cosponsors. It got almost a third of the House. So, just not much here to base this charge on.

MARTIN: OK. So, back again now to an anti-Romney ad. It was funded by Newt Gingrich's superPAC called Winning our Future, and it's taking aim at Mitt Romney's health care law that he signed as governor of Massachusetts.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Romneycare sent costs spiraling out of control, hiking premiums, squeezing households' budgets.

MITT ROMNEY: I'm not a partisan Republican; that I'm someone who is moderate and my views are progressive. My views are progressive.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I agree with Mitt Romney.

MARTIN: What's wrong with this ad?

HOLAN: Structurally speaking, the Massachusetts plan and the national plan are very similar. But the problem with this ad is it says that Romney's plan sent costs spiraling out of control. Well, the plan extended insurance to people who didn't have it before. So, in that sense it did spend more money. But we could find no evidence that the plan was responsible for increased health premiums for consumers, increased out-of-pocket costs. Massachusetts did see some of that but it saw it just the way the whole nation has seen it since 2006. So, we rated the statement false.

MARTIN: OK. So, finally, this one is a Spanish language ad from Mitt Romney. Obviously, Florida, this is a very important demographic in it. Romney is questioning Gingrich's constant comparisons of himself to conservative icon Ronald Reagan.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Spanish spoken)

MARTIN: So, a little background here. Years ago, Newt Gingrich associated bilingual education with, quote, "the language of living in a ghetto," end quote. And in ad we just heard that narrator is saying, quote, "Reagan would have never offended Hispanics as Gingrich did this way." So, what's the verdict on this one?

HOLAN: We gave this one a mostly true. We went back to the speech. It's from 2007. Gingrich was saying that English only is a way to unify people. But it was pretty clear from the context of his remarks, he was saying people who only speak Spanish are putting themselves into a ghetto, isolating themselves. A few days later, Gingrich came back and said in Spanish that he made poor word choices. But he didn't formally apologize for the remarks. So, given all that history, we rated it mostly true.

MARTIN: Angie Drobnic Holan is the Florida editor of PolitiFact. She joined us from St. Petersburg, Florida. Angie, thanks so much.

HOLAN: Thanks for having me.

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