As PolitiFact.com writes, "the vice presidential debate Thursday night began on a somber note, then quickly turned to lively attacks — with both candidates stretching the truth."
But in much the same way that neither candidate decisively won the debate, neither committed significantly bigger mistakes than the other in the fast-moving and spirited, 90-minute exchange.
As expected, Vice President Biden and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan both crossed through some heavily disputed territory. They argued over the $716 billion in reduced Medicare spending that's part of the affordable health care law. And they traded barbs over whether the Republican ticket's plan for overhauling Medicare is a "voucher" program that would effectively replace the guaranteed benefit.
NPR walked through those issues — and a few others — in advance of the debate.
One of the freshest issues was the discussion of the attack on the consulate in Libya on Sept. 11. Early explanations from the White House focused on protests in response to an anti-Muslim YouTube video. Ryan challenged Biden on the question of why the consulate wasn't better protected, and Biden said the administration didn't know more security was needed.
"We weren't told they wanted more security," Biden said. "We did not know they wanted more security there."
But The Washington Post's Fact Checker responded quickly to that assertion. It pointed out that that Biden's claim had already been "contradicted by State Department officials just the day before, in testimony before a congressional panel and in unclassified cables released by a congressional committee."
On the same subject, Biden shot back at Ryan about "this lecture" on the issue of embassy security overseas. Biden noted, correctly as several news organizations reported immediately after the debate, that the House budget written by Ryan and the GOP proposed cuts that would have reduced security funding more than $300 million below the State Department's request. Additional funding was added during negotiations with the Democratic-led Senate.
Later, during a long discussion about Syria in which Ryan pressed the case that the Obama administration hasn't handled the crisis properly, Biden and moderator Martha Raddatz pushed the Republican to explain what a Romney White House would do differently. The New York Times, in its fact-checking effort, concluded that in the end Ryan offered little to distinguish Romney's approach from what Obama is currently doing.
Other things picked up by news outlets and independent fact checkers:
— PolitiFact.com notes that Ryan referred to the Obama health care program as a "government takeover" of health care. That's a Republican attack point that's been used for several years. In 2010, PolitiFact called "government takeover of health care" the "lie of the year."
— FactCheck.org writes that "Ryan says Obama turned Medicare into a 'piggy bank.' Not so." It has previously written that "Republicans claim the president's $716 billion 'cuts' to Medicare hurt the program's finances. But the opposite is true. These cuts in the future growth of spending prolong the life of the Medicare trust fund, stretching the program's finances out longer than they would last otherwise."
— The Post's Fact Checker looked at Biden's statement that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney once said General Motors should be allowed to go bankrupt. The Post writes that "this statement is drawn from a headline — 'Let Detroit Go Bankrupt' — on an opinion article written by Romney for the New York Times. But he did not say that in the article. (He repeated the line, however, on television.) Although 'bankrupt' often conjures up images of liquidation, Romney called for a 'managed bankruptcy.' This is a process in which the company uses the bankruptcy code to discharge its debts, but emerges from the process a leaner, less leveraged company."
— Ryan got dinged (including by National Journal) for a claim he continues to make despite evidence to the contrary. In defending his Medicare plan, Ryan says he has Democratic support from Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. But Wyden has insisted for weeks now that while he did talk with Ryan about the Republican's ideas, he never endorsed them and, in fact, opposes what Ryan has proposed. The senator issued another statement Thursday evening saying that "I believe the Romney/Ryan plan violates the Medicare guarantee and fails the test of bipartisanship."
— Biden misremembered one other thing during the debate. During the discussion about health care, he said, "You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems that every vice presidential debate, I hear this kind of stuff about panels."
In fact, after going back to check the transcripts of the 2008 vice presidential debate, NPR's Julie Rovner confirms that "death panels" did not come up then. Palin didn't start talking about them until the following year. And she wasn't debating Biden then.