Fact-Checking The State Of The Union Speech

President Obama spoke Wednesday about the economy in his State of the Union address. Bill Adair, editor of the nonpartisan fact-checking Web site PolitiFact.com, truth-squads some of the president's claims.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Now for our annual day-after-the-State-of-the-Union tradition: truth-squading the president's address, as well as the Republican response.

And we have Bill Adair to help us do that. He's editor of the nonpartisan fact-checking Web site, PolitiFact.com. Thanks for coming in, Bill.

Mr. BILL ADAIR (Editor, PolitiFact.com): Thanks for having me.

BRAND: Well, let's start with the president. And, of course, he talked a lot about the economy in his speech. Here's what he said he has done about relieving the tax burden.

President BARACK OBAMA: We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses.

(Soundbite of applause)

President OBAMA: We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for eight million Americans paying for college.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

BRAND: And was it true? Ninety-five percent sounds like a lot.

MR. ADAIR: It was true. That was the one true rating we gave the president last night of the seven ratings we did. He's correct. When you look at an independent assessment of the tax cuts that were included in the Economic Stimulus Bill that was passed last February, indeed, they did reach about 95 percent of working families. So he gets a true on the Truth-O-Meter for that one.

BRAND: All right, the president also talked about changing the way Washington works and closing what he called the credibility gap with the American people.

President OBAMA: That's why we've excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

BRAND: Has he actually done it?

Mr. ADAIR: No. The first part of that was the part that we fact-checked, that he has excluded lobbyists from policymaking positions. And we gave that a false on the Truth-O-Meter. He did establish a policy that was supposed to stop the revolving door for former lobbyists working in the administration. But it had some loopholes, and there are at least four former lobbyists that we could identify who are in policymaking positions, including one who has policy in her title. So he gets a false on the Truth-O-Meter for that one.

BRAND: Hmm, he has these waivers, right?

Mr. ADAIR: Yeah, it's waivers and also recusals. The waivers in particular really seem to undermine the blanket statement he said about prohibiting this revolving door.

BRAND: Okay, today inside Washington, I understand that a lot of people are talking about this moment from last night.

President OBAMA: Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests...

(Soundbite of applause)

President OBAMA: ...including foreign corporations to spend without limit in our elections.

BRAND: And then the camera cuts to audience and to Justice Samuel Alito, and you could see his reaction. He was shaking his head no, and saying something like thats not true. Did he have reason to?

Mr. ADAIR: He did. We gave the president a barely true for that statement. He has been very critical of that Supreme Court opinion from last week. But in this case, he's overreaching. The Court did not open the door to unlimited spending by foreign corporations the way he said. Thats one worry thats some people have, but the Court specifically said it was not addressing that issue. So we rated that one barely true on the Truth-O-Meter.

BRAND: Let's turn to the Republican response. In a new twist, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell spoke not in a small empty room but to a full Virginia House of Delegates; it's kind of mimicking the setting of president's speech. He spoke a great deal about the role of the federal government. He quoted Jefferson and he said that federal spending is out of control.

Governor BOB MCDONNELL (Republican, Virginia): The amount of debt is on pace to double in five years and triple in 10. The federal debt is now over $100,000 per household.

BRAND: Is that true?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, we gave that one a half true on our Truth-O-Meter. That one is a little bit complicated and there seems to be some bookkeeping gymnastics, to reach that conclusion. There are a couple of different ways you can slice it that in some cases dont seem accurate in the way we crunch the numbers. So we rated that one half true on our Truth-O-Meter.

BRAND: Bill, at the outset of this interview, you said you only gave the president only one full truth.

Mr. ADAIR: Yeah. We checked seven different claims by the president. And, indeed, he only got one true, two mostly true, two half true, one barely true, and one false. For Obama supporters, I guess if there's any silver lining in all that, it's that he didnt earn our lowest rating: pants on fire.

BRAND: Okay. Thanks, Bill.

Mr. ADAIR: All right. Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: That's Bill Adair. He's the editor of the nonpartisan fact-checking Web site PolitiFact.com, where he fact-checked the president's State of the Union speech.

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