As college sophomores, a friend and I used to make stuff up about people almost as a challenge: how ridiculous of a claim could we make about a classmate and still get people to believe us.
One guy name Greg, we said, was missing some of his private parts. My roommate Andrew, his last name was supposedly German for "groin." My friend and co-conspirator, a rail-thin 6-footer, used to weigh near 300-pounds, we claimed (which explained his extra elbow, knee, and neck skin).
It was, well, sophomoric.
I've got to wonder if the political media is playing a similar game with Republican presidential candidates: Let's see how badly we can distort what they say into something offensive, and still get other journalists to believe us?
Romney, Gingrich, and especially Santorum have been the victims of this sort of shameless distortion in the past few days. The interesting twist is that where omnipresent video has served as the bane of politicians in the past three election cycles (think Macaca), it's been a vindicator of GOP candidates and the bane of those journalists content with making up quotes.
1) No, Rick Santorum didn't bash diversity because "diversity creates conflict." Political reporter Zeke Miller tweeted out on New Year's Eve "Santorum: Diversity creates conflict. If we celebrate diversity, we create conflict." Then Miller wrote it up with quotation marks around it:
Santorum appeals to Iowa voters with a mix of unusual lines that won’t play outside the Hawkeye State.
“Diversity creates conflict. If we celebrate diversity, we create conflict,” Santorum told the audience in Ottumwa.
Liberal blogger Steve Benen jumped on this, writing:
Even among those who celebrate uniform homogeneity most realize that the American ethos finds an inherent good in diversity. E pluribus unum … a nation of immigrants … strength through diversity — these are staples of American thought and have been for generations.
But Miller had both misquoted Santorum and and taken his remarks glaringly out of context. The blog Verum Serum explains, and has the video. Here’s what Santorum said:
I was at a debate with Howard Dean in the last year or two and we were asked what we thought was the most important quality of America or characteristic of America and he said diversity. Diversity? Did you ever hear of e pluribus unum? The greatness of America is that people who are diverse can come together to be one. The problem in most countries in the world is that diversity creates conflict. If we celebrate diversity then we lay the groundwork for that conflict. We need to celebrate common values and have a president that lays out those common values.
Yup. E Pluribus Unum.
2. No, Santorum didn’t say “he doesn’t want to ‘make black people’s lives better’"
CBS News reported:
At a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa on Sunday, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum singled out blacks as being recipients of assistance through federal benefit programs, telling a mostly-white audience he doesn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”
Liberal Think Progress jumped on this – as any good person should if a presidential candidate really said it.
But it seems he didn’t. Ed Morrissey posts the video and this:
Except that’s not what Santorum said at all. What he said was, “I don’t want to make [pause] lives, people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” This makes sense in the context of what immediately preceded this statement: “It [Medicaid] just keeps expanding. I was Indianola a few months ago, and I was talking with someone who works at the Department of Public Welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don’t sign up more people under the Medicaid program. They’re just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so that they can get your vote.”
3. No, Newt Gingrich didn’t say you should vote for Obama if you’re gay
The Daily News was the most glaringly wrong with its headline: “Newt Gingrich: Gay? Vote For Barack Obama.” Most news organizations went with the technically correct, but nearly as misleading “Gingrich tells gay man to vote for Obama." You guessed it, this wasn’t what Newt said.
Newt was asked, repeatedly, how he would win over voters for whom gay marriage is the most important issue. Eventually, after describing the ways he would try to win over a gay marriage supporter, he conceded. Here’s the transcript and video, as added by the Daily News after it’s false headline:
Arnold: So what if [gay marriage] is the biggest issue?
Gingrich: Then I won't get their support.
Arnold: Then how do we engage if you're elected, then what, what does that mean?
Gingrich: Then you engage in every topic except that. I mean -
Arnold: Except the one that's the most important?
Gingrich: If that is the most important to you...
Arnold [interrupting]: -- to many millions of people.
Gingrich: Well, if that's the most important to you, then you should be for Obama.
-- UPDATE: Okay, the beginning of this post was too punchy and mean, as was the original headline. The misquotes/misrepresentations above were probably accidental, and so they aren't lies. I'm sorry. I've fixed the headline. Also, Zeke Miller has added a correction. Maybe all this Iowa nice has brought out the NY SOB in me.