CNN refreshingly called out President Obama on Friday's Newsroom concerning his false claim that "for the first time...you saw more people getting health care from government than you did from the private sector." CNN's Suzanne Simons and anchor Tony Harris both used the "pants on fire" expression to describe the President's statement. The AP, on the other hand, merely labeled it "hyperbole."
President Obama delivered this line at his February 9, 2010 White House press conference. Harris played the sound bite of this statement 20 minutes into the 12 pm Eastern hour, and asked Simons, who is an executive producer with CNN's "Fact Check Desk," to verify its accuracy: "Tell us, is that an accurate statement from the President?"
The executive producer went beyond a simple "no" answer:
SIMONS: No, no, no.
HARRIS: Even close?
HARRIS: Pants on fire?
SIMONS: No- pants on fire.
HARRIS: Pants on fire.
Simons backed up her answer with polling and Census Bureau statistics, and noted that some who were in attendance at the press conference were all too willing to explain the claim away:
SIMONS: You know, we had people there who were in the room when the President said that, and he said that- you know, it's not really in the spirit of what he meant to say. But regardless, the President was wrong on this one, and let's look at the numbers, because that's exactly what the Fact Check Desk did.
First of all- you know, a Gallup poll that was done in January of this year, Tony, showed that Americans on government health care is about 24.6 percent- all right? Americans getting their care from the private sector: 46.8 percent. So, still, many, many more Americans, twice as many, are getting their health care from the private sector. Census Bureau statistics that we were able to find too- we wanted to know where the President got his numbers, but he wouldn't tell us. They wouldn't answer their question. But the Census Bureau, between 2000 and 2008, said some 87.4 million Americans got their insurance from the government, 201 million from private insurance. Now, we've seen a swing, of course, because there were a lot of people who lost their jobs last year- right?
SIMONS: Some 15 million or more people or so. So, those people have now moved, but, still, the numbers flesh it out-
SIMONS: You know, a lot more people still get their insurance from the private sector than from the government.
HARRIS: Gotcha. So the President is wrong on this one?
SIMONS: The President [is] wrong on this one.
One mainstream media journalist who tried to spin the President's inaccuracy was Walter Mears of the Associated Press. In his February 12 analysis, "Is a government takeover of health care already a reality," Mears tried to brush it aside without explanation:
"I don't know if anybody noticed that, for the first time this year, you saw more people getting health care from government than you did from the private sector; not because of anything we did, but because more and more people are losing their health care from their employers. It's becoming unaffordable," Obama told reporters Tuesday — with a bit of hyperbole.
The numbers make a compelling case for change and Obama is making another push for it.
Actually, the statistics which Simons used run contrary to Mears's assertion. CNN deserves some credit on fact-checking the President.
A Google News search with "Obama" and "health care from government" on Friday only came back with two results, with one from the conservative Heritage Foundation (full disclosure: I worked for the Heritage Foundation from 2003-2006). Mears's analysis for the AP didn't even come up.