AP’s Romney ‘Fact Check,’ Part 2: GOP Candidate Mostly Prevails

June 5th, 2011 11:49 PM

In one of five items they alleged were false statements made by Mitt Romney in his presidential candidacy announcement speech, Associated Press "fact-checkers" Calvin Woodward and Jim Kuhnhenn claimed that the economy has not gotten worse since Barack Obama became president. Part 1 (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) clearly showed that the facts are on Romney's side. The current score is Romney 1, AP 0.

The AP pair's four other allegedly false Romney statements have to do with foreclosures, whether President Obama has "apologized to the world," Obama's economic policies, and whether the candidate raised taxes while he was Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.

Here is Romney's foreclosures statement: "Three years later, foreclosures are still at record levels. Three years later the prices of homes continue to fall."

Here's the pathetic response from Woodward and Kuhnhenn:

Although foreclosures remain high, the number of U.S. homes that were repossessed by lenders fell in April, compared with March and a year ago, according to the foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc. Romney's claim about home prices, though, is supported by the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city monthly index.

The AP pair conceded that Romney is half-right (about prices). What they attempted to prove about foreclosures, which in full context has to mean "number of homes in foreclosure or imminently facing it," is from all appearance dead wrong. That's because Woodward and Kuhnhenn looked at only half of the foreclosure equation, and totally ignored the gigantic backlog of seriously delinquent home loans.

The number of homes repossessed in April 2011 may indeed be lower than the previous month and April 2010, as they contended, but what do we know about the number of homes repossessing banks took out of foreclosure and sold? If we don't know that, we have no idea whether the number of homes in foreclosure went up or down.

Even through Woodward and Kuhnhenn referred to RealtyTrac, they somehow missed information near the top of the firm's home page, where it currently notes that 59,587 foreclosures were sold in March 2011 (ignore the figure next to it, which appears to be filings and not strictly repossessions). That's important, because on May 12, the AP's Alex Veiga reported that "Banks repossessed 69,532 homes last month (April)."

The information is unfortunately for different months, but it would appear that there is a good chance that repossessions are continuing to run ahead of sales, and that the number of homes in foreclosure is therefore increasing. Woodward and Kuhnhenn did nothing to prove that they are decreasing.

But remember, Romney said that "foreclosures are still at record levels." Looked at more broadly, and given that a presidential announcement speech isn't supposed to be a dissertation on economic minutiae, it would not be unfair to give Romney the benefit of the doubt by substituting "the number of foreclosed and seriously delinquent properties" for "foreclosures," because the only thing stopping seriously delinquent properties from becoming foreclosed upon is the crushing backlog -- measured in years, not months -- lenders currently face.

How crushing? A May 2009 report in the Washington Post noted that "The backlog of seriously delinquent mortgages ... so far affects about 1 million borrowers." Two years later, the aforementioned Viega at AP told readers that such properties now amount to "up to 3.7 million, by some estimates." A May 20 MSNBC report says it's 4.3 million. The average of the two figures is 4 million, which is quadruple the number two years ago.

On substance, Romney is right. Foreclosures and properties facing foreclosure because of paperwork backlog do appear to be at record levels. Woodward and Kuhnhenn did nothing to definitively disprove Romney's assertion.

Romney 2 (the "worse" economy in Part 1, plus the just-discussed foreclosures), AP 0.

The next item relates to President Obama's conduct of foreign policy, particularly how he has addressed foreign nations in major speeches. Romney's statement: "A few months into office, he traveled around the globe to apologize for America."

The AP reporters feverishly contend that this is not true:

Obama has not apologized for America. What he has done, in travels early in his presidency and since, is to make clear his belief that the U.S. is not beyond reproach. He has told foreigners that the U.S. at times acted "contrary to our traditions and ideals" in its treatment of terrorist suspects, that "America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy," that the U.S. "certainly shares blame" for international economic turmoil and has sometimes shown arrogance toward allies.


... But there has been no formal - or informal - apology. No saying "sorry" on behalf of America.

Oh please, guys. Obama never said "sorry," so making it a point to recite to the nations of the world a litany of the allegedly horrible things we've done during the course of our history doesn't count? Plenty of people on the left and the right have interpreted what Obama has done as the functional equivalent of "apologizing."

As a presidential candidate, Romney overreached, but not by much. He should have limited his criticism of the administration's relations with other nations as indicating that the President often seems less than proud of his country's history, heritage, exceptionalism, and position of world leadership.

On this one, grading on a curve, the AP reporters get half a loaf. Romney 2-1/2, AP 1/2.

The next contention by Romney is that "Instead of encouraging entrepreneurs and employers, he (Obama) raises their taxes, piles on record-breaking mounds of regulation and bureaucracy and gives more power to union bosses."

Woodward and Kuhnhenn didn't try to counter Romney's regulation- and union-related claims. This was wise, because doing so would have been hopeless (see Chrysler secured creditor ripoff, GM unsecured bondholder ripoff, NLRB vs. Boeing, Obamacare, the new banking law, etc.).

That leaves taxes. While it's true that Obama hasn't raised any taxes specifically targeting businesses and entrepreneurs, he wanted to do it so badly late last year that he accused congressional Republicans of holding the nation hostage when they wouldn't raise income-tax rates on the highest income-earners.

More crucially, the AP pair acknowledge that "Several large tax increases in the health care law have not yet taken effect." Businesses have to build their plans around current and future tax laws, which AP has acknowledged involves large tax increases. Translation: Congress has passed a law raising taxes in future years, and Obama has signed it. This means that Romney is correct.

Romney is substantively right in all three claims in this segment. Romney 3-1/2, AP 1/2.

The final contention by Woodward and Kuhnhenn is that Romney was not telling the truth when he said that he did not raise taxes when he was Bay State governor, specfically: "The expectation was that we'd have to raise taxes but I refused. I ordered a review of all state spending, made tough choices and balanced the budget without raising taxes."

Unfortunately for Romney, he is dead wrong on this one, and the AP nails him:

The state raised business taxes by $140 million in one year with measures branded "loophole closings," the vast majority recommended by Romney. Moreover, the Republican governor and Democratic lawmakers raised hundreds of millions of dollars from higher fees and fines, taxation by another name. Romney himself proposed creating 33 new fees and increasing 57 others - enough to raise $59 million.

Sorry, Mitt. Closing loopholes without some attempt at revenue neutrality is raising taxes. Raising fees beyond levels strictly relating to the costs of providing services is indeed "taxation by another name." On this one AP is right, and you are wrong.

Final score: Romney 3-1/2, AP 1-1/2.

Cal Woodward and Jim Kuhnhenn should have done a short fact-check item called "Romney says he didn't raise taxes, but he did," and left it at that. As demonstrated, the rest of their report was virtually substance-free bloviation.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.