CNN Doubles Down on Faulty Welfare ‘Fact Check’

According to CNN, Mitt Romney "doubled down" on a "false claim" on Tuesday, but it was CNN that doubled down on its own faulty fact-check of the Obama administration and welfare reform.

"We begin tonight 'Keeping Them Honest' on a campaign distortion that will not seem to die. The false claim that President Obama is trying to take the work requirement out of welfare," began Anderson Cooper on his Tuesday show. As NewsBusters reported, CNN canned the Romney claim back in August despite conservative experts arguing that Obama indeed gutted the work requirements at the heart of welfare reform.

Cooper cited fact-checkers at PolitiFact, the Washington Post, and Factcheck.org all ripping Romney's attack. Factcheck.org's Lori Robertson argued on Tuesday, "what the Obama administration policy calls for is a waiver program where states can apply for a waiver from work requirement rules but in exchange, they have to come up with some kind of plan to more efficiently promote work."

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation helped craft the original welfare reform law, and he said the Obama administration "gutted" the law right after the HHS directive was released. Yet Cooper was content with Factcheck.org's source who called the Romney statement "misleading."

"You even talked to a former congressional aide who was instrumental in crafting that legislation, and he told you it was misleading," Cooper told Factcheck.org's Lori Robertson.

However, as the Heritage Foundation's Andrew Grossman stated, the HHS directive neutered the work requirements so essential to the welfare reform law. In his words, it allowed states to "weaken or abandon work requirements" in favor of policies like "career pathways," which don't actually fit the definition of "work." As other sources argued, this could lead to expanded welfare rolls, something which the original welfare reform legislation tried to solve.

Rector pointed out that the Obama administration waived work requirements that were specifically non-waivable. He also wrote that since the standards were (illegally) overridden, the definition of "work" was open to gross abuse, as in the past activities like "hula dancing" and "bed rest" counted as "work" and met the welfare requirements.

So conservatives made a compelling argument that President Obama gutted welfare reform. However, their voices were largely ignored by CNN's "fact-check" throwing egg once again at a Romney campaign ad.

A transcript of Cooper's report, which aired on September 25 on Anderson Cooper 360 at 8:00 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN anchor: Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" on a campaign distortion that will not seem to die. The false claim that President Obama is trying to take the work requirement out of welfare. In fact, Mitt Romney breathed new life into it just a few hours ago right here on CNN.

The other day on 60 Minutes, you might recall, President Obama said that some of his campaign ads, quote, "go overboard." Well, today in Ohio, CNN's Jim Acosta asked Mitt Romney if he was willing to make a similar admission about his ads. Here's an extended portion of that interview.

(Video Clip)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN national political correspondent: Just the other day, you said the President has been trying to fool people with his ads and his speeches about your record, but fact checkers have also taken issue with your ads. Haven't you also played fast and loose with the facts from time to time?

MITT ROMNEY, Republican presidential nominee: We've been absolutely spot-on and any time there's anything that's been amiss, we correct it or remove it. The President, on the other hand --

ACOSTA: Even the welfare ad?

ROMNEY: The – absolutely. Look, it has been shown time and again that the President's effort to take work requirement out of welfare is a calculated move, the same thing he did with regards to food stamps. He took work out of welfare – excuse me, work out of the food stamps requirement. What was the result? The study shows that twice as many people went from having food stamps to – those that are able-bodied to – as a result of that change.

But look, taking --

(Crosstalk)

ACOSTA: But if PolitiFact calls it "Pants on Fire" and the Washington Post gives it four pinocchios –  

(Crosstalk)

ROMNEY: Well, there are – there are --

ACOSTA: They're wrong? Is that what you're saying?

ROMNEY: You look at the facts. Did he take the work requirement out of welfare?

ACOSTA: I think what the -- what the Obama administration has said is that no, they're trying to give governors the flexibility to increase the amount of work that goes into receiving welfare benefits. You're saying you don't buy that.

ROMNEY: No, no. No, no. You always have the capacity to add work. There's never been a requirement that you can't have more work. The requirement that they're waiving was saying that people don't have to work to get – to get welfare. That's the change that they proposed. I disagree with that -- with that direction. I think the President's also – I disagree with the direction on the work requirement as it related to food stamps.

Look, taking work requirements out of government assistance is, in my opinion, a very – a very bad course to take, and creates a culture of dependency. We help people who need help. We want to help people that need help. But the idea of removing work requirements, I think, is a mistake.

(End Video Clip)

COOPER: Well, "Keeping Them Honest," as you just heard, Jim Acosta there said PolitiFact gave that claim a rating of "Pants on Fire." The Washington Post gave it four Pinocchios and Factcheck.org said this, quote, "A Mitt Romney TV ad claims the Obama administration has adopted a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. The plan does neither of those things."

And back to the claim that Governor Romney made about correcting ads or statements if there's anything factually wrong or amiss as he said, Jim Acosta called and e-mailed the Romney campaign to ask if they can give any examples of that happening. So far he's gotten no response. Jim Acosta joins me now. So does Lori Robertson, managing editor of Factcheck.org. So, Jim, you pressed Governor Romney specifically on that welfare ad, which as we said independent fact checkers have said was false. He didn't back down. Not only did he not back down, he seemed to double down on it.

ACOSTA: That's right, Anderson. He did not back away from that statement at all and as a matter of fact, this is a pretty steady and constant claim that he makes out on the campaign trail. He talks about it at his campaign rallies, he talks about it in interviews, and so that's why we asked him about it, because it struck us on the campaign plane the other day when he first made this charge that the President has been trying to, quote, "fool people" with the President's speeches and with the President's ads about the Romney record. We thought it would be appropriate to go back to him and say hey, wait a minute, haven't some of your ads been called into question by these fact checkers.

And he – and as you said, he just went on to say in that interview that when ads were found to need corrections or be removed, that that's what the campaign did. But we went back, we haven't found any cases like that. We've asked -- I've asked three separate Romney campaign officials to get back to me with some kind of citation or example. They just haven't done that at this point, Anderson.

COOPER: Lori, your organization analyzed that that ad, the Romney's welfare ad. The ad makes two points that President Obama guts welfare and that he drops the work requirements in order to receive welfare. Neither of those claims is true, correct?

LORI ROBERTSON, managing editor, Factcheck.org: Yes. That's correct. They're not true. Instead, what the Obama administration policy calls for is a waiver program where states can apply for a waiver from work requirement rules but in exchange, they have to come up with some kind of plan to more efficiently promote work. You know what we found is that only 29 percent of people receiving cash assistance were meeting that work requirement when Obama took office.

COOPER: You even talked to a former congressional aide who was instrumental in crafting that legislation, and he told you it was misleading.

ROBERTSON: Yes. Yes. He said he didn't agree with the Obama administration changing the rules on the work requirement, but he said that the ads claim that this was gutting welfare reform was very misleading.

COOPER: Do you recall, Jim, any example -- I know the campaign hasn't gotten back to you but do you – I mean you've been with the campaign now, do you recall any example of a correction that they've made or taken down an ad?

ACOSTA: I don't. And you know, keep in mind the very first ad that came from the Romney campaign during this campaign cycle was an ad that took President Obama out of context. You recall this was an ad that used a clip of Obama back in the '08 campaign talking about John McCain and what John McCain had to say about the economy, but in the context of that Romney ad, it only presented the words as if they were coming right out of the President's mouth and that wasn't the case. I've tried to go back to the Romney campaign and say, well, was this the ad that you corrected or removed, they just haven't gotten back to me on that.

But Anderson, I mean, the reason why this is so important and crucial to the Romney campaign, this line of attack on welfare and on welfare reform, what they accuse the President of doing with welfare reform, is it fits into a narrative that they've been trying to say about the President for weeks now and that is that the President encourages government dependency, that he would rather see people who are dependent on government than go back into the work force and you heard Mitt Romney talk about that in the interview today, that he wants to get more people back to work instead of being dependent on government. And so that is why you did not see him back away from that claim today, Anderson.

COOPER: Lori, do you recall the Romney campaign removing or correcting any ads or, frankly, the Obama campaign, for that matter?

ROBERTSON: I don't. I don't recall either campaign removing or correcting ads, and you know, I don't think this campaign is any different than other campaigns. There very rare instance of a campaign or even a third party group taking an ad down or issuing a corrected version of it.

COOPER: Yes. I mean I did an interview with Debbie Wassermann Schultz and they had put out an ad, the -- I think it was the DNC or super PAC, I can't remember, I think maybe the DNC, but it was an Obama campaign ad. But she had misquoted the L.A. Times and made it sound like they were something -- confirming something which was not what the article said. They didn't retract that ad, to my knowledge. So we'll continue to look for that.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014