Begging for ‘Context,’ Writer Actually Omits It Defending Obama

You can tell the President Obama’s speech wherein he claimed that successful business entrepreneurs “didn’t build that” has struck a nerve among the American public because liberal pundits are bending themselves out of shape trying to defend it.

Inc. columnist Bill Murphy Jr. asserts critics of Obama take his sentence out of context but then procedes to do the exact same thing.

Murphy writes, "You've certainly heard by now about Obama's recent speech, in which he talked about the degree to which entrepreneurs benefit from those who have come before them, those who have taught them, and even from the government's investment in infrastructure. Since then, the Romney camp has seized on a single jagged sentence from Obama's speech. It's a poignant effort (albeit a dishonest one) to suggest that Obama doesn't understand entrepreneurship or the American character. Ironically, it's also an attack on the very the entrepreneurial phenomenon responsible for Romney's business success.”


Murphy asserts that the Romney campaign “has seized on” just 14 words from that speech, in which Obama said, “If you've got a business--you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Murphy contends Obama was referring to public infrastructure and the whole American system of government, that underpins the market economy, when he said, “you didn't build that.”

That's entirely possible, but as many commentators (including yours truly) have already noted, the entire context of Obama's remarks doesn't really help Obama. Indeed, contrary to Murphy's assertion that “the Romney camp has seized on a single jagged sentence," the truth is that many conservative writers, and even Romney himself, have noted the entire context of Obama's remarks in their criticism, comments and analysis of it – something even Murphy doesn't do.

In attempting to defend Obama by playing the “context” card, Murphy does the same thing he accuses Obama's critics of doing – he also omits a key portion of Obama's words – the paragraph before the one Murphy quotes, in which Obama denigrates successful entrepreneurs for thinking that their own intelligence and hard work produced their success:

Murphy only quoted the second of these two key paragraphs of the speech, presented here from the White House transcript:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

As Mitt Romney himself noted yesterday in an interview with Larry Kudlow on CNBC, the complete context of Obama's remarks does not help Obama:

Well, just read the whole speech. I found the speech even more disconcerting than just that particular line. The context is worse than the quote. The context, he says, you know, you think you've been successful because you're smart, but he says a lot of people are smart. You think you've been successful because you work hard, a lot of people work hard. This is an ideology which says hey, we're all the same here, we ought to take from all and give to one another and that achievement, individual initiative and risk-taking and success are not to be rewarded as they have in the past. It's a very strange and in some respects foreign to the American experience type of philosophy.

In his remarks to Kudlow, Romney also notes that, when Obama says business owners owe their success to government because it built the roads and bridges, Obama has it backwards:

If you have a business and you started it, you did build it. And you deserve credit for that. It was not built for you by government. And by the way, we pay for government. Government doesn't come free. The people who begin enterprises, the people who work in enterprises, they're the ones paying for government. So his whole philosophy is an upside-down philosophy that does not comport with the American experience.

Murphy is a columnist, not a reporter, so he's entitled to his own opinion. But not his own facts. The Romney campaign has not taken Obama's words out of context – it is eager to put the entire context of Obama's remarks out there, something Murphy himself failed to do.

Incidentally, the editor of Inc. magazine, Jane Berentson, is an Obama donor. And Joe Mansueto, the billionaire founder and CEO of Morningstar Inc., and owner of Manseuto Ventures, the private company that owns both Inc. and Fast Company magazines, is a major donor to both Obama and the Democratic Party.  

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013