Monday, November 24th, 2014

Edits fuel distortions in Perry video on Romney

Rick Perry's presidential campaign posted this video online on Oct. 10, 2011.

It was called a horror flick, Michael-Bay style — and blistering.

Posted online Oct. 10, 2011, by Gov. Rick Perry's campaign, a video linking the health care plan that Mitt Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts in 2006 with the one that President Barack Obama signed in 2010 made a splash in part because of its film-quality production elements.

The 59-second video, which had been viewed more than 180,000 times on YouTube as of Oct. 16, mixes graphics, photos and TV news clips to paint Romney, a Perry rival for the Republican presidential nomination, as undeserving of conservatives' support because of his stance on health care.

Perry's video also suggests that the White House used the Massachusetts law as a model for the federal health care law. The Massachusetts and federal laws have many of the same elements, including the requirement that people have health insurance, a mechanism known as an "individual mandate."

PolitiFact National checked the claim that "RomneyCare" had "killed 18,000 jobs" and found it based on a single study by a conservative group. That earned a Mostly False on the Truth-O-Meter.

PolitiFact Texas reviewed other excerpts in the video and found some other distortions.

Some perspective: Perry is hardly the first presidential hopeful or advocacy group to leave misimpressions in an online video.

A pro-Michele Bachmann super-PAC, Keep Conservatives United, misrepresented spending and state debt in Texas in a video that led us to ratings of Mostly False and Pants on Fire.

Artful editing contributed to misrepresentations in Perry's video.

For starters, one clip snipped from a December 2007 edition of NBC's Meet the Press showed its host, Tim Russert, who died in June 2008, asking Romney about the Massachusetts law's individual mandate. In Perry's video, the viewer sees and hears Russert asking: "Why, if it's good for Massachusetts and it's working in Massachusetts, wouldn't you apply it to the rest of the country?"

Romney's reply, made especially dramatic because it appears in the ad without the spot's otherwise pervasive background music: "I would."

An obvious conclusion would be that Romney supports a national individual mandate, a feature of the the 2010 federal law that opponents have unanimously decried.

In reality, the next part of Russert's interview of Romney indicates the candidate isn't on board with a national mandate, also noted in a Fact Checker column by the Washington Post.

Viewers of the Perry video don't hear this exchange:

Russert: "A mandate?"

Romney: "No. Let me tell you what I would do, just exactly as I described. I like what we did in Massachusetts. I think it's a great plan. But I'm a federalist. I don't believe in applying what works in one state to all states if different states have different circumstances."

Later in the interview, Romney says: "Given the kind of differences between states, I'm not somebody who's going to say what I did in Massachusetts I'm going to now tell every state they have to do it the same way. Now, I happen to like what we did. I think it's a good model for other states. Maybe not every state, but most.

"And so what I'd do at the federal level is give to every state the same kind of flexibility we got from the federal government, as well as some carrots and sticks to actually get all their citizens insured. And I think a lot of states will choose what we did. I wouldn't tell them they have to do our plan."

Russert and Romney have one more back-and-forth on the individual mandate:

Russert: "So if a state chose a mandate, it wouldn't bother you?"

Romney: "I think it's a terrific idea. I think, I think you're going to find, when it's all said and done, after all these states that are laboratories of democracy get their chance to try their own plans, that those who follow the path that we pursued will find it's the best path, and we'll end up with a nation that's taken a mandate approach."

Fast forward nearly four years, and to preparations for the 2012 presidential contest, and Romney's responses to criticisms about his Massachusetts plan sound pretty similar to what he said during his 2007 Meet the Press appearance. In debates and interviews this year, Romney has defended the Massachusetts program while saying that if he were president, he would work to repeal the federal law.

Another snippet in Perry's video shows Obama saying, "I agree with Mitt Romney; he’s right." At the same time, the word "ENDORSED" appears on-screen.

Things are moving pretty fast at that point in the video, but the message seems to be that Obama is equating his health-care plan with Romney's.

Is that what Obama was doing?

The Perry video attributes the Obama clip to CBS News video footage from Feb. 28, 2011. We watched the video, which is of Obama addressing the National Governors Association, and found two notable inconsistencies with how Obama’s remarks were used in the Perry video.

For one, when Obama invoked Romney, he was not opining about the Massachusetts plan. Instead, he was saying he agreed with Romney that states need flexibility when it comes to difficult problems like health care.

In that part of his speech, Obama was telling the governors that he would allow states to create their own health care plans as long as they fulfill the goals of the federal law — a move that an Associated Press news article described as "a concession" in the post-adoption debate over Obama's "divisive health care overhaul."

"If your state can create a plan that can cover as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act (the federal law) does, without increasing the deficit, you can implement that plan and we'll work with you to do it," Obama told the governors.

The AP article noted, though, that Obama's shift was not as significant as it might have sounded. The federal law already allowed states to propose their own health care plans, although they were prohibited from doing so until 2017. According to the AP story, the change that Obama proposed that day in February was to allow states to submit their ideas earlier, in 2014.

Addressing the governors, Obama said: "I know that many of you have asked for flexibility for your states under this law. In fact, I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he's proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions. He's right. Alabama is not going to have exactly the same needs as Massachusetts or California or North Dakota. We believe in that flexibility."

Hearing the speech for ourselves, we realized that the Perry video not only takes Obama's comments out of context but also manipulates what the president said, cutting out the middle of Obama's remark and splicing together the ends. That condensed Obama's quote to: "I agree with Mitt Romney; he’s right."

We found one other altered TV clip in the video. Toward the beginning, a TV news show host says: "Time and again, the White House has pointed to the Massachusetts law as the model for its Obamacare." The clip is from the April 12, 2011, edition of the MSNBC show The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, and the speaker is guest host Chris Hayes, an editor for the liberal magazine the Nation.

In the actual broadcast, there were about a dozen more words in Hayes' sentence. The Perry video leaves out Hayes' description of the federal health care law as the "Affordable Care Act," leaving the misimpression that he solely called the law "Obamacare." Hayes' full sentence: "Time and again, the White House has pointed to the Massachusetts law as the model for its own Affordable Care Act, better known to Republican primary voters as the dread Obamacare."

Perry's campaign didn't immediately respond Friday to email requests to discuss the video.

While we've run specific claims in other campaign ads through the PolitiFact Texas Truth-O-Meter, reaching ratings from True to False to Pants on Fire, this was our first pass at analyzing how edits fueled various distortions in a campaign video.

Spot other political videos worthy of such scrutiny? Let us know at politifact@statesman.com.