MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pressed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders about a few controversies surrounding his staff during the Feb. 4, 2016, New Hampshire presidential debate.
One that had emerged in the previous 24 hours concerned an ad Sanders’ campaign had run in advance of the New Hampshire primary.
Maddow asked Sanders about the Nashua Telegraph complaining recently "that you falsely implied in an advertisement that they had endorsed you when they did not."
Sanders responded, "We did not suggest that we had the endorsement of a newspaper. Newspapers who make endorsements also say positive things about other candidates, and to the best of my knowledge, that is what we did. So we never said, never said that somebody, a newspaper endorsed us that did not. What we did say is blah blah blah blah was said by the newspaper."
Maddow then said, "Just to follow up on that, the title of the ad in question was ‘Endorsement.’ "
Sanders responded, "But that was only for -- that was not to be on television. That's an important point. That was just something -- as the secretary knows, you put titles on ads and you send them out, but there was no word in that ad, none, that said that those newspapers had endorsed us."
As it happens, Maddow had referred specifically to one of two newspapers cited in the ad, and her choice might have allowed Sanders an out -- the ad in question did not explicitly say the Telegraph had endorsed him.
But in his answer, Sanders broadened his response to include "those newspapers," which is a problem because the initial version of the ad did explicitly include text that said the Valley News had endorsed him when it had not. This version was later tweaked for subsequent use.
"From postal workers to nurses, he’s been endorsed for real change," a narrator says in the ad.
The narrator goes on to quote editorials from two New Hampshire newspapers, The Telegraph, of Nashua, and the Valley News, which covers both Vermont and New Hampshire from West Lebanon, N.H.
Up to that point in the 30-second ad, every logo for an organization or publication has been accompanied by the words "endorsed by." Those words disappear when the Telegraph’s logo appears, along with the quote: "He’s not beholden to Wall Street Money."
The words "endorsed by" then reappear next to the logo of the Valley News, which appears along with the quote: "Sanders has been genuinely outraged about the treatment of ordinary Americans for as long as we can remember."
Neither the Valley News nor the Telegraph endorsed Sanders.
Telegraph executive editor Roger Carroll posted on Twitter the afternoon of Feb. 3: "For the record, despite @BernieSanders deceptive ad to the contrary,@NashuaTelegraph has not endorsed any Dem prez candidate #nhpolitics"
More problematic for Sanders’ claim in the debate is how the original ad handled the Valley News.
Valley News editor Martin Frank said Feb. 4 that his newspaper had likewise not endorsed a Democrat in the primary, PolitiFact New Hampshire reported.
As news of the spot’s issues spread, the Sanders campaign ended up revising the ad. It removed the word "endorsed" by the Valley News logo, although it left the quotes from both New Hampshire newspapers untouched. That’s the version of the ad that was on the campaign’s official YouTube channel immediately before the debate, and the ad is still titled "Endorsed."
After the debate, Sanders spokesman Warren Gunnels told PolitiFact that the incorrect version of the ad never aired on television.
"A YouTube version of this ad mistakenly used this word, but it was never aired on television. As soon as we discovered this mistake it was taken down," Gunnels said.
However, during the debate Sanders didn't draw a distinction between the campaign buying air time on TV and posting a publicly viewable ad on the Internet.
The Valley News editorial quoted in the ad – from Dec. 31, 2014 -- encouraged Sanders to enter the presidential race. "A presidential candidate who vigorously espoused populism from a progressive point of view could help restore much-needed balance to American political life, which has tilted sharply to the right in recent decades," the paper wrote.
However, it was published far too early in the campaign cycle to be considered an endorsement.
In the debate, Sanders said one of his campaign ads "never said ... a newspaper endorsed us that did not."
Sanders is glossing over the initial version of his campaign ad. It originally included text that said Sanders had been "endorsed" by the Valley News, a word that was later removed after it became clear that the newspaper had made no such endorsement.
We rate Sanders’ claim in the debate False.