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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Savidge v. Obama: Liar? Maybe, but not exactly for the reasons claimed.

Full announcement of Truth Court forthcoming, and an apology to anyone who comes here for more light-hearted reasons, but the reason that, as I indicated in a previous post, I had subscribed to both Media Matters and Newsbusters was because they both serve the important role of keeping the mainstream media in check from opposite perspectives. I heartily recommend that anyone concerned about the truth and able to devote the time to it read both.

Part of what I had in mind with Truth Court was looking at the cases where Media Matters and Newsbusters contradict each other, and it's somewhat surprising that the first such case would be... this segment airing Wednesday afternoon on MSNBC:

First, the matter of the advertisement(s) they're talking about:

The Obama ad turns out to have a problem of its own: McCain hasn't actually received $2 million from oil companies. The ad cites both the Center for Responsive Politics and a Washington Post report, and according to, the Obama campaign used the Post's report of $1.1 million from oil and gas companies in June alone, and added that to the CRP's figure of $1 million total from oil and gas companies prior to that. (It's worth noting that it's illegal for corporations themselves to contribute to political campaigns, so these figures are actually coming from people in the oil and gas industries.) If it seems suspicious that McCain would receive as much from oil and gas companies in one month than in his entire campaign prior to that, it is. The former figure, it seems, actually went to a fundraising effort that sent money to various places, including the McCain campaign (how much went to McCain is unknown) and the RNC. If Obama wanted to use one consistent figure for McCain's haul from oil and gas companies through June, he could have used numbers through July from the CRP, which show McCain receiving $1.3 million from people in the oil and gas industry. Last I checked, that doesn't round to $2 million.

If this were anything more than a demonstration of what I hope to do with Truth Court, I would be sending e-mails to the Obama campaign trying to find out if they knew they were making an apples and oranges comparison and if they knew they could have used more accurate and recent figures. But I'm not making those calls because I don't have any credibility whatsoever and I don't have that kind of time.

I'm also not making those e-mails because that's not the point of what has Media Matters in a tizzy and Newsbusters in a fit of jubilation: Martin Savidge asking "isn't [Obama] a bit of a liar?" because "Obama's getting that same money" from people in the oil and gas industries. Indeed, according to the CRP Obama has received $394,465 from people in the oil and gas industries. Newsbusters claims that's "hardly a difference for Obama to get huffy about", blithely ignoring the fact that McCain thus makes more than triple the amount from oil and gas company people than Obama does. On the other hand, Media Matters may be reaching a bit by claiming that Obama thus "does not 'get that same money'." He does get some oil and gas money, and in fact has criticized him before for claiming during the primaries not to take any money from oil and gas interests. The difference between the candidates is dramatized when you consider that McCain has been raking in significantly less overall than Obama, but still, FactCheck calculates that oil and gas money make up .92% of McCain's total and .12% of Obama's - a drop in the bucket for both candidates. (So maybe Media Matters and Newsbusters don't actually contradict each other, but they certainly have opposite implications and conclusions.)

Again, if this was anything more than a demonstration I would be delving deeper into the numbers to see how that .92% figure compares with other candidates, including other presidential candidates and the two Bush-Cheney runs in 2000 and 2004 (the Obama ad says "after one president in the pocket of Big Oil" - Bush - "we can't afford another"). But the CRP's is kind of a hard web site to pull data from elections other than 2008 from, and I still don't have a real internet connection or a real battery, and on top of those problems my computer for some reason started deciding to have hourly coughing fits that eventually became one continuous coughing fit where it was continuously doing something that I was never quite able to verify for certain what it was. (The hard drive light is still blinking a lot and it's still struggling to do just about anything to the point that I can get about one page loaded each time I head out to poach some Internet bandwidth on my limited battery life.)

Verdict: So is Obama a liar? Throwing two very different numbers together to produce one big number, and making an apples-and-oranges comparison in the process, certainly looks unseemly, and I'm tempted to proclaim Obama guilty whether he knowingly chased the largest number he could get away with or not. But that doesn't necessarily mean I would award anything to Savidge. The gist of his statement seems to be that Obama is a liar by calling McCain the candidate of oil companies. You can't call Obama the candidate of oil companies, as outlined above, and it's true that McCain has received more than twice as much from the oil and gas industry as the next heaviest hauler, Rudy Giuliani. So to the extent those industries have a favored candidate it appears to be McCain, though how much of his oil and gas haul came before he became the presumptive Republican nominee, and how much of both candidates' hauls came after Obama and the media both started acting like the former was the Democratic nominee, I wouldn't know.

But does that mean McCain is the oil industries' lapdog? Certainly they like his offshore drilling plan, but according to FactCheck the ad's claim of a $40 billion-plus tax break for oil companies is actually part of McCain's plan for a broad overall reduction of the corporate tax rate. And on a percentage basis McCain would only lose a little less than one percent of his funding if it weren't for oil and gas companies - .8 percent, if we take Obama's haul as a baseline percentage - though I haven't compared that to another favorite target for being in the pocket of oil companies, Bush.

Obama: Probably guilty of something, but not enough evidence to convict. Savidge is innocent of the charge by Media Matters that his statement was "baseless", when taken by itself, but guilty if you hold him against the implications and probable intention of his statement, that Obama is at least as much the candidate of oil companies as McCain, which is ridiculous on its face.

If you have some of the evidence I wished for above, or if you have completely new evidence that might sway my opinion, submit an appeal in the comments or to mwmailsea at yahoo dot com.

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