The partisan liberal news site Talking Points Memo managed to be tougher on President Obama's Thursday speech in Maryland than reporter Mark Landler of the New York Times, at least in his initial online filing on Thursday afternoon, "Obama Defends Energy Policy, Hitting Back at Presidential Candidates." TPM reporter Benjy Sarlin did the sort of aggressive fact-checking of Obama's claims that the Times reserves for Republican candidates and politicians.
Landler wrote for the Times:
...[Obama] delivered a notably sarcastic rebuttal to his Republican presidential challengers, particularly Newt Gingrich, who has promised, if elected, to bring down gas prices to $2.50 a gallon, and has ridiculed the president’s talk of making fuel from algae.
Without naming Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Obama said these gibes – by people “who are running for a certain office” – revealed a streak of ignorance similar to those who predicted that cars would not supplant horse-drawn buggies or that television would never elbow out radio.
“If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society,” Mr. Obama said to a cheering crowd at Prince George’s Community College here. “They would not have believed the earth was round.”
Turning the spotlight on the remarks of his opponents may make sense because Mr. Obama’s defense of his role in rising gas prices rests on an uncomfortable claim: he cannot do much about it. It was a theme he struck again on Thursday.
Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo released his story an hour earlier but still managed some fact-checking the Times failed to do.
President Obama got a laugh out of a Maryland audience on Thursday when he mocked the Republican Party in a speech, comparing their skepticism of alternative energy to the “Flat Earth Society” in Christopher Columbus’ day and President Rutherford B. Hayes’ apparent dismissal of the telephone. But while Obama thinks the GOP is in need of a science lesson, he may need to bone up on history himself.
In mocking the GOP, Obama cited an anecdote about Hayes in which, upon using the telephone for the first time, he said, “It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?”
“That’s why he’s not on Mount Rushmore,” Obama said. “He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something.”
But Nan Card, curator of manuscripts at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Ohio, told TPM that the nation’s 19th president was being unfairly tagged as a Luddite.
“He really was the opposite,” she said. “He had the first telephone in the White House. He also had the first typewriter in the White House. Thomas Edison came to the White House as well and displayed the phonograph. Photographing people who came to the White House and visited at dinners and receptions was also very important to him.”
Obama’s invocation of the “flat earth” theory in the context of Christopher Columbus’ journey across the ocean also contained some dubious (if incredibly widespread) history.
“If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama said. “They would not have believed that the world was round.”
In fact, historians have long contended that the notion Europeans widely believed the Earth was flat, let alone 15th century Spanish scholars, is a myth developed centuries later....
As far as muddled historic references go, Obama’s hardly the first presidential candidate to screw things up on the trail. But for an address specifically going after his opponents for their ignorance, it’s probably not great to have a “citation needed” banner on top of his speech.