ABC, NBC and CBS's morning shows on Wednesday failed to fact check Barack Obama's State of the Union address. These same networks, however, made time to feature Vice President Joe Biden (who was in full cheerleader mode). It's not as though fact checks weren't available. The Washington Post and the Associated Press both produced such critical analysis. During his speech, Obama touted "the more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years."
The Post's Glenn Kessler called this "cherry picking" and noted that "since the start of his presidency, about 3.2 million jobs have been created — and the number of jobs in the economy still is about 1.2 million lower than when the recession began in December 2007."
On the subject of health insurance, Kessler featured an Obama assertion and then explained:
"More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage."
Obama carefully does not say these numbers are the result of the Affordable Care Act, but he certainly leaves that impression. But the Medicaid part of this number — 6.3 million from October through December — is very fuzzy and once earned a rating of Three Pinocchios.
The ACA expanded Medicaid to those who earn less than 133 percent of the poverty line — about $15,000 for an individual — to 26 states (and the District) that decided to embrace that element of the law. But no one really knows how many of the 6.3 million are in this expansion pool — or whether they are simply renewing or would have qualified for Medicaid before the new law. Indeed, the number also includes people joining Medicaid in states that chose not accept the expansion.
The private insurance numbers — about 3 million — are also open to question. The troubled federal exchange counts people as enrolled if an individual has selected a plan, but it does not know if a person enrolled and paid a premium because that part of the system has yet to be built.
On the President's claims about the debt, "our deficits-- cut by more than half," the Post objected:
The federal budget deficit has declined in half since 2009, from $1.3 trillion to about $600 billion, but that’s not much to brag about. The 2009 figure was not just a deficit Obama inherited from his predecessor, since it also reflected the impact of decisions, such as the $800 billion stimulus bill, enacted early in the president’s term.
Moreover, the deficit soared in the first place because of the recession, so as the economy has improved, the deficit naturally decreased. The United States still has a deficit higher than it was in nominal terms and as a percentage of gross domestic product than it was in 2008 and a debt much greater as a percentage of the overall economy than it was prior to the recession.
Instead of fact checking Obama, CBS This Morning featured Biden. Co-host Charlie Rose suggested the President is building a "can-do attitude." Later in the program, Frank Luntz appeared to explain how the speech could be focus tested.
NBC and ABC allowed almost no time to the GOP response. NBC's Today managed a scant six seconds. ABC's Good Morning America offered a mere 16 seconds.