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The Fact Checker Fails: Washington Post Okays McConnell’s Lies, While Dissing Bill Clinton’s Truths

I am awarding the Washington Post fact checker Four Pinocchios, a Pants on Fire, and a Jim Carrey (below) for his inane piece “President Clinton’s overenthusiasm for growth in green jobs.”

The fact checker decided to “fact-check” these two recent “comments about stimulus funding during NBC’s Meet the Press, Sept. 18, 2011”:

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell : “If you look at the stimulus bill, what did we get out of that? Turtle tunnels and Solyndra. More money was lost on Solyndra than came to my state to fix roads and bridges out of the entire stimulus package last year, and now he’s asking us to do it again.”Former President Bill Clinton: “I heard what Senator McConnell said about that one project, but the hard truth is that in America, in spite of his hostility to it, green technology jobs have grown twice as fast as the overall job-generating capacity of the economy in the last eight years, where all job growth has been anemic. You’re going to have a lot of that.”

Now you might think the WashPost would be all over McConnell’s falsehoods. After all, it is an outright lie that all we got out of the stimulus was “Turtle tunnels and Solyndra.” The Washington Post itself reported that according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus may have generated up to 3.3 millions jobs by mid-2010 alone.

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And, of course, this sentence is false: “More money was lost on Solyndra than came to my state to fix roads and bridges out of the entire stimulus package last year, and now he’s asking us to do it again.” Obama isn’t “asking us to do it again,” in any reasonable reading of the word “it.” And the WashPost points out “Overall, Kentucky received nearly $3.7 billion overall in stimulus funding between 2009 and 2011, according to the government-run stimulus-tracking Web site Recovery.gov.”

But it appears that one small piece of McConnell’s cavalcade of misinformation is correct “More money was lost on Solyndra than came to my state to fix roads and bridges.” So, of course, the WashPost fact-checker gives McConnell a clean bell of health, saying nothing more about his falsehoods than, “We find no fault with McConnell’s claim about Solyndra funding versus Kentucky’s stimulus money.”

UPDATE: CAP’s Bracken Hendricks has sent me a good explanation of why even this one supposedly fault-free part of McConnell’s statement is incredibly misleading, which I reprint below.

President Clinton, however, uttered the truth and even provided the WashPost with a reference to back him up, but the Post gave him two Pinocchios, claiming “He relied on selective data that would support his case while ignoring other relevant numbers.” Seriously. Who is being selective here — Clinton or the Washington Post?

Let’s run this one down since it involves accuracy by the former president and hypocritical inaccuracy by the Washington Post of a kind I expect that we will see repeated by bad fact checkers. The key point President Clinton made that the WashPost contests is:

… green technology jobs have grown twice as fast as the overall job-generating capacity of the economy in the last eight years, where all job growth has been anemic.

Please note that the President said green technology jobs.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the Brookings report has a slight confusion between what they call “clean economy” jobs, which includes everything including conservation, nuclear energy, waste management, and what they call “clean tech,” which is what most of us would consider to be the emerging clean energy economy.

Here is how Time magazine reported on the Brookings analysis:

And the clean energy sector in particular is growing very quickly: it grew by 8.3% between 2003 and 2010, nearly twice as fast as the overall economy during those years. “The pace of growth really is torrid in that sector,” says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings Metropolitan Program and a co-author of the report. “This confirms the intuition that these exciting industries really are growing as fast as we think they are.”

Time magazine says almost the exact same thing that Clinton said. And the report co-author used the word “torrid” to describe the pace of growth in the clean tech sector.Brookings itself in its release on the report says:

The clean economy grew more slowly in aggregate than the national economy between 2003 and 2010, but newer “cleantech” segments produced explosive job gains and the clean economy outperformed the nation during the recession.

So Brookings draws a distinction between the “clean economy” and the newer “cleantech” segment — which Clinton was obviously talking about when he said “green technology jobs have grown twice as fast as the overall job-generating capacity of the economy in the last eight years.”

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As an aside, I checked with Muro when the report came out, and he is perfectly fine labeling the fastest growing clean energy parts of the clean economy “cleantech.”

The worst you can say about Clinton is that he didn’t repeat the phrase “cleantech” exactly, but said “green technology.” But that pales in comparison to the outright lies and misleading statistics from McConnell.

But the WashPost gives Clinton two Pinocchios for making a completely legitimate distinction while signing off on McConnell’s multiple falsehoods.

I suppose this shouldn’t come as a big shock to Climate Progress readers, who are more than aware that when it comes to fact checking, the Washington Post leaves much to be desired:

UPDATE: Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Bracken Hendricks sends me a note explaining why even McConnell’s comparison of money lost on Soyndra with roads and bridges funding in Kentucky is misleading:

One last point goes to Senator McConnell, more so than Reporter Hicks, and the original question posed to Clinton on Meet the Press. McConnell asserted that more money was lost to Solyndra than was received in his state to fix roads and bridges. This is highly misleading, and willfully misses the point of both how loan guarantee programs work, and the nature of risk management.

The Solyndra loan was one deal that went bad. That is unfortunate, but it was in a pool of loans that overall are very high performing. Because it is impossible to know in advance which loans will succeed and which will fail, all loan guarantee programs invest in pools of risk. They score that risk appropriately, and then budget for it. The loan guarantee program anticipated that some loans would not be paid back, and this is why there was a final score of $2.5 billion set aside in ARRA [the stimulus bill] to pay for the cost of the program.

It should be obvious that those loans that are actually paid back don’t cost the government anything, but you can’t get the benefit of those gains without taking some risk and potentially making a few investments that don’t pan out. That is the entire reason that there was a cost associated with the program in the federal budget.

The relative success of the Loan Guarantee Program [LGP] should be considered as a whole portfolio, it is meaningless to assess whether it was a good investment looking at one line item in the ledger of costs and gains. Looked at correctly, the LGP is creating very substantial net new jobs, new revenue through taxes, and new profits for US businesses. It is estimated that the LGP will create about 29,000 jobs overall. The loss of 1,000 jobs at Solyndra is unfortunate, but it is the price of getting the other jobs and investments. Without policy leadership through ARRA, we could not have gotten that bump of nearly 30 thousand jobs.

For McConnell to pull out one loss in isolation of the gains that were leveraged through the LGP, is a distortion of the record that President Clinton was correct to challenge. This is fundamental to business risk and it is fundamental to capitalism. Either McConnell is unclear on how markets work, or he is willfully being misleading for partisan political gain. That is bad for the country, and John Hicks fell right into his trap with his junk follow-on story.

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