A statement made by President Obama to Steve Croft during a "60 Minutes" interview:
Does Warren Buffet still support Obama?
"Your plan really for solving the banking crisis was met with very, very, very tepid response," Kroft said to Obama. "A lot of people said they didn't understand it. A lot of people said it didn't have any, enough details to solve the problem. I know you're coming out with something next week on this. But these criticisms were coming from people like Warren Buffett, people who had supported you, and you had counted as being your...""And Warren still does support me," Obama interjected. "But I think that, understand, Warren's also a big player in the financial markets who's a major owner of Wells Fargo. And so he's got a perspective from the perspective of somebody who is part owner of a bank.
The fact checkers:
- Alexander Lane (writer, researcher)
- Bill Adair (editor)
Alexander Lane seems to have put very little effort into this entry. For Lane, perhaps, it was an open-and-shut case so there was little to be gained by giving the facts any close examination. After noting what President Obama said during his interview with Steve Croft, Lane moves immediately toward resolution:
Buffett, who endorsed Obama during the campaign, did explicitly say during a three-hour interview March 9 with CNBC that he still supports Obama.OK, break.
Identification of the intended sense of a term stands as the key to evaluating the accuracy of claims. What was the original context? Kroft introduces the root word:
But these criticisms were coming from people like Warren Buffett, people who had supported you, and you had counted as being your--Kroft, it seems, uses the term in its generic sense of broadly supporting a candidate. He uses Buffett's support of Obama as a point of contrast to emphasize the broad based nature of criticisms of Obama on economic policy.
Obama interrupts Kroft:
And-- and-- and-- and Warren still does support me. But I think that understand Warren's also a big player in the financial markets who's a major owner of Wells Fargo. And so he's got a perspective from the perspective of somebody who-- is part owner of a bank.As with Kroft's use of "supported," I think Obama's is the generic sense of generalized support. Obama's interruption of Kroft, however, produces an impression of defensiveness. Perhaps the president was concerned that viewers would think that Buffett was critical of his economic policies? If that were the case, and I do not know that it is, then Obama may be guilty of throwing up a bit of a smokescreen. And that is the only scenario in which I can conceive of this episode being worthy of the effort of fact-checking.
So let's continue the examination after getting one thing out of the way: Kroft acknowledged Buffett's support of Obama. Obama was right to note Buffett's support in the same generalized sense as Kroft meant it. And Buffett does continue to support Obama in that generalized sense.
PolitiFact researcher Alexander Lane provides adequate proof of the above with the initial quotation he provides:
"I voted for Obama and I strongly support him, and I think he's the right guy," Buffett said early in the interview.Lane also treats the more convoluted issue that I identified above as he continues to quote Buffett. First, the PolitiFact version:
Buffett did criticize Obama's handling of the banking crisis, saying that "a bank that's going to go broke should be allowed to go broke," as long as the depositors are protected. (Obama's approach has leaned toward giving the banks more bailout money in some form rather than letting them fail and having the government take them over.)Lane opens up a big can of worms with this quotation. Take a look at a more complete version of that interview exchange:
But Buffett's primary concern was that Obama wasn't communicating clearly with the public about struggling banks. "The right answer for me (to the banking crisis) is the president to clarify things as only he can, because you have heard so many different things," he said. "He is the commander in chief on this, and it has to be clarified...because if people aren't clear, they're going to be confused. And if they're going to be confused, they are going to be scared stiff. And that has to end."
(bold emphasis added)
BECKY: There was the idea that maybe they should just be buying shares outright. There's the idea of nationalization out there. What's the right answer?The key graph, of course, is Becky Quick's excellent follow up to Buffett's answer, "you make it sound almost like it doesn't matter what he says, as long as he picks one of those."
BUFFETT: The right answer--the right answer for me is the president to clarify things as only he can, because you have heard so many different things. And, you know, they're doing their best to communicate, but the person that the people of the United States gave their trust to not that long ago was Barack Obama. He speaks very well. He has--he is the commander in chief on this, and it has to be clarified. Like I say, the head of the New York Fed gave a talk, explained a lot of it, but nobody's going to pay that much attention to what he says. You need the president of the United States to make it very clear. Because if people aren't clear, they're going to be confused. And if they're going to be confused, they are going to be scared stiff. And that has to end.
BECKY: Does that--you make it sound almost like it doesn't matter what he says, as long as he picks one of those.
BUFFETT: Well, it matters...
BECKY: That's--you've got to--you've got to be leaning one direction.
Rather than putting to rest Buffett's criticisms of Obama's economic policy, this exchange makes clear that Buffett had two principal criticisms of Obama. One, that his practical emphasis was misguided. Two, that the president's handling of the crisis in terms of public relations was a failure. The second stands as an important point because public attitude toward the economy holds a strong influence over the economy.
Buffett was saying, in effect, that Obama was blundering in two ways, and Buffett, in effect, was willing to forgive the first if Obama would correct the second.
Lane's treatment of the quotation is adequate to communicate what Buffett was saying if one is relatively in tune with the backstory, but could easily mislead people who were less familiar with Buffett's opinions on the economic crisis. Nothing quoted by Lane diminishes in any respect Buffett's two fundamental criticisms of Obama's economic policy.
1) Buffett does not support bailing out the failing financial institutions*
2) Buffett does not support bad presidential communications on economic issues*
*things Obama is/was doing
The way Lane tells the story perpetuates confusion about different types of support. To whatever extent Obama was trying to substitute generalized support for specific support of economic policies, the president was guilty of deceitful communication.
Given Obama's interruption of Kroft, there is sufficient evidence to see beyond what is suggested by the plain meaning and infer that Obama had a dubious argument implicit in his response to Kroft. PolitiFact should have graded Obama "Mostly True" and emphasized the distinction between general support and specific support for the handling of the current economic situation.
Lane failed in that:
Toward the end of the three-hour interview, Buffett reiterated his support for Obama. "He is the right president," Buffett said. "He's very, very smart. He's got, I think, exactly the right goals. He's articulate and I -- you know, he will be the right person to be the commander in chief in this economic crisis."Though Lane's eventual determination is not far removed from the one I would have reached, his methods were unacceptably careless. This PolitiFact entry is more rehabilitation than fact-checking, as when Lane parrots Obama's psychologizing of Buffett (not a facet I spent time on in my analysis, but it's there).
So clearly Obama was on solid ground touting Buffett's continued support. We find this claim to be True.
The grade for Lane and Adair: F+
Mar 24, 2009: corrected spelling of "principal"