Today PolitiFact published a fact check based on the idea that Bachmann pinned the full cost in terms of lives and money on Obama.
PolitiFact reproduces a healthy chunk of the CNN transcript, which includes the following:
BACHMANN: Well, my main challenger right now is Barack Obama. That's who I'm focused on.It sure looks like Bachmann is blaming the whole cost of the war on Obama, doesn't it?
His economic policies are a disaster and his foreign policy is even worse. Under Barack Obama's watch, we have expended $805 billion to liberate the people of Iraq and, more importantly, 4,400 American lives.
President Obama just had his hat handed to him by the Iraqis, who have essentially kicked him out and our people out of Iraq while Iran is waiting in the wings. So Iraq is essentially kowtowing to Iran. Iran is seeking to have a nuclear weapon.
But Bachmann almost certainly is not making the argument PolitiFact rates "Pants on Fire" on its vaunted-yet-lame Truth-O-Meter.
And here's why: People speaking on live television often do not deliver well-organized communications, and their words often challenge a would-be transcriptionist in terms of appropriate punctuation.
This is where the interpretive principle of "charitable interpretation" comes in. Where a statement is ridiculous on its face, the reader/listener ought to consider alternative means of understanding the communication.
It is a stock argument that a hasty withdrawal can turn the expense of war into a waste. Many conservatives made that argument in defending President Bush's decision to execute the "surge" strategy in Iraq. And that is the most likely interpretation of Bachmann's words.
But a word of caution, here. A video or audio version of the exchange between Blitzer and Bachmann ought to make clear whether the alternative suggestion is the obvious solution or not. Perhaps Bachmann misspoke so badly that it was natural to take her meaning other than the way she intended.
On the other hand, Bachmann did offer a certain amount of clarification later in the interview (this portion also quoted in the PolitiFact story):
BACHMANN:One may legitimately criticize Bachmann for muddying her talking point (and Herman Cain shares that vulnerability), but where Bachmann's words in context leave this much doubt about her intent it is incumbent on the journalist to obtain clarity. To his credit, CNN's Wolf Blitzer tried to do that and Bachmann did little to help. And while that failure on Bachmann's part can add up to another legitimate criticism of her candidacy, it does not excuse third party journalists like those at PolitiFact from their duty to inquire about Bachmann's intent.
What President Obama has failed to do is secure the gains that America paid for with an extremely dear cost -- 4,400 American lives, nearly a trillion dollars in expenditures, and we have nothing to show for it. And we may look at a Maliki government which has admitted they cannot secure the peace.
Bachmann’s numbers are essentially on target, but she errs badly in blaming Obama for all $805 billion spent and 4,400 American lives lost in Iraq "on his watch." Most of the money spent and lives lost in Iraq came during George W. Bush’s presidency. The idea that Obama -- who wasn’t even in the Senate until two years into the war -- is responsible for all the costs and casualties in Iraq is ridiculous. We rate her statement Pants on Fire.Again, Bachmann almost certainly was not saying what PolitiFact took her to say, and the PolitiFact story offers no evidence that PolitiFact attempted to obtain a clarification from the Bachmann campaign.
As a result, this effort from PolitiFact warrants the tag "journalists reporting badly."