How can you tell when politicians are lying?

Washington Watch: I was struck by how careless most of the candidates have been with the facts.

Republican presidential candidates 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Republican presidential candidates 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After watching what seemed like 2,743 debates so far this presidential campaign, all on the GOP side, I was struck once again by how careless – deliberately or dumbly – most of the candidates have been with the facts and how easily the moderators let them get away with it.
I expect politicians to shave, shift and shred the truth with invented facts, but as a journalist, I’m appalled by how they’re rarely held accountable – despite the obvious need to keep a television program moving along, since these events are as much about entertainment as political education.
I’m not referring just to the legendary gaffes of Michele Bachmann, who Politi- said had the worst record of making false statements of any of the leading contenders, or to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who misrepresented the campaign contributions he got from a vaccine manufacturer, or even to the brain freezes of Herman Cain.
The moderators often appear more interested in preening for the cameras than quizzing the candidates. Some may simply be poorly informed or afraid of offending either the politicians or their friends watching at home. The politicians have been through so many of these debates that they’ve become skilled at evading questions by responding with well-rehearsed sound bites. Away from the cameras reporters too often find the candidates are inaccessible.
And unchallenged by TV journalists, those bites are swallowed whole by millions of Americans and become part of the nation’s political baseline.
Here’s a sampling of the unproven or downright erroneous statements this year’s candidates were not pressed to explain:
Mitt Romney:
• Obama is trying to turn the United States into a European-style social welfare state.
• Obama has been unable to complete any free trade agreements with other countries.
• Federal, state and local taxes consume 37 percent of the economy today compared with only 27% when John F. Kennedy was president.
• “Only one president has ever cut Medicare for seniors in this country and it’s Barack Obama.”
Rick Perry:
• “The Iranians are moving back into Iraq at the speed of light.”
• “We have a president that’s a socialist.”
• President Obama is waging a “war against religion.”
Ron Paul:
• Rick Santorum is “a big-government, big-spending individual... he became a high-powered lobbyist.”
• Only “about eight or 10” inflammatory or racist sentences appeared in his newsletters.
Newt Gingrich:
• Romney destroyed jobs while at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he helped set up and run.
• “Last week, when [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki visited the president, one of the people in his entourage is a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”
Rick Santorum:
• Obama backed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in cracking down on the Green Revolution.
• No one in this country has ever died because of a lack of health care.
OF COURSE, it’s not only the Republican presidential candidates, it’s just that they’re most visible these days with a very hot presidential nomination race and seemingly endless series of televised debates.
Politicians are rarely asked follow-up questions, but when they are they often respond with a variation of that old standby: “That may be what I said but that’s not what I meant.” Or, even more commonly, they just change the subject.
All the candidates have been accused of flip-flopping, and all have fallen back on that old line, but Newt Gingrich may be the first politician to set up a web site to explain his dazzling repertoire of shifts, contradictions and wild statements. When he talks about change he doesn’t just refer to the Democrats; he has a long list of things he used to believe in but no longer does.
Santorum used that tired old line after telling a Boston radio audience, “We always need a Jesus guy” in the campaign. After getting slammed by the ADL for his “totally inappropriate” remarks that essentially told Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and non-believers “you’re not part of this country,” the ultraconservative candidate responded, “I said we always need a Jesus candidate, I don’t mean necessarily that we always need a Christian, but we need someone who believes in something more than themselves.”
How can you tell whether something is accurate?
As Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.”
Here are some reliable, apolitical sources where can check the facts in these and other statements, including political ads, for yourself.

The writer is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He writes regularly for Anglo-Jewish newspapers and is the former legislative director of AIPAC and Washington representative of the World Jewish Congress.