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Paul Ryan's factual errors noted by many, but are voters listening?

August 30, 2012|By James Rainey

TAMPA, Fla. — Paul Ryan mostly got raves for the “optics” of his speech Wednesday night before the Republican National Convention, winning the image battle on the biggest night of his young political life. But by the time the reviews came piling in after midnight, the Republican vice presidential nominee had taken a serious beating for straying repeatedly from the facts.

The GOP’s newly minted Boy Wonder, just 42, bent or ignored the record on issues ranging from Medicare, to President Obama’s debt-reduction commission, to the closing of a GM plant in his Wisconsin hometown, to the beneficiaries of federal stimulus spending — according to a couple of fact-check organizations and news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

The news organizations responded to specific claims in the speech, but it’s doubtless President Obama and the Democrats will make a case about broader inconsistencies — such as the Republican record of fulminating about budget deficits while voting for tax cuts for the wealthy and a massive Medicare drug expansion that helped balloon the amount America owes.

PHOTOS: Paul Ryan's past

Those wider themes are for another day — one when Obama and his party also will have to answer for problems, particularly the lack of adequate progress in job creation since he took office in 2009. But, in the aftermath of his Wednesday speech, Ryan took the brunt.

FactCheck.org, the respected veracity project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, had a succinct roundup of most of Ryan’s most significant “false claims and misleading statements.”

The congressman from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Budget Committee accused Obama of funneling money away from Medicare “at the expense of the elderly.” The website noted that Medicare’s chief actuary says the law “substantially improves” the system’s finances. It also noted that Ryan’s own budget had “embraced the same savings.”

It was a nice rhetorical twist when Ryan called the Medicare plan “the biggest, coldest power play of all.” He didn’t leave any national TV time for whether his own plan, which eventually would try to move many Americans onto a system of vouchers, would avoid reducing health benefits, as many analysts believe it inevitably would.

Ryan also accused Obama of doing “exactly nothing” when his own bipartisan debt reduction commission came forward with recommendations. What most of the audience couldn’t have known, until the fact checkers set to work, was that Ryan voted against the commission’s plan and encouraged his fellow Republicans to do the same.

Multiple news outlets were particularly dismissive of Ryan’s attempt to hold Obama accountable for the closure of the Janesville, Wisc., auto plant — which he had hoped during the last campaign would remain open for another 100 years. Politifact.org was among the many to rate Ryan’s barb "false," since the plant closed a month before the Democrat took office.

PHOTOS: Scenes from the GOP convention

There were other misdirection plays, like when Ryan made it sound like Standard & Poor's downgraded U.S. debt solely because of the president, when the agency actually cited the inability of the two political parties to work together — something Ryan played at least some role in as a GOP leader. The new veep candidate also made it sound like not a dollar of stimulus spending had gone back to any taxpayer, when FactCheck.org pointed out that “more than a quarter of all stimulus dollars went for tax relief for workers."

More long-term inconsistencies — matching current words to past actions — will crop up for Ryan in the coming days. Already on Wednesday, NBC host David Gregory accused the VP pick of  “ideological amnesia”  for not expressing nearly the same level of deficit concern when President George W. Bush was prosecuting two wars (among other things) at the time of major tax cuts.

Former anchor Tom Brokaw added that there was a time when the same Ryan seemed to have no problem with stimulus spending and expanded government. He voted for both the auto industry bailout and the TARP legislation to bail out financial institutions.

The question is whether the public even accepts the findings of these truth squads anymore. Too many in the audience simply shuck off findings they don't like -- and troll for a corner of the Web that suits their fancy.

Recent days have already seen umpteen outlets knock down a Romney falsehood — that Obama would end work requirements that came with welfare reform. But the GOP ticket and its surrogates have just kept on flogging the claim.

PHOTOS: The protests of the GOP convention

Over at the Columbia Journalism Review’s Swing States Project, writer Brendan Nyhan urged the Fourth Estate to shake off fact-check fatigue.

"When someone who could be the next president or vice president of the United States makes a false claim,” Nyhan wrote, “it is always a newsworthy act.”

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James.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey

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