Steve Klingaman

Steve Klingaman
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
January 01
Steve Klingaman is a nonprofit development consultant and nonfiction writer specializing in personal finance and public policy. His music reviews can be found at

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SEPTEMBER 23, 2010 8:27AM

Michele Bachmann: All F’s on Truth-O-Meter Report Card

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Michele Bachmann on the campaign trail 

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann has scored an unprecedented “perfect” record of 100% lies on the fact-checking Truth-O-Meter, according to results released on Tuesday.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning website operated by the St. Petersburg Times named Bachmann as the recipient of five Pants on Fire and six False ratings since the website began tracking her public utterances.

            The most recent addition to her collection was a statement made on September 17 that Speaker Nancy Pelosi ran up a $100,000 bar bill on military jets.  For this, Bachmann received the flaming Pants on Fire rating for a lie of the highest degree of falsehood attainable under the website’s rating system.  In truth, according to PolitiFact, Pelosi's staff ran up a measly tab of just under $7,000 over 12 international trips.  This figure was explicitly fact-checked by, so we have the two leading online watchdogs concurring on the finding of flat-out lies on Bachmann’s part.

            In Bachmann’s defense, she was merely parroting outrageous claims first advanced by Judicial Watch, a right-wing chop shop, err, advocacy group.  Judicial Watch initially latched on to a financial report reflecting $101,429.14 spent by Speaker Pelosi’s staff on non-reimbursable travel-related items that included, according to FactCheck:

“…non-plane costs of the trip, including baggage fees, meeting room rentals and refreshments, and, frequently, good-will lapel pins — as well as meals, ground transportation and lodging in U.S. territory.”

            Judicial Watch—which apparently has no idea how to parse expense account statements—simply took the $101,000 total and created a factoid out of whole cloth.  The corrected amount for alcohol as determined by FactCheck, in case you were wondering, was derived by extrapolating a booze bill of $560.28 (that included non-alcoholic drinks) for one trip times the 12 trips referenced.  Thus, we arrive at $6,723.36.  Pelosi, by the way, doesn't drink.

The Value of Lies

            Beyond the details of this pants afire tempest in shot glass lies a larger truth:  Lies work.  A deliberate strategy of obfuscation, misrepresentation and outright lying hits the media with a larger than life impact that nearly always dwarfs the rebuttal.  Big Lies work for big personas, like Bachmann’s—and Palin’s—Palin, of course, spread the whopper about Death Panels killing Down Syndrome babies.

            Political operatives counsel candidates—Bachmann is a candidate for reelection to a third term in Minnesota’s 6th district—that if you can make big points with a Big Lie, the rebuttal will never catch up with you as long as you move quickly to your next newsbyte hit.  Bachmann, for her part, has been prolific.  Here are a few of her latest, greatest hits:

  • Social Security is broke.  (False)
  • 30 percent of doctors will leave the profession under “Obamacare” (False)
  • One of President Obama’s key advisors says medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled (False)
  • ACORN is a paid partner of the Census Bureau (Pants on Fire)

So, we get it.  Big Lies eclipse the truth. No one I know can cite a single statement of any kind made by Bachmann’s challenger, Tarryl Clark, whose statement about Bachmann, “Many things she says are just factually wrong. I think she knows it, but it does create headlines; it does give you a certain notoriety,” was reported in the Saint Cloud Times online yesterday.  So who wins?  $100,000 liquor pigs or “just factually wrong?”

      The pattern has become endemic, almost emblematic of the Obama era, if we can call it that yet.  The pattern of Republicans behaving badly with the facts trumps carefully messaged retorts from the party in power.  Roosevelt faced the same thing, you know.  He said of his enemies in an October 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden:

“They are unanimous in their hatred for me - and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master.”

Somehow, I don’t think he was worried about alienated the fence-sitters with that one.  Lies have legs.  Adolph Hitler had three criteria for the success of the lie.  It had to be big, simple, and repeated ad nauseum.  Wrong as he was about so many things, I don’t think he was wrong about lies.

      That this should become an accepted strategy, nay, a dominant strategy, in so many races in this ugly year speaks volumes about cynicism toward democracy in some quarters.  While I remember the courage and resignation of Lyndon Johnson’s statement that the Democrats would lose the South for a generation with the passage of the civil rights bill (he was wrong—it’s been far longer than that), I can’t help but find a parallel in the passage of the flawed but groundbreaking health care reform act, portions of which go into effect today.  Only now, it appears we have lost the Middle, the anti-tax, increasingly jobless, and normally apathetic Middle, who simply says, “You can’t make me buy health insurance.”

      I suppose we could lie and tell them they won’t.  But better to tell the Big Truth.  “We did not bail out the banks.  We bailed out your savings.”  And, “We saved your health care system from rationing for lack of cash.”

      Why, then is it easier to believe Big Lies?  Why FEMA camps? Death panels? Census plots? Foreign born pretenders to the presidency?  Muslim travesties?

      Why?  Because people want simple targets—simple targets upon which to vent the rage of the newly dispossessed, as in out of cash, out of credit, and, often enough, out of work.  In this environment, Big Lies, kept simple, and oft-repeated, are guaranteed to score big.  Just ask Michele Bachmann.  She seems pretty confident.

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You remain one of my favorite reads, Steve. Lying is easy, as you have pointed out. Telling the truth is difficult here in America. Few seem to want to hear it.
Thanks Cartouche! That means a lot coming from you. I guess the problem with the truth is that it is just too mundane.
A deliberate strategy of obfuscation, misrepresentation and outright lying hits the media with a larger than life impact that nearly always dwarfs the rebuttal." Yep, and as you also point out, the correction never catches up.

Truth and Michele seem to be mortal enemies. The sad fact is that her supporters don't care. You try to point out her lies, her supporters resort to calling you names or saying "everyone does it." They admire her strength, her feistiness, her power. It's complete bullshit and I can't imagine how it changes unless we teach people the difference between reacting and thinking.
Since the corporate media is more than happy to spread the lies and not investigate the truth, or call the liars out into the spotlight there is no reason for the Republicans to stop.
You went to all the trouble to type this up and it is reasonably good I’m sure but you seem to have overlooked one simple fact.

The only people allowed to read your blog or any reasonable persons blog are those that wouldn’t vote for these people anyway. The people that believe her are well how shall I say this without being too offensive; a bunch of mindless zombies that don’t do any thinking without permission from the appropriate brainwashing cult leader.

Was that tactful enough??
A lie is a false statement with the intent to deceive. So on the liquor part, your lead lie, you in your own words proved she didn't lie.

You stated "she was merely parroting outrageous claims first advanced by Judicial Watch,". You also admitted there was a bar bill, just not in the amount she stated. You also said that the amount she stated was the amount of the trip. What you failed to state is who she knew the amount was wrong and quoted it anyway. That would make it a lie.

The problem here is you are upset about a mistake she made about a bar tab, and other things that I've not looked into, when maybe we should be asking why her staff is running up a bar tab that the tax payers are going to pay to begin with?
Zachery, if I assumed your attitude I would write nothing at all.

Cat, 1) Gimme a break. 2) I wrote that the liquor bill was part of "non-reimbursable travel-related items." Taxpayers don't pay a penny of it.
Spot on: " It had to be big, simple, and repeated ad nauseum."
That's how it works.
In is out and up is down,and up is down and up is down.
As you say, Steve, the truth is usually mundane. Humans seem to be programmed to love drama. We enjoy getting worked up about things. Politicians of all stripes know this. Michelle Bachmann certainly knows this.
Jeanette, so true. How can you compete with:

"And what a bizarre time we're in, when a judge will say to little children that you can't say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it."
Yes you did. I misread a line earlier and added the misread line to the line "which apparently has no idea how to parse expense account statements" to read that they had put them on their expense account.

Did she really say that?

That's a reall "win-win", isn't it? The people who fall for that nonsense will get worked up over how outrageous it is, and those of us who know it's a lie will get worked up over how outrageous the lie is.

I guess the difference is that the former group will vote for her, while the latter group will write posts like this.
However, that doesn't mean she lied about the bill. It just means she is wrong.
If I assumed my attitude you wouldn't be reading this.
I wish these politicians that use lies would be brought up on fraud charges! R
CatnLion: They report them in their expense accounts as nonreimbursable items. BTW, every politician is responsible for verifying the truth of the claims they appropriate from third parties. Otherwise, that just becomes part of the beauty of the Big Lie, doesn’t it?

Jeanette, yes, she did. You can find it on Wikiquotes. She also said, regarding gay marriage:

“This will change our state forever. Because the immediate consequence, if gay marriage goes through, is that K-12 little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural and perhaps they should try it.

Truth or lie? And is she not responsible for her own use of such a statement if someone else made it prior to her use of the idea?
Dear me. In the UK, politicians do NOT lie. Politicians in the UK never lie. No lies are ever told by UK politicians. (How'm I doing, Adolf?)

UK politicians are sometimes guilty of "terminological inexactitudes". They have occasionally been accused of being "economical with the truth". They employ something called "spin", a device for putting a publicly acceptable gloss on publicly unacceptable behaviour. But they do not lie.

This is a pity, because the biggest sector of the media, the sector that panders to the intellectually challenged (those whose IQs do not exceed ambient temperature on a fresh winter day in Scotland), loves spreading lies. In the UK, it has to make do with terminological inexactitudes, utterances economical with the truth, and the products of spin.

How its denizens must envy their USA counterparts.
Bonnie, now that is a true statement!
So, how does this compare with the Repubs strip club bill in LA?

They hated FDR as they considered him a class traitor for saving the world ... they hate Obama for being a black man (which he's not) who saved the world ... just can't admit it when someone saves them!

Unless that someone is Jesus ... no pulled punches, Bachman, et al, are Church Ladies. If you have been around evangelical churches, and can be honest with yourself, you will admit that these charismatic types are marginally good-looking D students who become the elite of their little world, and are fawned over by the credulous flock ... the whole thing is built on lies, so, no surprise!
The only reason she wins is there is usually a strong 3rd party candidate running in Minnesota. it's how Norm Colman won his seat the first time and why Al Franklin didn't blow him out of the water. It also brought you Jesse the Gov Ventura. If the 2 non-republican parties would just split which races they'd field candidates for (You take the senate race, we'll take the governor's race) we'd have more Paul Wellstones and fewer Michelle Bat-Shit-Crazy Bachmanns.
Steve, if you want to see another big lie exposed, check out my post on top marginal tax rates and GDP. Bottom line, there is no correlation between the top marginal rate and GDP growth. In fact, when we had an 88 percent top marginal rate, we had the highest economic growth since the 1930s.
Kyle, perhaps you'd like to name a couple of lies by current Democratic candidates for the House?
When a black man is put in greasepaint at ALL the early Tea Party events it is NO LIE to say they were racist. When Glenn Beck's rally is 99% white it is NO LIE to point out the obvious, particularly when the denial is so extreme ... just like the views expressed.
I've been told be someone from MN that Bachmann runs in the only district in the state in which she is taken seriously, and I suspect she's not taken seriously there either -- she just has an R beside her name, and nothing more is necessary in the district. Well, they're welcome to her, but can't they get her to shut up?
And as for your set-to with Catnlion, if Pelosi is responsible for verifying expense accounts, shouldn't Bachmann be responsible for verifying ridiculous false claims BEFORE she repeats them? And if she doesn't, isn't it her responsibility to go before the cameras and admit to and apologize for her mistake?

It'll be cold day in hell when that happens, and that's why her stupid charge about Pelosi is also a lie.
Peter R. Reilly, who write about ethics in business and politics, has suggested that the real threat of lying is not that it will go unrevealed, but that it facilitates manipulation in negotiation. In this sense, when a politician lies to voters about their opponent---like when Bachmann passes along false information "vetted" by a third party---they're really undermining the negotiation process that goes on in a democracy between the people and their representatives. Since we rely on the people we're voting for to give us much of the information on which we'll base our decision, we have to be aware of certain "strategies of lying" and the counter-strategies to combat them.

Often progressives who criticize the Right for being fast and loose with the truth only do it piecemeal. They discredit this fabrication or that one without giving people any insight into the types of lies being employed, often, again and again: like Bachmann's use of third-party authority, a pretty common strategy designed to reduce her accountability. This isn't exactly a call for meta-commentary either---the main objection to work such as Reilly's is not that it's too philosophical to be practically useful, but that it's openly, unapologetically Machiavellian. For my part, I don't mind about that becasue the only way to combat a culture-wide outbreak of lying at the professional and political level is to make structures available to people with which they can understand and evaluate what they're being told. The alternative is to remain dependent on commentators---even good, progressive ones---and that's not a very good strategy.

Also, I'm more than a little bit suspicious that the real reason most commentary stops at the level of "revealing" individual lies, of imposing standards of "transparency," is that it allows the critic to deploy their own strategies (maybe even the same ones being used by those they're criticizing) to manipulate information and improve their negotiating position. In other words, I don't trust critics who aren't willing to go further and to be at least a little philosophical. The old adage about teaching a man to fish rather than just giving him one seems to apply here.

what's the problem here. america has agreed to be ruled by politicians. politicians get in office by lying. you are ruled by liars. qed.
Excellent coverage, Steve...this is politics...a bloodsport...xox
Thanks for singling out "Bring back HUAC" Bachmann. Can't the folks in her district tell that she is dangerously demented? As for the Big Lie, it seems to be more popular now than ever, at least in my adult life. the Repubs act like they care more about regaining power than the consequences of any mistruth they utter. So much for civil discourse.
Boko, Thanks. I think that was the most brilliant, eloquent, and multi-faceted comment I have ever received.
" The people that believe her are well how shall I say this without being too offensive; a bunch of mindless zombies that don’t do any thinking without permission from the appropriate brainwashing cult leader."

Gee, Zachary, if this doesn't sound exactly like a certain brain-dead truck driver from Elon, NC, who slinks from blog to blog bringing with him nothing but bald faced lies -- this is what we refer to when we say compulsive (sorry about the 3-syllable word catnliar).

My confusion is how anyone could take such a self-centered dingbat seriously...and she certainly isn't the lone wolf. The fact that these sort of vacuous people are elected to serve says more about the public than it does the politicians.
The right-wing lie that drives me up the wall is that, "Liberals are always lying." I think that there is something innately human about charging others with the defect the speaker exemplifies himself or herself.

Being from Minneapolis myself, I find Bachmann to be an embarrassment to the whole state. But, even if she'd get defeated, she'd probably still command air time on the news just like Sarah Palin.
It's almost surprising that they are able to grade the BS she's spouting. She tends to be so far off the mark that it recalls the expression "Not even wrong".

But what does it matter? Her supporters won't visit They create their own reality. As you say, lies work. The serious reporters in your media will react by debating the premiss: "Yes, Pelosi didn't actually drink $100,000 worth of booze - but what does it say about her that people believe such things?" And even if the media were to make a big issue out of every lie Bachmann tells, the barrage of news stories would simply convince republican voters that she is the victim of a smear campaign by the librul media.
I love it!! Repubs have no ideas, no fixes, just more bullshit, just the Karl Rove approach consisting of smears, distortions, and lies....I hope a whole bunch of them get elected in November so they can demonstrate their incompetence!! The economy is a "done deal", and it's never coming back.....nothing will help now other than the elimination of corporations, the military-corporate complex, and the rich in general.

As I just heard an economist from Chile say, "Americans accept that 1% of the population can own all the wealth while manipulating and controlling the other 99%...." Stupidity usually gets what it deserves!!
Amy, you touch on some fascinating points. I admire your passion on the subject of: "The economy is a "done deal", and it's never coming back." The old economy we had is never coming back as it was. When really smart guys like Warren Buffett say the economy will come back, it will just take awhile, I think: 1) they are protecting their interests, and 2) they are optimists that we can generate new jobs in new areas as we always have. Who knows, maybe Buffett is right on that count. But neither party's approach will have much effect on the process short of an actual government work program, which is pointless to even bring up in this environment--I have been saying that for a while. The Republican approach to the campaign can only be described as a cynical manipulation of desperate people. As to the Chilean economist, well, he implies that what we have is a trickle down democracy; the poorer you are the less you get. And who is to say it doesn't work like that?
A comment has been deleted from this thread. I do not allow my blog to serve as a forum for offensive posts pertaining to private vendettas. All other comments are welcome, and from all parties. Thank you.
Ever notice how Michele Bachman's eyes look just like Lucy's did when Desi confronted her about one of her schemes in "I Love Lucy?" This is a great post.