Fact checking the fact checkers: food stamp president example

Newt Gingrich struck a nerve when he characterized President Barack Obama as “the food stamp president.” [LA Times]. One way to tell is by the ‘fact checker’ articles like Fact Checker: Is Gingrich right about food stamps? that determine that Gingrich was off base.

Newt Gingrich claims that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.”

He’s wrong. More were added under Bush than under Obama, according to the most recent figures.

The deal here is comparing a tenure of 8 years to one of 3 years. That is how numbers can be made to distort reality.

Why is this such a nerve?

Gingrich often cites the number of persons on food stamps to support his view that the U.S. is becoming an “entitlement society,” increasingly dependent on government aid. And he has a point. One out of seven Americans is currently getting food stamps.

But Gingrich strains the facts when he accuses Obama of being responsible. The rise started long before Obama took office, and accelerated as the nation was plunging into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

Because Bush Did It! The common refrain in the current administration is to blame all ills on its predecessor and the fact checkers are ‘straining the facts’ to try to prove the point.

Tom Blumer asserts, though, that Barack Obama Is the Food Stamp President.

Stating that fundamental truth does not make Gingrich or anyone else a racist, as leftist smear merchants in government, the Democratic Party, and the establishment press want America to believe.

Participation in the food stamp program, technically known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), has increased by 44% from 32.0 million in January 2009 to 46.2 million in October 2011, the last month for which data is available. During that time, the average monthly benefit per person has increased by over 18% from $114 to $135, even though the costs of food eaten at home have increased by only 5%, and even though gross benefits before deductions for income and assets three years ago roughly approximated what was needed to maintain adequate nutrition on a “thrifty meal plan.” Monthly program costs have increased by over 70%, from $3.6 billion to $6.2 billion.

So-called “fact-checkers” in the press are of course focusing on Gingrich’s one slightly wrong (for now) statement that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.”

There is a comparison and contrast between the ‘fact checker’ and the ‘checking the fact checker’ stories. It is a lesson in how nitpicking can find fault and bypass the message. That may ‘feel good’ but it doesn’t help when it comes to understanding.

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