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Fact-checking Palin's Tea Party speech

Palin makes a few errors in her convention speech - and on Fox News Sunday

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Sarah Palin made a splash over the weekend as the keynote speaker at the first National Tea Party convention, and she followed up with an interview on Fox News Sunday. But she didn’t always stick to the facts.

• Palin implied that the Nigerian would-be Christmas Day bomber stopped talking after he was read his Miranda rights. He did, but not for good. He began talking again extensively after counterterrorism agents enlisted the help of his family, and he has provided information on all the subjects Palin mentioned, authorities say.

• Palin stretched the truth when she said that $6 million in stimulus funds went to a Democratic pollster. In fact, only $4.36 million was spent on the contract, which was with the giant public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, where the pollster is CEO.

• Palin repeated her oft-stated, greatly exaggerated claim that Alaska produces 20 percent of the U.S. domestic energy supply. The actual figure is just under 2.9 percent.

• Her claim that the state spent "millions" dealing with ethics complaints against her is one that has been disputed. Her own tally is less than $2 million, and an Anchorage newspaper said most of that was salaries of state workers who would have been paid whether or not Palin was being investigated.

Analysis

Palin, the former governor of Alaska and newly-signed Fox News commentator, had a highly visible weekend, delivering the keynote address Saturday at the National Tea Party convention and appearing Sunday on Fox News for an interview with host Chris Wallace.

Questioning the Questioning of a Would-Be Bomber

Palin was enthusiastically welcomed at the Tea Party gathering, but her 41-minute speech included a few factual missteps. In her critique of President Obama’s actions on the foreign policy front, she mentioned the handling of would-be airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Palin, National Tea Party address, Feb. 6: What followed was equally disturbing after he was captured. He was questioned for only 50 minutes. We have a choice in how to do this. The choice was only question him for 50 minutes and then read his Miranda rights. The administration says then there are no downsides or upsides to treating terrorists like civilian criminal defendants. But a lot of us would beg to differ. For example, there are questions we would have liked this foreign terrorist to answer before he lawyered up and invoked our U.S. constitutional right to remain silent. …

There are questions that we would have liked answered before he lawyered up, like where exactly were you trained and by whom. You are bragging about all these other terrorists just like you, who are they? When and where will they try to strike next?

According to a recent Associated Press account of the Christmas Day handling of the bombing suspect, the FBI questioned Abdulmutallab in the hospital in Detroit, where the plane landed, for about 50 minutes before he went into surgery. The suspect also spoke to federal officials who were guarding him and medical personnel. According to this account and others, he spoke freely about what he’d done, how it was planned, where he was trained and his al-Qaeda contacts. The FBI interview ended after Abdulmutallab was given medication; intelligence personnel decided to let the drugs wear off before questioning him further. He then went into surgery. Hours later, the FBI decided to send a "clean team" of interrogators in. They read him his Miranda rights, since his statements likely could not be used in federal court otherwise, and he stopped talking.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

A senior administration official told reporters last week that Abdulmutallab has been cooperating for weeks, thanks to the presence of two family members who were convinced by counterterrorism officials to come to the U.S. to aid the investigation. The relatives met with the suspect for several days and persuaded him to cooperate. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller and others, Abdulmutallab has provided valuable intelligence.

New York Times, Feb. 2: “He’s retracing his activities over there,” said the official, who would discuss the case only on the condition of anonymity. “You run to ground what he tells you, validate it and follow up. You build a relationship. It’s a pretty standard process.”

And one that would allow the suspect to be prosecuted, if that is the path the administration decides to take.

Panning the Pollster

Palin repeated an exaggerated figure when she claimed that a "Democrat pollster" had gotten $6 million in federal stimulus funds:

Palin: Nearly 6 million dollars was given to a Democrat pollster who had already made millions during the Democrats’ presidential primary.

She was referring to a report in The Hill newspaper, widely repeated elsewhere, which said that contracts worth $5.97 million had gone to two firms run by Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s pollster in 2008, to work on a public-relations campaign to advertise the national switch from analog to digital television. Penn is CEO of the giant public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, in addition to being president of the polling firm Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. But according to the company, which called The Hill’s report "fundamentally inaccurate," the contracts were completed on time and under budget, for much less than that.

Burson-Marsteller, Dec. 9, 2009: The contract allowed for $6 million, but only $4.36 million of that total was spent to complete the initiative. Of the $4.36 million actually spent, most went for the media buy and to a long list of 3rd party vendors.

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Burson-Marsteller said the polling firm’s fees totaled $142,000 and the public relations firm was paid $1.375 million for professional services, much of it subcontracted to a number of other firms. It also said the contracts with the Federal Trade Commission were obtained through competititve bidding.

The firm’s account is backed up by the journal PR Week, which followed the contracts closely. It had actually reported on Nov. 25 — several days before The Hill story appeared — that the “final tally” spent for the work was $4.36 million. The PR Week story quoted a spokesman for the Federal Communications Commission, which administered the contract.

Wrong Again on Energy

On Fox News Sunday, Palin repeated her wildly false claim that Alaska produces one-fifth of the nation’s energy:

Palin, Fox News Sunday, Feb. 7: [Alaska is the] largest, most diverse state in the union, 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy coming from our state.

This is far from true, just as it was in 2008 when she claimed the same thing.

Back then we noted that the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed that Alaska accounted for 3.5 percent of all domestic energy production in 2005, the most recent figures then available. Now the figure is even lower. The EIA’s current statistical breakdown shows Alaska’s energy production made up just under 2.9 percent of the U.S. total in 2007.

Palin is confusing oil production with energy production. Alaska accounts for none of the nation’s nuclear power, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its coal production and only 2.2 percent of its natural gas production, according to official EIA figures. And even when it comes to oil production, Palin is using outdated information. The North Slope production has been declining for years, and in 2007 the percentage of U.S. oil energy produced by Alaska was just 14.3 percent.

Ethical Costs?

Palin also repeated a disputed claim that the state of Alaska spent "millions" dealing with ethics complaints against her, a reason she had given for resigning as governor.

Chris Wallace, Fox News Sunday, Feb. 7: Didn’t you let your enemies, your opponents, drive you from office?

Palin: Hell, no! Thankfully, I didn’t. What we did was we won, because the state today — it’s not spending millions of dollars to fight these frivolous lawsuits and frivolous ethics charges.

It’s true that ethics charges against Palin — none of which have been upheld — became a distraction for her and an expense to the state. The state personnel board itself said that the cost of dealing with complaints was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But it’s questionable whether the cost to state taxpayers could be counted in the "millions," as Palin continues to claim. The best her staff could come up with to support that was a detailed accounting last year that totaled $1,963,840 — which if rounded up to $2 million would justify the use of the plural "millions." But most of the cost in that accounting was for state employees’ compensation. Those workers would have been paid by the state anyway, whether they were working on the Palin complaints or something else. Furthermore, the total was later disputed by the Anchorage Daily News, which found some double-counting and other discrepancies.

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