Bachmann's latest gaffe adds to a long string of them
October 5th, 2011
06:00 AM ET
11 years ago

Bachmann's latest gaffe adds to a long string of them

Sioux City, Iowa (CNN) – After a string of high-profile gaffes, Michele Bachmann has made another that could provide one more piece of ammunition to critics who claim she doesn't always get her facts straight.

Some three weeks after saying she'd heard that a human papillomavirus vaccine caused mental retardation, the Republican presidential candidate again repeated something she was "told" that turns out to be inaccurate.

In this case, the Minnesota congresswoman - who has staked much of her campaign on having a solid understanding of taxes, spending and budgets - flubbed an important fact about which states are faring well in the troubled economy.

At issue: Bachmann's comments at a Monday town hall meeting in Sioux City, Iowa, which at first went unnoticed by the attending audience and assembled press.

After laying out reasons for her candidacy, and for making President Obama a "one-term president," Bachmann took questions from the audience. One of them was South Dakota State Sen. Dan Lederman.

"My question, actually, is about the Obama administration's delay of the Keystone Pipeline. I just want to know what your thoughts were about that delay?" Lederman asked. He was referring to a controversial proposal for a 1,700-mile oil pipeline between Alberta, Canada, and Texas.

Bachmann began her answer by saying, "Well we need it. It's tremendously beneficial. And it's part of the answer for the United States. It's jobs, it's dealing with energy, it's a positive solution."

"So the federal government should get out of the way and allow it to come through," Bachmann added.

Seconds later, Bachmann did what she's done before: repeat something she'd heard as fact.

"I was talking with a businessman this morning up in Minneapolis," she said. "And he was up in Williston, North Dakota, where the Bakken oil field is producing."

"Someone told me that last year that North Dakota was the only nation that actually was running a surplus. And it's because they're utilizing their natural energy resources," Bachmann added.

The congresswoman calling North Dakota a "nation" was clearly misspeaking. But more glaring: North Dakota was one of four states to run a surplus last year.

Bachmann campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart responded to CNN's questions about the statement, saying, "The point Michele was making is that the country and states would benefit by legalizing all energy production and not picking winners and losers, as President Obama did with Solyndra. She disagrees with the president on energy - while he views it in terms of environmental policy, she views it in terms of economic policy."

The non-partisan research group, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, tracks the financial health of states.

Liz McNichol, a senior fellow with the group, told CNN that for fiscal year 2011, Montana, Alaska and Arkansas also saw a surplus.

McNichol said it's understandable why Bachmann might mention North Dakota.

"North Dakota's been the subject of discussion all the way through because they've fared better than almost any other state," McNichol said. But "it's not completely accurate to say that North Dakota was the only state that was not running a shortfall, last year."

Brandon Sharp, Arkansas state budget administrator, also spoke with CNN.

"The state of Arkansas had a $94 million surplus at the end of fiscal year 2011," Sharp said.

Sarah Elliott, Communications Director for Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer told CNN, "For fiscal year 2011, Montana ended the year with a $340 million surplus, money in the bank."

Bachmann frequently uses precise figures to make scathing political points against opponents. So her latest comments beg the question: Should voters expect her to verify what she's "heard" before repeating it as fact?

Bachmann is certainly not alone in getting her facts wrong. In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama mistakenly said he'd traveled to 57 U.S. states. Later, Obama admitted he misspoke. Also, critics deride Vice President Joe Biden as a gaffe machine. Among them: just after the 2009 inauguration, Biden mistakenly referred to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens – who swore Biden into office – as Justice Stewart. And in 2008, Biden talked about the crash of the stock market under President Franklin D. Roosevelt – although the crash happened in 1929 under President Herbert Hoover.

But Bachmann's gaffes are unique in that they frequently involve the congresswoman repeating items to make a political point – information that seemingly could be easily verified.

Earlier this month, at the CNN tea party debate, Bachmann slammed Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2007 decision to require vaccinations for Texas school girls against the HPV virus which may cause cervical cancer. The next day, Bachmann appeared on network television and said she'd heard that from a woman, just after the debate, who said her daughter took the vaccine and suffered mental retardation.

Health experts roundly rejected any link between the HPV virus and mental retardation and Bachmann was forced to clarify.

In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Bachmann said: "I wasn't speaking as a doctor. I wasn't speaking as a scientist."

"I was merely passing on...what I had heard," she said.

In November 2010, Bachmann told CNN's Anderson Cooper that Obama's trip to Asia would cost $200 million per day. When pressed to explain, Bachmann said, "Well these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press."

CNN later showed that number to be unfounded and traced the figure to an unnamed Indian official quoted in a foreign news service.  After Bachmann's HPV comments, her former chief of staff told Cooper his former boss is "impulsive."

"To her credit, she reads an awful lot of information," Ron Carey said. "But sometimes I'm afraid that she reads maybe 80 or 90% and leaves out or forgets the 10 or 20% that can change the outcome."

"So her impulsive nature – coupled with the fact that she sometimes doesn't digest information as carefully as she should – leads to these kinds of impulsive statements that sometimes are just off the mark enough that it makes her into more of a provocative, controversial figure," Carey added.

Follow Shannon Travis on Twitter @ShanTravisCNN

Also see:

State of the Race without Christie

Longtime Illinois Rep. to step down in 2012

Romney picks up new backers

Perry brings in $17 million in third fundraising quarter


Filed under: 2012 • Iowa • Michele Bachmann
soundoff (549 Responses)
  1. Expat American

    It's pretty safe to say that there won't be a Conservative in the White House in 2012......or ever.

    October 5, 2011 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  2. texan

    Focus, Michele-- Focus. ---Concentrate. I know you`re tired, but try to focus.---- This is your dream, don`t turn it into a nightmare.

    October 5, 2011 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  3. tet1953

    Bachmann constantly just makes stuff up when she gets in front of a microphone. It would be hilariious if the stakes weren't so high. Must we wait all the way to the NH primary before we are rid of this whacko?

    October 5, 2011 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  4. T

    I don't think you want a President who is "impulsive" and goes off half-cocked based on some of the available information, especially when their information is "I heard someone said", and they don't even know who said it, much less whether that person is a reliable source.

    I certainly don't want such a person with their hand hovering over the big red button, ready to push it based on 75% of the facts and not willing to verify first.

    Reagan said it best - "trust, but verify" - Now there was a wisdom - check your facts, THEN act.

    And Obama is the same way – he doesn't listen to everything either - and I have actually never voted Democrat in my life, certainly not for Obama. But not for Palin/McCain either (I think she was the real candidate once he put her on the ticket, which was a huge mistake).

    Bachmann is another Palin by a different name - a woman who got attention and votes via dramatics and emotion, not calculated facts and intellect and experience.

    You don't want dramatics and emotions to be the qualifications of a candidate - wisdom, quiet experience, validated skills, and an ability to work well with others are what you want.

    October 5, 2011 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  5. Stop the Charade

    Stop being so picky about facts. Its all about slogans, people. Stop trying to use reason and common sense to try to figure out why in the world any person with brains, other than multimillionaires, CEOs and reactionary Bible Belters, would give a second thought to the GOP.

    October 5, 2011 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  6. John

    We knew it was just a matter of time when she hired former Biden speech writer Gaffy McGafferson.

    October 5, 2011 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  7. demogal

    "...passing on what I had heard." Michele should practice advice my mother gave me long ago: Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.

    October 5, 2011 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  8. Sniffit

    "Should voters expect her to verify what she's "heard" before repeating it as fact?"

    Perhaps she shouldn't be lying about having "heard" it in the first place. It's clearly just a superficial ploy for throwing out statements as if they are truth and then not having to take responsibility for them. It happens so often with her...this time, the HPV vaccine thing, claiming that some random Japanese person told her that all of Japan lives in fear of being put on a list not to receive medical care for criticizing Japan's gov't health care system, etc. It's not even arguable anymore: she uses this "I heard it from someone" device as a means of injecting misinformation and skewed ideas into the public discussion without (she thinks) having to take responsibility for it, apologize for it or walk it back when she gets caught...after all, it wasn't her saying it, just "someone else" who she and her staff no doubt magically fabricated.

    October 5, 2011 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  9. Geoz

    When is it going to stop being news that MB was wrong on her facts?

    October 5, 2011 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  10. Sniffit

    Liar lies. Story at 11.

    October 5, 2011 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  11. firebird9999

    Impulsive? Not a good quality for President. Can be downright dangerous, in fact.

    October 5, 2011 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  12. Good Solid God Fearing Republican

    She is stupid, of course. What else explains it? Teabaggers = Stupid. Teabaggers WANT to elect stupid people. Go figure.

    October 5, 2011 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  13. Barnacle Bill

    "Health experts roundly rejected any link between the HPV virus and mental retardation and Bachmann was forced to clarify."

    The link to retardation is from your supporters, Michele. Supporting you causes retardation, or is it just a symptom?

    October 5, 2011 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  14. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Someone told me that last year that North Dakota was the only nation that actually was running a surplus."

    Hey, Michele. I've been talking to many people here in Minnesota, and guess what? Someone told me that although you represent our great state, WE have a budget deficit. Three thoughts come to mind:

    1. Why aren't you addressing budget issues from your own home state?

    2. What have you done to improve conditions here in Minnesota?

    3. Do you even care what's happening in Minnesota anymore?

    Take all the time you need in getting back to us. Your silence in all things Minnesota has become legendary.

    October 5, 2011 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  15. Panelist

    She's not ready for the big stage yet, she needs a much better internal filter.

    That said, I think she's completely nuts anyway.

    October 5, 2011 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  16. llinmpls

    Have you ever been to Montana? How is it they squeezed $340 million out of taxes? In Montana you either have money or you don't – it's like Haiti.

    October 5, 2011 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  17. Zach

    After Bachmann's HPV comments, her former chief of staff told Cooper his former boss is "impulsive."

    "To her credit, she reads an awful lot of information," Ron Carey said. "But sometimes I'm afraid that she reads maybe 80 or 90% and leaves out or forgets the 10 or 20% that can change the outcome."

    "So her impulsive nature – coupled with the fact that she sometimes doesn't digest information as carefully as she should – leads to these kinds of impulsive statements that sometimes are just off the mark enough that it makes her into more of a provocative, controversial figure," Carey added.

    Yeah, that's how I want my president to run the country. Wow.

    October 5, 2011 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  18. mbcoh

    Someone told me that they could trace their ancestry back 6000 years – that's the beginning of time folks! – and indeed back then their primary source of transportation was a brontosaurus buggy.

    October 5, 2011 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  19. PJ

    Impulsive or repulsive? That Bachmann's World view has almost NO basis in reality is a telling point on the GOP, Conservatives and the NATION of Minnesota- how mentally ill do you have to be before you're confined?

    October 5, 2011 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  20. Lesly Messina

    I meant to write "in 2011". Typo

    October 5, 2011 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  21. tannim

    This isn't a gaffe unelss you're a critic.

    Referring to North Dakota as a nation is simply an accident, especially considering before Bakken it's best-known product was leftwing blowhard Ed Schulz.

    The "only one" comment on a surplus is understandable because very few people know about the other three having a surplus. Probably she didn't either. Betcha CNN didn't!

    However, she is quoted as saying, ""Someone told me that last year that North Dakota was the only nation that actually was running a surplus." That may very well be true, but repeating what some said, even if it was wrong, is not a gaffe.

    The real issue is that she didn't know it was wrong and therefore repeated it. That's poor fact-checking and poor judgment.

    But not a gaffe.

    October 5, 2011 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  22. Rosslaw

    Not impulsive, merely stupid.

    October 5, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  23. Norm

    Goodbye Mrs. Bachmann. Will the next contestant "Come On Down!"

    October 5, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  24. drinky

    She'd a brain dead ROBthePUBLICan...oh wait, I've been redundant...

    October 5, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  25. hjs3

    "Getting it right" and or accurate all too often appears to be a shortfall of these T/P candidates.
    Old adage says that while you're entitled to your opinions, you're not entitled to your own facts.

    Frequency of these occurrences might even lead one to surmise that many of these candidates suffer from more than regular migraines.

    October 5, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
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