Mitt Romney's troubles with the truth

It depends on what the meaning of the word "saw" is. At least this time.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 21, 2007 1:24PM (EST)

When Al Gore didn't say that he'd invented the Internet, when he didn't claim that he was a model for "Love Story" and didn't insist that he was the first to discover Love Canal, the mainstream media pilloried him as a puffer, a liar and a serial exaggerator. It still's happening, actually: Just last month, "Hardball's" Chris Matthews cited all the old false stories about Gore's not-false stories to declare that the former vice president had brought his troubles on himself by "vanity and showing off and trying to make himself cool."

Good morning, Gov. Romney!

When he could have been trying to make up ground lost to Mike Huckabee in Iowa or fending off a challenge from John McCain in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney spent a chunk of his day Thursday explaining that "saw" doesn't actually mean "saw."

In his carefully crafted "Faith in America" speech -- the one the campaign portrayed him as working on so diligently -- Romney declared: "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King Jr." But as the Boston Phoenix reported Thursday, there's "no evidence" that the elder Romney actually marched with King; the Romney campaign has relied on a 1967 book in which David Broder says that Romney's father "marched with Martin Luther King through the exclusive Grosse Pointe suburb of Detroit," but the Grosse Pointe Historical Society says King never marched in Grosse Pointe. And even if he did -- and even if Romney's father marched with him there -- it's now clear that the younger Romney did not, in fact, see it happen.

Romney acknowledged as much Thursday even as he insisted that he was right to say that he "saw" it himself. "I 'saw' him in the figurative sense," Romney said at a press conference. "The reference of seeing my father lead in civil rights and seeing my father march with Martin Luther King is in the sense of this figurative awareness of and recognition of his leadership."

Romney said he'd "tried be as accurate as I can be," then added: "If you look at the literature or look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes 'being aware of' -- in the sense I've described."

"I'm an English literature major," he said. "When we say, 'I saw the Patriots win the World Series,' it doesn't necessarily mean you were there."

He's right on that one, of course: If you said you saw the Patriots -- a professional football team -- win the World Series -- the championship for Major League Baseball -- then you almost certainly weren't there.

The Martin Luther King claim isn't the first time Romney has been caught making the kind of exaggerated claims that Gore didn't make.

At a campaign event earlier this year in New Hampshire, Romney told a fellow in an NRA cap, "I've been a hunter pretty much all my life." When challenged, his campaign said that Romney had gone hunting just twice -- once when he was 15 and once last year, when he shot at quail on an outing with GOP campaign contributors. Romney subsequently argued that he'd done more than that: "I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter," he said. "Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times."

Guns got Romney in more trouble this past weekend, when he appeared on "Meet the Press" and cited -- as proof of his gun-rights bona fides -- "the fact that" he had "received the endorsement of the NRA" as governor of Massachusetts. That fact wasn't a fact: As Romney spokesman Kevin Madden later had to acknowledge, the NRA did not endorse anyone in the 2002 gubernatorial race. As Romney did with the Martin Luther King claim, Madden was forced to argue for the figurative truth of the candidate's literal boast, saying Romney had received a "very respectable B grade rating from the NRA." That's true as far as it goes. What else is true: His opponent got an A.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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