Despite an otherwise lackluster performance, one area where President Barack Obama went on the offensive in Wednesday night's debate was over Mitt Romney's proposal for broad tax cuts.
Four times Obama repeated the conclusion of an independent analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center that those cuts would cost approximately $5 trillion. Romney, in response, claimed "I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale that you're talking about."
Faced with that contrast -- a statistic generated by a non-partisan, widely respected think tank versus an unsupported assertion by a guy essentially asking people to trust him -- who did CNN and FactCheck.org declare had the more factual response?
"Obama accused Romney of proposing a $5 trillion tax cut. Not true," FactCheck.org said. "Romney proposes to offset his rate cuts and promises he won’t add to the deficit."
If a reader read on a mere 755 words, however, they would discover a salient point about Romney's proposal. It is, in FactCheck's words, "The Impossible Plan" because there aren't enough tax breaks to take away from the rich to pay for it, as Romney has promised he would do.
Nevertheless, in FactCheck's accounting, Romney got credit for a response that "wasn't mathematically possible" and Obama got dinged with a "not true" for repeating the findings of the Tax Policy Center.
CNN's John Berman reached a similar conclusion last night.
"Romney said he would offset that by closing loopholes and reducing reductions," he said. "So if you take him at his word, our verdict [on Obama's claim] that Mitt Romney would cut taxes on the wealthy by $5 trillion, the verdict is false."
It's as if, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put it, "Romney says he’ll find a unicorn. And if you take him at his word, the verdict is false."
Romney's tax promises, The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn argued, were one of his most misleading moments during the debate. They were "so vague that the statements could mean absolutely nothing."
But that was good enough for the fact checkers.