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May 6th, 2009

In the 1970s, “the swine flu broke out . . . under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter.”

Michele Bachmann on Monday, April 27, 2009 in an interview with Pajamas Media.

The Truth-O-Meter Says: Michele Bachmann wrong that swine flu broke out under Carter

Pants on Fire!Michele Bachmann, a Republican member of Congress from Minnesota, is known for her controversial remarks. During the fall of 2008, she nearly lost her re-election campaign because she said Barack Obama “may have anti-American views.” In a 2009 radio interview, she said incorrectly that six Muslim clerics who were removed from a US Airways flight in 2006 were attending a “victory celebration” for Keith Ellison, a Muslim who was elected to Congress.

So we weren’t exactly surprised when we heard her suggest a link between Democratic presidents and the swine flu. Here’s her comment, from an interview with Pajamas Media:

“I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”

Well, at least she’s right about the decade. Yes, the last big swine flu scare occurred in the 1970s. But other than that, her statement is utterly false.

The scare began in February 1976 when recruits at Fort Dix, N.J., came down with flu symptoms, and one died. This led to fears of a pandemic. The president in 1976 was Gerald Ford — a Republican.

Ford, following the advice of public health officials, called for a nationwide vaccination program. In just 10 days, 40 million Americans were vaccinated. But three senior citizens died shortly after receiving their swine flu shots. A public outcry blamed the deaths on the immunizations even though there was no evidence. As a recent article in Salon notes, “The government had long feared mass panic about swine flu — now they feared mass panic about the swine flu vaccinations.”

Political analyst Craig Crawford wrote this week that “Gerald Ford’s decision to inoculate every person in the country (including himself) resulted in a political debacle that contributed to a reputation for incompetence that scuttled his 1976 election bid.”

Swine flu also surfaced briefly in 1988, killing a woman in Wisconsin who had visited a swine exhibit at a county fair. The president at the time was Ronald Reagan — a Republican.

So Bachmann is wrong about a Democrat being in charge during the 1976 outbreak and she fails to note the swine flu death in 1988. Hmmm. Two swine flu incidents during Republican administrations. By Bachmann’s logic, we should find that “interesting.” But we don’t. It’s ridiculous for her to suggest a partisan link with a deadly disease. That’s not just a mistake, that’s absurdly false.

So we’ll get out the lighter (after we wash our hands!) and set the Truth-O-Meter ablaze. This one’s a Pants on Fire.


Related link: The Bachmann File



Statement published: Thursday, April 30, 2009


YouTube, Bachmann interview, April 28, 2009

Political Punch blog, Bachmann responds to controversy, Oct. 28, 2008

KSFO Radio, Interview with Michelle Bachmann, April 9, 2009

Politico, Bachmann: Flying Imams attended Ellison party, April 16, 2009

Salon, The last great swine flu epidemic, April 28, 2009

Craig Crawford in Huffington Post, Obama’s great flu challenge, April 26, 2009

Centers for Disease Control, Key facts about Swine Influenza (swine flu), accessed April 30, 2009


Written by Bill Adair
Researched by Bill Adair
Edited by Scott Montgomery

PolitiFact.comPolitiFact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times to help you find the truth in American politics. Reporters and editors from the Times fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups and rate them on our Truth-O-Meter. Were also tracking more than 500 of Barack Obamas campaign promises and are rating their progress on our new Obameter. » More

St. Petersburg Times

Acknowledgment: Content adapted from PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project of the St. Petersburg Times.



Video: Bachmann swine flu gaffe discussed on KSTP

Michele Bachmann’s swine flu hogwash was discussed on Twin Cities ABC affiliate KSTP’s “At Issue” with Tom Hauser, May 3, 2009. When asked to comment about Rep. Bachmann’s statements, Dave Thompson, candidate for Minnesota Republican Party chair stated that he could not defend Bachmann’s remarks, which harmed all Republicans.

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