Editor’s Note: Part of the CNN political fact-checking series
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney of taking out of context comments he made about bilingual education. The speaker’s comments are referenced in a Spanish-language political ad. During Thursday night’s CNN Republican candidates debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Romney about it, “You’ve had an ad running saying that Speaker Gingrich called Spanish – quote – ‘The language of the ghetto.’ What do you mean by that?”
“I haven’t seen the ad, so I’m sorry, I don’t get to see all the TV ads. Did he say that? Did you say that?” – Former Gov. Mitt Romney said, first to Blitzer, then to Gingrich.
“No, what I said was, we want everybody to learn English – I didn’t use the word ‘Spanish.’ We do not want anyone trapped in a situation where they cannot get a commercial job, they cannot rise.” – Gingrich
“I doubt that’s my ad, but we’ll take a look and find out.” – Romney
The advertisement in question is a Spanish-language radio ad airing in Florida. The ad says, “Reagan never would have offended the Hispanics as Gingrich did when he said that Spanish is the language of the ghetto.” At the end of the ad is the phrase, “Paid for by Romney for President, Incorporated,” followed by a voice that sounds like Romney’s that says, in halting Spanish, “I’m Mitt Romney. I’m running for president and I approve this message.”
The advertisement was an apparent reference to a speech that Gingrich delivered on March 31, 2007, to the National Federation of Republican Women in Washington in which he said, “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and so they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.”
After his “ghetto” comment stirred criticism, Gingrich made a video in which he said his words “were not the best.”
The verdict: Misleading. While Romney says he doubted the ad was his, a news release sent by his press office one day before the debate, includes a link to the Spanish-language radio ad and offers highlights of the ad’s major themes, including the, “Spanish is the language of the ghetto” accusation. The ad, entitled, “Hechos,” or “Facts,” includes examples that attempt to show that Gingrich is not a “Reagan conservative.” It is clear from both the news release and the ad itself that it was “Paid For by Romney for President, Incorporated.”
While Spanish is the largest single language other than English used in bilingual education in the United States, Gingrich is correct that he did not specifically refer to Spanish as the language of the ghetto. However, he did release the video later saying his word choice in the March 31 speech was not the best.
CNN’s Chris Lett and Tom Watkins contributed to this report