Truth-Squading The Latest Attack Ads

With midterm elections just weeks away, guest host Rebecca Roberts speaks with Bill Adair, editor of the nonpartisan website PolitiFact, to truth-squad the latest campaign ads.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

We're now entering the home stretch for the midterm elections, which means candidates are pulling up heavy ammo with harder-hitting campaign ads. Bill Adair is editor of the nonpartisan fact-checking website PolitiFact.com. He's with us here in our Washington, D.C. studios to truth squad a handful of the latest TV ads. Bill, welcome back.

Mr. BILL ADAIR (Editor, PolitiFact.com): Thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: This tends to be the time when candidates start pulling out the stops and people start paying attention. What in general are you seeing out there this campaign season?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, a lot of attacks, particularly with Republicans trying to link Democrats to Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. On the Republican side, we're seeing a lot of complaints from the Democrats that they are going to take us back to the lack of regulation, the Democrats say, that brought down the economy.

ROBERTS: Let's start with an ad. This is from a conservative anti-tax group called Americans for Job Security. And their target is Zach Space. He's an incumbent Democratic congressman from Ohio.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Woman: Zach Space voted for Nancy Pelosi's budgets and debt, for job-killing energy taxes and for her wasteful stimulus and we still lost more than 2.5 million jobs.

ROBERTS: So, Bill, how close was that to the truth?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, we gave that one a half-true on our truth-o-meter. Indeed, Zach Space had voted for the budget, but he did not vote to raise the debt limit, as the ad suggests. He supported the cap-and-trade bill but it really is quite a stretch to call that an energy tax. And the job count number was right. So, overall, that one earned a half-true on our truth-o-meter.

ROBERTS: So, from Ohio, let's head south to Florida, the Senate race there. Independent candidate Charlie Crist says in a new ad that his Republican contender, Marco Rubio, tried to insert one-and-a-half million dollars into the Florida state budget for a rowing institute. Let's listen to part of the ad.

(Soundbite of ad)

Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Independent Senatorial Candidate, Florida): Rubio tried to sneak almost $500 million in earmarks into the budget. I vetoed them; one and a half million dollars for a rowing institute: vetoed; $800,000 for artificial turf on a Miami field where he played flag football: I vetoed that too.

ROBERTS: One and a half million dollars for a rowing institute?

Mr. ADAIR: That is just a real distortion. We gave that our lowest rating: pants on fire. And the reason is that it was not sneaking. In Florida, all these earmarks are laid out very clearly and it was clear who the supporter of this was, but it was not Marco Rubio, it was another lawmaker. And so it's just a real distortion the way Crist has that, so he gets out lowest rating: pants on fire.

ROBERTS: It seems like a lot of the substance of attack lines from Democrats this election season, and in fact often in other election seasons is that Republicans want to privatize Social Security. There's an example of this from Wisconsin.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man: Politician Reid Ribble has a worse idea: Ribble wants to phase out Social Security, forcing Wisconsin seniors to fend for themselves.

ROBERTS: And the ad goes on to play this actually nearly inaudible clip of Ribble suggesting that somehow we have to establish a phase out of the current Social Security system. So, what's wrong with this ad?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, a couple of things. First of all, it refers to Reid Ribble as a politician, but he's not. He's actually never run for office before, so that part is false. What's really misleading about it is this idea that seniors would have to fend for themselves.

Indeed, Ribble does support the plan that many Republicans support that would create personal accounts, but like most Republicans, he would do so only after protecting current seniors so that they continue to get their Social Security benefits. So, they would not fend for themselves the way he suggests. So, we also gave this one our lowest rating: pants on fire.

ROBERTS: Bill Adair is editor of the nonpartisan website, PolitiFact.com. NPR and PolitiFact are working together to fact check some of what you'll hear between now and the November 2nd midterm vote. You can always find that at NPR.org/TheMessageMachine. Bill, thanks so much.

Mr. ADAIR: Thanks for having me.

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