Fact-Checking the Campaign Ads

Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact.com, fact checks recent claims made in political ads for the presidential campaigns. Topics include a gas-tax holiday and how to pay for health-care plans.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Okay. Now we're going to play some campaign ads. And the first thing you're going to hear is sound from a video. It's from the Republican National Committee. It claims that Senator Barack Obama flip-flopped on a gas tax holiday.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): I propose that the federal government suspend all taxes on gasoline now paid by the American people from Memorial Day to Labor Day of this year.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I think John McCain's proposal for a three-month tax holiday is a bad idea.

HANSEN: The ad also claims that Obama supported a similar tax holiday when he was a state senator in Illinois.

Bill Adair, the editor of PolitiFact.com, has been helping us sort through some of the candidates' claims, and today he's here whether Barack Obama did flip-flop. Welcome back.

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

HANSEN: So, when you put this ad through your Truth-o-Meter, what did you find?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, we ended up giving it a barely true on the Truth-o-Meter. And the reason was that although the video is technically correct, that Obama did support a tax holiday in 2000. when you go back and look at what happened, it's a little more complicated than that.

After supporting it - when he first supported it, he raised concerns that the benefits wouldn't get to consumers. And when the six-month period ended and they were voting whether to extend it, he decided that he wasn't convinced the benefits were getting to consumers, so he opposed the extension.

So the RNC video makes it look like a clear flip-flop. It's really not. There's some mitigating circumstances here and so we gave it a barely true.

(Soundbite of ad)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I'm Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.

Unidentified Man: He couldn't answer tough questions…

HANSEN: Now, let's talk about the healthcare numbers in a Hillary Clinton TV ad that says with great authority that Barack Obama's plan will cost taxpayers $1,700 more to cover each new person.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man: Hillary's plan covers everyone. Obama's leaves 15 million people out. Obama's attacks have been called, quote, "destructive and poisoning."

HANSEN: Now, in that ad, when the words destructive and poisoning appear on the screen, for example, there's a tagline there that says New York Times, February 2nd, 2008, and that's just one example when you're using quotations in the ad. What's going on with these taglines?

Mr. ADAIR: Those taglines are really the trick that campaigns are using these days to mislead the public, I think, and try to foil fact checkers. What they're doing is they're trying to give credibility to their message. But what we have found when we dig into these is that they're often not what they claim to be.

In the case of this ad, the ad says that Obama's plan will cost $1,700 more and cites the New York Times. And so you hear that and you might think, oh, well, the New York Times checked it out and estimated it would be $1,700. Not true. This comes from a blog posting by a New York Times columnist who is opposed to the Obama plan.

And he references a study that really doesn't do what the Clinton ad says it does. So, it's really misleading. We ended up giving the $1,700 claim a barely true on the Truth-o-Meter.

HANSEN: Let's end with a TV ad from Senator Barack Obama. And this one claims that Hillary wants to have wages garnished for healthcare coverage.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man #2: Hillary Clinton's attacking, but what she's not telling you about her healthcare plan: It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don't.

HANSEN: How did this one do when it went through your Truth-o-Meter?

Mr. ADAIR: We gave it a half true, specifically to the claim that Hillary's plan would require wages to be garnished. And the plan doesn't say that. And although she has left that open as an option, it isn't the way the ad portrays. The ad makes it sound like it's going to be a mandatory thing and immediately your wages are going to be garnished. So, this one ended up a half true on the Truth-o-Meter.

HANSEN: Bill Adair edits PolitiFact.com, a Web site run by Congressional Quarterly and the St. Petersburg Times. The newspaper also employs him as its Washington bureau chief.

And if you know of any campaign ads that you would like PolitiFact to put through their Truth-o-Meter, go to npr.org/sundaysoapbox and send a note to Bill Adair.

Bill Adair, thanks for coming in again.

Mr. ADAIR: Thanks for having me.

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