Political Ads May Not Tell Whole Story

Political ads aren't quite as straightforward as they ought to be. Bill Adair, editor of Politifact.com, says it's important to sort through the rhetoric presented in the ads and get down to whether their claims are true or not.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

The first political ad ever aired on MTV went on this past week, and it is quite a doozy.

(Soundbite of political ad on MTV)

Unidentified Voiceover #1: Senator Obama is different. He holds two positions at the same time: Both ways on banning handguns, both ways on public campaign financing, and now both ways on withdrawing from Iraq. He wants to have them all both ways. He's "Both Ways Barack," worse than a flip-flopper.

SMITH: That was not put out by the McCain campaign, but by a 527 independent group. To find out exactly who is responsible for this and if it's accurate, we've ask Bill Adair, the editor of PolitiFact, to help us find the real truth of the matter. Welcome back to the show, Bill.

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

SMITH: So who came up with "Both Ways Barack," and is it true?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, we broke that ad down into three different claims. One part was true, and that had to do with public financing, that indeed Obama did flip-flop on public financing. He had said he would aggressively pursue it, and then ultimately decided not to take public financing. And then some of the other claims on Iraq, we found that despite what has been a common attack line against him, that he really has not flip-flopped. So, we gave that one a false.

SMITH: Well, you know, they say he's worse than a flip-flopper. So, I don't know what can be worse than flipping and flopping, but I guess they found at least the way to rhetorically take it over the top.

Mr. ADAIR: It's funny. It's as if it's there's a line in the campaign manual that says, you know, chapter three, call your opponent a flip-flopper. And that's how far we've gotten in this campaign, to chapter three.

SMITH: And this 527 who paid for this? Who are they?

Mr. ADAIR: It's called Let Freedom Ring, and it is a conservative group. I think we'll probably be hearing some more from their airing. It's not just on MTV, but also on CNN and Fox and some other cable news channels.

SMITH: Our next ad is from John McCain.

(Soundbite of John McCain 2008 Campaign Ad)

Unidentified Voiceover #2: Some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America, no to independence from foreign oil.

(Soundbite of zip sound)

Unidentified Voiceover #2: Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?

Crowd: Obama. Obama. Obama.

(Soundbite of zip sound)

SMITH: And you hear the chanting there of "Obama, Obama." You know, I - is he responsible for higher gas prices?

Mr. ADAIR: We think not. We gave this one a false on our Truth-O-Meter on PolitiFact.com. We actually have a lower rating than false that we call "pants on fire. The only reason that we didn't give it a pants on fire was we gave them some credit that I guess you could stretch it and say that Obama, because he opposes the expansion of offshore drilling, might embrace a policy that in some ways might be a factor in higher gasoline prices. But that's really quite a stretch.

SMITH: Well, I have followed the Obama campaign, and he does drive an SUV, at least on campaign events. So maybe we can peg him some responsibility for that. Let's go to the other side. Earlier this month, the Obama campaign emailed a statement to reporters, and this was their claim. Senator McCain's economic plan gives nearly four billion dollars in tax breaks to the oil companies but doesn't provide any tax relief to middle-class families. Is that true?

Mr. ADAIR: We gave this a barely true on our Truth-O-Meter, and this is typical of the kind of cherry picking that we're seeing from both campaigns. There's a grain of truth in both of those claims. Yes, the McCain tax plan does include a cut in corporate taxes, and you can extrapolate from that, that that would also benefit oil companies. But the way they say it, it makes it sound like there is a special break for oil companies that it really doesn't have.

And the other piece is the claim that the McCain plan does nothing for the middle class. It actually does a fair amount for the middle class, extending the Bush tax cuts and child tax credits and exemptions that benefit the middle class. So, that one earned a barely true on our Truth-O-Meter.

SMITH: There's something about the increase in gas prices that's allowed a lot of campaigns to take advantage of it, because people don't really understand why gas prices are so high. It's easy to blame the other guy.

Mr. ADAIR: Absolutely. And it's just - it's important to try to sort out all that rhetoric and really just get down to whether something is true or not.

SMITH: Bill Adair is the Washington bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times and editor of PolitiFact.com, a Web site run by his newspaper and Congressional Quarterly. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. ADAIR: Thanks for having me.

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