Fact-Checking Political Advertisements

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Bill Adair, Washington Bureau Chief for the St. Petersburg Times and editor of PolitiFact.com speaks with host Liane Hansen about the latest crop of political ads in the presidential campaign. Adair analyzes some of political ads by advocacy groups.


With a month to go before the election, the airwaves are flooded with political ads. To keep those advertisers honest, Bill Adair joins us once again. He's the Washington bureau chief of The St. Petersburg Times and editor of PolitiFact.com. Welcome back.

Mr. BILL ADAIR (Bureau Chief, The St. Petersburg Times; Editor, PolitiFact.com): Thanks for having me.

HANSEN: Let's listen to the ads from some advocacy groups. The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund aired this one about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Announcer #1: As Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin actively promotes the brutal and unethical aerial hunting of wolves and other wildlife. Using a low-flying plane, they kill in winter when there is no way to escape.

HANSEN: The ad goes on to say that Palin proposed a $150 bounty for the severed foreleg of each killed wolf. How accurate is this?

Mr. ADAIR: This is the first time that we have fact-checked anything involving a severed foreleg, I guess. We gave this one a true on our Truth-O-Meter. Indeed, this is a policy in Alaska. The state has what they call a wildlife management program. They feel it's important to reduce the population of wolves because the wolves kill caribou and moose, which are species that human hunters hunt. And for a while they did have that incentive, the bounty that it refers to. Now, we're not fact-checking whether it's brutal or unethical. That's up to the listeners to decide.

HANSEN: Let's listen to another ad. This one's from Planned Parenthood, and it uses the story of a rape victim named Gretchen to criticize both Palin and Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Announcer #2: Under Mayor Sarah Palin, women like Gretchen were forced to pay up to $1,200 for the emergency exams used to prosecute their attackers. In the Senate, John McCain voted against legislation to protect women from these same heartless policies.

HANSEN: Are these claims true?

Mr. ADAIR: We did two different rulings here, the first one as to the policy in Wasilla. Indeed, the city did have a policy that sought reimbursement from victims' insurance companies. But we haven't been able to find any victims who actually had to pay, so we've given that portion a half-true. As to the McCain portion, we gave that our lowest rating, a pants on fire. Planned Parenthood neglected to mention that indeed McCain has supported the Violence Against Women Act. His votes that they cite were actually votes against other things where the Violence Against Women Act was included. So that got our lowest rating.

HANSEN: This last ad comes from the Republican National Committee, and it claims that Americans will have to finance $1 trillion of new spending if Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wins the White House.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Announcer #3: Under Barack Obama's plan, the government would spend a trillion dollars more, even after the bailout. A trillion dollars. Who pays? You.

HANSEN: What happened when you put this ad through the Truth-O-Meter?

Mr. ADAIR: We gave it a half-true. To come up with that number, they really do some creative math, particularly as to the cost of Obama's health care plan. Obama has said at the outside that it might cost $260 billion, but the RNC estimates $600 billion. So we gave that one a half-true.

HANSEN: You know, there haven't been that many ads from independent groups yet, certainly not the way we saw them in 2004. Everyone remembers the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack ads. Why aren't we seeing more of them?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, in the case of one particular type of independent groups, which are known as 527s, because that's the section of the tax code that they operate under, their spending so far has been about half of what it was in total for 2004, in part because McCain and Obama have discouraged it. And the money is instead going to the candidates. Also, there's some legal doubt about how far they can go in terms of advocating different things for the candidates. I'm not sure it's over though. I think we still have a month before the election, and I think it's not over yet.

HANSEN: Bill Adair edits PolitiFact.com, a Web site run by Congressional Quarterly and The St. Petersburg Times. He's also the paper's Washington bureau chief. Thanks for coming in again.

Mr. ADAIR: Thanks, Liane.

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