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3 Campaign Ads That Aren't True; 1 That's Amazing
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3 Campaign Ads That Aren't True; 1 That's Amazing

The Message Machine


For more on those hotly contested California races, we turn to Bill Adair. He's the Washington bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times and editor of PolitiFact. He's in the studio to put the latest round of campaign ads through his truth-o-meter. Bill, welcome back.

Mr. BILL ADAIR (Editor, Thanks for having me.

HANSEN: Now, the contests for governor and the U.S. Senate in California are the ones to watch. Youve been watching campaign TV ads. Are they getting as much attention as the candidates themselves?

Mr. ADAIR: They are and in many cases, more attention. There have been some great ads this time. It's kept our truth-o-meter very busy.

HANSEN: Let's start with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman's race against the State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in the Republican primary for governor. You fact-checked one of Poizner's ads about Whitman's business practices. First, let's hear the ad.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Unidentified Woman #1: When Meg Whitman joined eBay, the company sold everything, from guns to genuine paintings by famous artists for five bucks, to hardcore pornography. Whitman cleaned up the site: No more guns, no more fake paintings. But pornography, Whitman started a separate division that only sells porn. Under Whitman's leadership...

HANSEN: Wow. So, truth, fact, fiction?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, we gave this one a half true on our truth-o-meter. It's sort of a classic half truth in that the ad is right that she did start a separate division. But it's important to understand why. Her goal was to wall it off from teenagers and from children, and to require a credit card and a password to be able to get into it. So, we rated that half true on our truth-o-meter.

HANSEN: We also have a campaign ad - it's one of Meg Whitman's campaign ads about Poizner.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man: Why we can't trust Steve Poizner, reason 14. While California faced a budget crisis, Steve Poizner increased his department's spending nearly 14 percent. Now, thats big spending.

HANSEN: Bill Adair, what do you think, aside from the kind of circus music behind it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAIR: That one got a false on our truth-o-meter. What theyve done is, to come up with 14 percent to suggest that he increased the budget that much, they picked years that are really an unfair comparison - years when his predecessor was in control of the budget. We crunched the numbers I think a little more honestly and we couldnt get anything above 9.6 percent, so that one got a false.

HANSEN: We're still in California. This time we're going to talk about Senate race. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is trying to unseat Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. And we have one of Fiorina's latest ads.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Unidentified Woman #2: Barbara Boxer on national security...

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): One of the very important national security issues we face, frankly, is climate change.

Ms. CARLY FIORINA (Republican, Senatorial Candidate): Terrorism kills and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather. Im Carly Fiorina. I ran Hewlett Packard. I chaired the External Advisory Board for the CIA. We've had enough of her politics.

HANSEN: Bill Adair, fair or unfair?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, very unfair. We gave that one our lowest rating: pants-on-fire. And the reason is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAIR:'s a real major distortion of what Boxer has said. Fiorina presents it as if it's an either/or, as if Boxer is saying that climate change is the issue with national security, not terrorism. And thats really not correct. When you look at Boxer's record, she's concerned with climate change not weather. To call it weather is actually incorrect. And also, Boxer has done a lot to support the fight against terrorism, so this one got a pants-on-fire on PolitiFact.

HANSEN: We're going to end with what some pundits have called the best campaign ad ever. Now, first I have to explain that it was for Dale Peterson, and he was a candidate for Alabama's agriculture commissioner but he lost the race this past week. But his commercial apparently was a winner.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Mr. DALE PETERSON (Candidate, Alabama Agriculture Commissioner): I've been a farmer, a businessman, a cop, a Marine during Vietnam. So listen up. Alabama ag commissioner is one of the most powerful positions in Alabama, responsible for $5 billion. Bet you didnt know that. You know why? Thugs and criminals, cause they can keep you in the dark. They can do whatever they want without that money. And they dont give a rip about Alabama. Here we are losing three family farms a day, illegals bussed in by the thousands, and Alabama's unemployment is at an all-time high. And what are my opponents doing about it? Stealing yard signs in the dark of night from my supporters...

HANSEN: Oh, my goodness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Now, fascinating commercial to listen to. But the guy lost, so, got a good commercial but it wasnt effective.

Mr. ADAIR: Well, it went viral. He's very much a cult hero. We ended up looking into his claim in there that he was a Marine during Vietnam, and thats very misleading. He was, indeed, a Marine during Vietnam but he served in Parris Island and Camp LeJeune and some places in the United States. So we rated that barely true.

But we love that ad and I think this is one of the rare cases where the ad itself is actually funnier than the parodies that have been done of it. And I think Dale will be back. He has said he lost because of the thugs, but he'll be back.

HANSEN: And he's taking names.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Bill Adair is the Washington bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times and editor of PolitiFact. NPR and PolitiFact are working together throughout the midterm election season to Truth Squad things heard along the campaign trail. It's called The Message Machine. Bill, thanks for coming in.

Mr. ADAIR: Thanks for having me, Liane.

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