STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Next, let's examine a political ad running in the state of California. We're going to check the facts behind this ad. This is in the U.S. Senate race. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer is trying to keep her job. She's being challenged by Carly Fiorina, the Republican. And independent groups are spending in this major and expensive Senate race. And one of the ads being put out by an independent group is this. Let's take a listen and then we'll check the facts.
(Soundbite of advertisement)
Unidentified Woman: California's seniors are worried. Barbara Boxer voted to cut spending on Medicare benefits by $500 billion - cuts so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether. Boxer's cuts would sharply reduce benefits for some and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others.
INSKEEP: Terrifying. The ad goes on to advise check the facts and take action. Okay, let's check the facts. Bill Adair of PolitiFact.com is with us once again.
Bill, good morning.
Mr. BILL ADAIR (Editor, PolitiFact.com): Thanks for having me, Steve.
INSKEEP: Okay, first, I said an independent group. Who is it that's putting this ad on the air?
Mr. ADAIR: It's Crossroads GPS, which is a group affiliated with Karl Rove and some other very prominent Republicans who are using independent money to try to push their issues, and in some cases, attack candidates, like in this ad.
INSKEEP: And in this case, also, they put a lot of ominous music out there.
Mr. ADAIR: It's a good day for ominous music.
INSKEEP: Do you mind? Before we even get to checking the facts, let's just check the music on this, because some of the folks in our staff thought that the background music on this ad sounds a lot like the theme from the movie "Halloween." Can we listen to that, since it is October?
(Soundbite of theme song, "Halloween")
INSKEEP: Okay. California seniors are worried. That's the first line. Then it goes on to say Barbara Boxer, Senator Boxer, voted to cut spending on Medicare benefits by 500 billion. Okay, is that true? Did she really vote to cut Medicare benefits that much?
Mr. ADAIR: Well, she did vote in favor of the health care law, which indeed does make some reductions in the growth of Medicare in the future that would total about 500 billion. But...
INSKEEP: This is part of the health care law - it's part of the way it was finance. But...
Mr. ADAIR: And this is the key way that it was financed. But the issue here is it's very much a scare tactic here, appropriate with the music, to try to suggest to seniors that if you vote for Barbara Boxer, that Medicare benefits are going to be jeopardized. The reality here is that is a reduction in the growth of Medicare, but is not, under the law, going to result in cuts to regular Medicare benefits. The only seniors that would see cuts would be those enrolled in Medicare Advantage programs, which are the sort of higher-end, HMO-like providers that gives seniors some extra services.
INSKEEP: And so the claim here is cuts so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether.
Mr. ADAIR: And that's something that some people were concerned about when the health care law was being debated. But in the past, Congress has done what was necessary to make sure that there were still plenty of providers of Medicare when there were concerns about that. So that was part of the reason we rated this barely true. That seemed like a stretch to us.
INSKEEP: This must be one of many, many ads by independent groups that are flying over the airwaves this fall.
Mr. ADAIR: It is. And what they tend to do with these ads, take a tiny germ of truth and then exaggerate it.
INSKEEP: And is it generally true that these independent groups feel more free to distort the truth or just lie?
Mr. ADAIR: Well, they're more free in the sense that there is so little accountability of them. There are few restrictions on their spending. There are few requirements in terms of providing their donors. In the case of this group, because it operates as a 501(c)(4) group under the tax code, it does not have to disclose who the donors are. And so we don't know who's paying for this ad.
INSKEEP: We're focusing on Karl Rove's Republican group here. Are Democrats also benefit from independent spending?
Mr. ADAIR: They are, just to a lesser extent. There are some Democratic groups. We've been fact-checking them. They're taking the same liberties, in many cases, that the Republicans are, just with different issues. But the spending is very lopsided in favor of the conservative and Republican groups.
(Soundbite of theme song, "Halloween")
INSKEEP: Bill Adair comes from PolitiFact.com.
Bill, thanks very much.
Mr. ADAIR: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR and PolitiFact.com are working together on a project called The Message Machine, where we check the accuracy of political ads. You can see many of them at npr.org/themessagemachine.
And by the way, our own Peter Overby has also been looking into the financing of Karl Rove's independent group, and you can find links to that story, which aired earlier this week, on Twitter, @morningedition and @nprinskeep.
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.