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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Somewhere out there, you can find information about the candidates running for the House or Senate this fall.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Some candidates are counting on you not to take the trouble to find it. They offer their own version of reality in campaign ads.

INSKEEP: Bill Adair of PolitiFact.org has been checking what he calls cookie-cutter ads.

Mr. BILL ADAIR (PolitiFact.org): It's a cookie cutter in the sense that they're using the same lines over and over again in many different congressional races.

INSKEEP: Now, let's go through some cookie cutter examples from each party. I want to talk first about Democrats talking about how Republicans are going to take away Social Security. Let's listen to a few of these attack ads by Democrats or by independent groups that seem to be aligned with Democrats.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Woman #1: Congresswoman Bachmann actually said we should be weaned off our Social Security and Medicare. She wants to privatize Social Security and replace Medicare with some kind of voucher system.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Man #1: Politicians like Sean Duffy just don't get it. When we should be fighting to protect Social Security, Sean Duffy backed a plan to privatize it.

INSKEEP: OK. These are ads all from this year, attacking Republicans - Michele Bachmann, an incumbent Republican congresswoman from Minnesota. Sean Duffy is trying to get an open congressional seat in Wisconsin.

But is it true to say that all these Republican incumbents or candidates are trying to privatize Social Security?

Mr. ADAIR: No, it's not true. This is a phrase - privatize Social Security -that worked very well for the Democrats back in 2005 when President Bush proposed his overhaul of Social Security. And the Democrats succeeded in defeating it. They stirred up a lot of concern, particularly with senior citizens, and so they are trying to use that phrase again.

The difference here is that a lot of these candidates have not supported explicitly or even sometimes in a general way proposals that would do that. So weve typically rated these barely true on our Truth-O-Meter. There's often some truth, but in some, such as the Sean Duffy case, he had specifically said he was against privatizing Social Security, so that got our lowest rating: Pants on Fire.

INSKEEP: Okay, so Sean Duffy was being unfairly attacked. But Michele Bachmann, didn't she actually say that people should be, quote, "weaned" off Social Security?

Mr. ADAIR: She did, and that's why we rated that particular ad half true. She had not come out directly for a plan to privatize Social Security, but she had said more than many Republicans have.

INSKEEP: Now let's move over to the other side. Democrats have been attacked a lot over President Obama's stimulus bill, and there have been an awful lot of attack ads against Democrats who favored that. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Woman #2: $1.9 million to study ants in Africa.

Unidentified Man #2: Wyden spent $2 million dollars to study exotic ants. And you thought he was out of touch.

INSKEEP: Okay, let's demand some accountability. What truth, if any, is there in that claim that there is money for ants in the stimulus bill?

Mr. ADAIR: In this case, and in many others, what has happened is there was not a line in the budget that said spend this money on this specific purpose. The money went to a group that then spent it for ant research or whatever. And weve seen this in many different ads around the country, as Republicans have tried to make fun of spending that they consider frivolous.

INSKEEP: Let's move on to what I think might be the most brutal ad that youve sent us. This is from the Nevada Senate race, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trying to keep his job and being attacked by Republican Sharron Angel.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Ms. SHARRON ANGLE (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Nevada): Reid actually voted to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted child molesters and sex offenders. What else could you ever need to know about Harry Reid?

INSKEEP: Well, here's something else I'd like to know: Did Harry Reid actually vote on a bill that said we hereby provide Viagra for sex offenders?

Mr. ADAIR: We rated that one barely true. The true part is it's conceivable that money from the new health care reform plan could be used for this kind of coverage, but it's really quite a stretch, and Reid didn't vote to do it. He actually voted against prohibiting it. And his reason for doing so, along with the other Democrats, was not because they wanted to spend the money in that way but because they wanted to try to speed the bill along and get it passed.

INSKEEP: The logic of the ad is that if you have a program that generally benefits the population and you don't specifically exclude sex offenders, you are in favor of sex offenders. That's the logic of the ad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAIR: That's it exactly.

INSKEEP: Here's my question, Bill. I want to make sure I understand this. If you favor extending President Bush's tax cuts to everyone, by the same logic doesn't that mean that you're trying to give a tax cut to every sex offender in America?

Mr. ADAIR: Yeah, it's just a really ridiculous extreme logic. But that's what's happened in these campaign ads. They find a kernel of truth and just exaggerate it to a ridiculous extent. And we've seen that over and over again using the same lines in state after state.

INSKEEP: Bill Adair of Politifact.com, thanks for coming by to help straighten all this out.

Mr. ADAIR: Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: We'll be hearing Bill again on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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