Negative Campaign Ads Fill the Airwaves It's the season for political campaign advertising, and many television commercials are negative attacks on opponents that can often be misleading. Brooks Jackson of the Web site, talks with Mike Pesca about the truthfulness of political advertisements.
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Negative Campaign Ads Fill the Airwaves

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Negative Campaign Ads Fill the Airwaves

Negative Campaign Ads Fill the Airwaves

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The politics of terrorism will be one thing for voters to decide in about six weeks on Election Day. Politicians are already asking them to think about other kinds of high-minded appeals to reason.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Unidentified Announcer: Jon Kyl has changed. Twenty years in Washington has changed who he represents. Big oil has showered Kyl with big money. And he's returned the favor. Senator…

PESCA: There's just one problem, aside from the dirge-like music. Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl has gone out of his way to denounce tax breaks for oil companies. He was only one of six Republicans to vote against the 2005 energy bill - that according to the invaluable Web site,

Brooks Jackson is director of the Annenberg Political Fact Check. And Brooks, there you have Jon Kyl. He's voting against tax breaks. But he gets smeared for voting for them.

What's the incentive to do the right thing - at least as his opponent would define it - if his opponent is going to hit him over the head no matter how he voted?

Mr. BROOKS JACKSON (Director, Annenberg Political Fact Check): Well, Mike, you've hit on the head. Of course, there's no incentive for him. The incentive is to change the subject and to strike back on some other subject and possibly to be just as misleading as your opponent is.

PESCA: And speaking of as misleading as his opponent, this is John Kyle talking about his opponent, Jim Peterson.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Unidentified Announcer: No surprise Peterson's pushing a trillion dollar tax hike just like John Kerry. Higher income taxes, taxes on small business for more…

PESCA: A trillion dollar tax hike? says:

Mr. JACKSON: Well, it's not. What he's talking about here is Peterson's of course opposed to making the federal estate tax permanently repealed.

PESCA: So not supporting a tax cut is always called a tax hike, and this is one of the rules I seem to have stumbled across as I go throughout your site. If you are - vote against - that's one. If you vote against a tax cut, that gets called a tax hike. If there is a…

Mr. JACKSON: Well, they are a little more clever than that. They say it's a vote for higher taxes.

PESCA: Another trick is if there is a vote - 35 amendments for one bill that's about a tax cut, the commercials always call that he voted to raise your taxes 35 times.

Mr. JACKSON: You've got it exactly. Yeah, there's double counting, padding, all sorts of tricks going on. Any time you hear one of these numbers that so and so voted for anything X number of times, really shouldn't pay too much attention.

PESCA: In these political ads - sorry, in these issue ads, what are some of the other tricks of the trade that you come across time and time again?

Mr. JACKSON: Quoting something out of context. We've seen things taken so far out of context that it changes the meaning completely. There was a Republican National Committee ad for example that showed congressman John Murtha saying the United States is the biggest threat to world peace - bigger than Iran, bigger than North Korea. Well, what he was saying, if you looked at the full context of it, was that public opinion polls show that our allies think we're the biggest threat to world peace, and so…

PESCA: But the way they cut the ad made it look like Murtha was expressing…

Mr. JACKSON: The way they trimmed it and cut it, yes, that's…

PESCA: …that that was his opinion.

Mr. JACKSON: Yes. Completely reversed the meaning of it.

PESCA: Do you notice that inaccuracies tend to emanate from one party more than from the other?

Mr. JACKSON: I can't say that, honestly. It's just a part of political campaigns that candidates are not only going to try to put their best foot forward, but they're going to push things to the limit and make their opponents look as bad as they can. And if there's no referee out there, if there's nobody calling them on false statements or mischaracterizations that go way over the line, they're just going to keep doing it and the opponent isn't always going to come back at them because sometimes it's just not profitable to do that. It's more profitable to change the subject and come up with your own mischaracterization.

PESCA: Here's my last question. Is it the fault of our politicians or of ourselves? In other words, are they at fault for misleading us in these thirty second TV ads? Or is the American voter a patsy for letting thirty second TV ads convince him who to vote for?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, I think there's a little bit of both. We've - or maybe a lot of both. I mean, we all should realize if we don't want to be deceived and misled and taken in by some of this political malarkey that comes around every election year, we've got to recognize that it's just a natural human tendency to reject evidence that conflicts with what you already hold to be true. If we voters want to not be taken in and to cast an informed vote, we have to recognize in ourselves that it's easy to jump to a conclusion and just agree with the guy that you agreed with coming in and recognize in yourself the tendency to not want to change your mind once your mind is made up.

PESCA: Brooks Jackson is director of Thank you, Brooks.

Mr. JACKSON: Thank you.

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