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JP Grace: Policital ads don't let facts get in the way

Oct. 22, 2012 @ 11:15 PM

The truth hurts. Maybe that's why fact checking has become the bane of political ad creators.

Official campaigns and also the unofficial "Super-Pac" groups that are supposedly independent of the candidates' own campaigns spend millions and millions of dollars to convey a negative image of their opponents. In doing so they not infrequently shade or obscure or deny the facts.

Republican pollster Neil Newhouse is on record saying the GOP ad tagging the Obama administration for "gutting" the work-to-welfare requirement was "our most effective ad."

The only problem is that fact checkers have shown the claim to be untrue. In fact the White House had agreed to waive immediate job seeking for welfare recipients only until they completed classes training for a new career. Indeed at least two Republican governors had requested such waivers .

Newhouse's now classic response? "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."

He may just as well have said, "We give ourselves carte blanche permission to lie to the American public so long as it boosts our candidate's chances of winning election."

Democratic ads have claimed that Romney has stated that, as president, he would work to outlaw all abortions in America.

Similarly, fact checkers have shot that down. That position belonged to vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, but when Ryan joined the Romney campaign, he adopted Romney's exceptions -- cases involving rape, incest or jeopardy to the life of the mother.

As attentive TV debate viewers have certainly noticed, fact checking is brought to bear right during debates in progress.

CNN anchor Candy Crowley jumped into a fracas between Romney and Obama during their second debate at Hofstra University, Long Island, N.Y. Romney had accused the president of failing to identify the rocket-propelled grenade attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as related to terror.

Obama said, no, in the Rose Garden the day after the assault that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three aides that he had called it "a terror attack." Romney started to contradict Obama's version, but Crowley cut him off and said fact checking had shown Obama had it right.

The Weekly Standard, a conservative political journal, ran a piece recently suggesting that someone needs to "fact check the fact checkers." Among other things the article claimed that fact checkers accused Republicans of lying or distorting the truth three times as often as they did Democrats.

Left unsaid was the possibility that that ratio might correspond to the actual reality.

So who's doing all this fact checking? And whom can we trust?

Two stalwart groups are Politifact.com, run by The TampaTimes, and FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan not-for-profit based at The Annenberg Center for Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN also have fact-checking operations. All can be accessed on the internet.

People on the left and right fringes may have trust issues with these fact-checking groups, associated as they are with the mainstream media. If your filter is strongly liberal or strongly conservative, you don't like to see your side proven wrong -- in anything.

Voters who may describe themselves as centrist or pragmatic or even left-center or right-center will be readier to trust the serious fact checkers. As I said at the outset, "The truth hurts," and who among us wants to have our political understandings take a hit?

John Patrick Grace was formerly a reporter, editor and foreign correspondent for The Associated Press. He also covered healthcare and religion for The Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record. He is currently a book editor and publisher and lives in eastern Cabell County.



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