The Truth Hard to Dig Up Amid All the Attack Ads

By Alan Reynolds

November 5, 2012 4 min read

Truth took a holiday this election season as the candidates plumped themselves up and tried to stick a needle in their opponents. Nothing new there, of course. But the hedging, exaggerating, prevaricating and outright lying does seem more pronounced — perhaps because, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court, so much more money is available outside the campaigns to put up sleazy advertising.

The resulting noise, driven by the political consultants, turns off voters even if they turn off the television — which they should.

Take this ad from Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate. The ad claims:

"Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job."

As Glenn Kessler, the fact-checker at The Washington Post, pointed out, it's usually a sign of a sketchy ad when it's not announced beforehand. The ad, combined with Romney's misstatements on the campaign trail, earned him Kessler's highest dishonor: four Pinocchios.

It's because Chrysler is not "thinking of moving all production to China." Fiat, which owns a controlling stake in the company, is planning to start building Jeeps in China again. But Chrysler is adding production there and not shifting production from North America. In an unusual move, Chrysler denied the charge in a statement. "Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China. It's simply reviewing the opportunities to return Jeep output to China for the world's largest auto market," the statement said.

But President Barack Obama's ads haven't been much better. One of his ads earned three long noses from Kessler last month. The president's campaign used a cropped video clip from an older ad to claim that Romney backed a law that outlawed abortion in all instances, even after a rape or incest. Despite Romney's flip-flops on this issue — and many others — the Republican has said over and over during the 2012 campaign that abortions should be legal in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's life is in danger.

The Romney ad is running in parts of northwestern Ohio — auto country — and he's obviously targeting some of the few folks in that crucial state who either are still undecided or haven't voted yet.

"I see this more as turnout game than a persuasion ad," Patrick Haney, a political science professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, told The Washington Post. "I take it as an indication that they believe they're behind ... So they might as well be a little riskier and on the edge."

The Obama ad was a counter to Romney's earlier gains among female voters.

But knowing that there is a strategy behind the ads doesn't make the ads any easier to take.

Which is why we have to sympathize with little Abigael Evans, a Colorado 4-year-old, who started crying after listening to National Public Radio coverage of the campaign in the car on the way home from day care. Her tearful complaint: "I'm tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney."

Us, too, Abigael. Us, too.


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Alan Reynolds
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