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Looking For The Truth In Campaign Advertising? Presenting ‘Message Machine’

Filed by KOSU News in Politics.
November 3, 2011

Bill Adair is editor of the nonpartisan fact-checking website

Not too long ago, political campaigns primarily had one weapon in their arsenal: ads for radio and TV.

Now, they have lots of firepower. In addition to TV and radio ads, they use web videos, Twitter and Facebook messages, e-mails and robocalls, the highly targeted voice messages that always seem to arrive when you’re cooking dinner.

To help you sort out the truth in the avalanche of claims from the 2012 campaign, PolitiFact and NPR are partnering for Message Machine, a yearlong venture that will point out the candidates’ exaggerations and falsehoods.

Reporters from PolitiFact and our nine state sites will be checking claims that candidates and political groups make in TV and radio ads, Facebook messages, tweets and robocalls. We’ll focus largely on the presidential campaign, but we’ll also examine claims from races for governor, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.

We’ll publish our Truth-O-Meter articles on PolitiFact and, and we’ll keep an archive of them on our NPR/PolitiFact Message Machine page. NPR will air segments about our fact-checking on Morning Edition, All Things Considered and other shows.

Our first batch of Message Machine items includes a mix of TV commercials, online videos and Web ads.

In a Web video, GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman’s campaign relied on a favorite gimmick of campaign consultants — a wind-up toy — to illustrate what it portrayed as rival Mitt Romney’s flip-flops on abortion and gun control. We rated the abortion claim True and the gun control charge Mostly True.

Another ad that targeted Romney, a 30-second TV spot from the Democratic National Committee, criticized his position on the foreclosure crisis by saying it is to let the crisis “run its course and hit the bottom.” We found that was an exaggeration of his position and rated it Half True.

We also checked two claims from an Obama campaign ad that has appeared on many websites lately. It proclaims that because of President Obama, “32 million people will have health care” (Half True) and that “the mission in Iraq has ended” (Half True). After we inquired about the ad, the Obama campaign changed the wording to say “the combat mission in Iraq has ended.”

We’d love your feedback and suggestions for Message Machine fact-checking, particularly if you get robocalls and other targeted messages you’d like us to check. You can e-mail us at or fill out this form with your suggestions. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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