It is still more than 200 days until Election Day, but already President George W. Bush and his challenger Sen. John Kerry and their Democratic and Republican allies have spent tens of millions of dollars in political advertisements that are saturating the airwaves. The 2004 campaign is one of the earliest and most expensive to date for a presidential election.
While there are plenty of ads on the airwaves, and a candidate endorsement in many of them — “I'm John Kerry, and I approve this message” — how do we know what's true, and what's fiction? In order to help determine the answer, NBC News employed the services of veteran journalist Brooks Jackson, who these days heads Factcheck.org, a website set up to help separate fact from fiction.
First, we examined what Democrats are saying about President Bush on jobs. Keep in mind, these ads have been paid for by an advocacy group supporting the Kerry candidacy and not by the campaign itself.
The Kerry “Jobs” ad says, “During the past 3 years, it's true George W. Bush has created more jobs. Unfortunately, they were created in places like China.”
This ad is running like wallpaper – non-stop. It's a weighty ad, on a hot button issue. But, is it true?
“What a voter needs to ask is exactly how did George W. Bush’s policies encourage this transformation of jobs overseas," says Jackson. "They don’t say.”
Another ad, titled “Tax Cut,” attacks the president on Social Security, saying:
“George Bush? He supported tax breaks for exporting jobs and he raided social security to pay for a tax cut for millionaires.”
The neutron bomb in one ad has George W. Bush raiding Social Security. What's the problem there?
Says Jackson: “The fact is that Social Security trust fund has just as many IOUs in it now as it would have had those tax cuts never been passed.”
And another expert, Ken Goldstein of the University of Wisconsin, says even the best ads — those that are 100 percent factually correct — are merely a tiny part of what voters should consider before making up their minds. “Political advertising can be a vitamin,” says Goldstein, “And like a vitamin with food — people shouldn't only eat vitamins — people need a well balanced diet, and people should be getting their political information in other places.”
That's because commercials are designed to show opponents' darkest extremes. Political ads are anything but subtle - more sledgehammer than surgeon's knife. Jackson explains the technique: “Their guy is always in living color and shot through gauze. The other guy is usually in grainy black and white.” The goal, of course, to make the candidate look fit and robust, and paint the opponent as anything but — perhaps even looking evil.
In the selling of the candidates 2004, the guidance to consumers is a lot like it is with any other product; if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Read , focusing on the ad campaign of President George W. Bush.