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A reality check on campaign ads: President Bush

Are the two major presidential candidates telling the truth in their campaign advertising? NBC's Brian Williams, in the second of two stories, looks at ads supporting the Republican candidate, President George W. Bush.

When President Bush’s ad says, “I'm George W. Bush, and I approve this message,” and the message begins with the White House as the backdrop, it’s a home-field advantage John Kerry cannot match.

And then the gloves come off as the ad, entitled “Troubling,” opens with this:

"John Kerry's record on the economy: Troubling."

The ad continues: "He opposed tax relief for married couples 22 times. Opposed increasing the child tax credit 18 times. He even supported increasing taxes on Social Security benefits."

Longtime journalist Brooks Jackson runs the Web site NBC News asked him to do exactly that with the Bush campaign spots. If all that is true, then what's Kerry doing running for office?

Not so fast
"What's troubling, of course, is that it's not all true," says Jackson. "What's troubling to me are ads like this one.... It tends to be shades of gray, twisting things, subjective use of facts — selective use of facts."

Jackson cites another example from that same ad, which says, "Kerry supported higher taxes over 350 times."

"If you look carefully, what they have done, go back and count not just votes that Kerry cast that might have raised taxes above current levels," he says. "They counted votes that would have kept them at current levels, and they count votes that would have cut taxes. That number is so bogus."

"What they are talking about here is votes he cast that would have made taxes higher than they might have been .. if some other amendment had passed."

In other words, procedural trickery that included some votes counted twice.

The 50-cent gas tax
Another Bush ad, entitled “Wacky,” takes an almost slapstick shot at Kerry, saying: "Some people have wacky ideas like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That's John Kerry. He supported a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax."

"Here's what's wrong with that ad," says Jackson. "One quote, two newspaper clips a decade ago, never voted for it, never sponsored a bill, doesn’t support it now and they would have you believe he still favors that.”

Ken Goldstein is a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has led studies of political advertising. He says it’s all in the game.

"There is one goal and only one goal to political advertising," Goldstein says. "That is: to win elections, and not educate voters."

Jackson of has some tips for wary voters:

"What's a voter to do?," he asks. "Well first of all, be skeptical, be afraid, be very afraid when you see these ads. Ask yourself, ‘Does that really make sense?’ Ask yourself, ‘Who says that? Is that really so?’ Ask yourself, ‘Where can I go to check some of this stuff out?’" 

It is hard to tell fact from fiction, hard to tell the candidates’ ads from the groups supporting them — and the candidates will keep right on approving these messages because they work.

Read , focusing on the ad campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.