PolitiFact.com editor Bill Adair falsely suggested that Sen. Barack Obama's and Sen. John McCain's campaigns have been equally guilty of making what PolitiFact has characterized as inaccurate claims in public statements and political ads this summer. In fact, since June 7, 57 percent of Obama's claims assessed by PolitiFact were rated "mostly true" or better, while 62 percent of McCain's statements assessed by PolitiFact were described as "half true" or worse. Further, McCain has twice received PolitiFact's sharpest critique, "pants on fire," a designation not given to any Obama statement.
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On the August 25 edition of MSNBC Live, PolitiFact.com editor Bill Adair, discussing his website's assessment of campaign attacks this summer, falsely suggested that Sen. Barack Obama's and Sen. John McCain's campaigns have been equally guilty of making what PolitiFact has characterized as inaccurate claims in public statements and political ads. Adair criticized Obama for what he said was a "barely true" attack on McCain and after describing it, said that "we've given a lot of 'barely true' ratings lately on our Truth-O-Meter. We've been looking at the TV ads, also at their speeches. And it's the same on McCain's side. It's really -- the truth has been a casualty of summer." In fact, it is not "the same on McCain's side." According to a review of PolitiFact's findings since Sen. Hillary Clinton's concession speech on June 7, 57 percent of Obama's claims assessed by PolitiFact were called "mostly true" or better, while 62 percent of McCain's claims assessed by PolitiFact were described as "half true" or worse. Moreover, McCain is the only one of the two to receive PolitiFact's sharpest critique, "pants on fire," which he received twice this summer.
During the segment, MSNBC host Dan Abrams stated, "With the way that McCain and Obama have been trading attacks you'd think that we're days away from Election Day, rather than months," then asked Adair, "You say that the truth has become a casualty of that?" Adair responded, "[W]e wouldn't have expected these kind of attacks so early in the campaign," adding, "What's different is that we're seeing many more inaccurate claims earlier than we would have expected."
PolitiFact rates what it calls "attacks" and "statements" made either by a candidate or his campaign, as either "true," "mostly true," "half true," "barely true" -- which Adair described to Abrams as a statement with "a grain of truth, but the overall point is false" -- "false," or "pants on fire."
From the 11 a.m. ET hour of the August 25 edition of MSNBC Live:
ABRAMS: It's time to check in with PolitiFact.com's Truth-O-Meter. Bill Adair is the St. Petersburg Times Washington bureau chief and the editor of PolitiFact.com. Thanks for coming in. Appreciate it.
ADAIR: Thanks for having me.
ABRAMS: All right. We're going to get to [Sen. Joe] Biden in a second. With the way McCain and Obama have been trading attacks, you'd think we're sort of days away from Election Day, rather than months. Now, you say that the truth has become a casualty of that.
ADAIR: It really has. We wouldn't have expected these kind of attacks so early in the campaign.
ADAIR: We --
ABRAMS: Why not?
ADAIR: What's different is that we're seeing many more inaccurate claims earlier than we would have expected.
ABRAMS: Like, out of -- out of -- falsity, or context?
ADAIR: Now, what they do -- and on our Truth-O-Meter, it's often a -- we rate it a "barely true." There'll be a grain of truth, but the overall point is false, and so we give that a "barely true."
Some typical claims is when Obama links McCain to Big Oil and says that he's giving big tax breaks to Big Oil. Well, he is, but he's giving them to all corporations. And we've given a lot of "barely true" ratings lately on our Truth-O-Meter. We've been looking at the TV ads, also at their speeches. And it's the same on McCain's side. It's really -- the truth has been a casualty of summer.
ABRAMS: All right. You took out your Truth -- the Truth-O-Meter, measured some of the claims that Biden has made about McCain in his speech on Saturday. Here's one.
BIDEN [video clip]: These are John's words, quote: "The most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush." Ladies and gentlemen, that's what he said.
ABRAMS: He said it, didn't he?
ADAIR: He did. We checked that one out, went back. It came from a Meet the Press interview in 2005, so that one got a "true" on our Truth-O-Meter.
ABRAMS: All right. In the very next breath, Biden said this. Let's listen.
BIDEN [video clip]: You can't change America when you supported George Bush's policies 95 percent of the time.
ABRAMS: All right. So, same speech, almost the same sentence; he gets a different rating.
ADAIR: He did. We gave him a "half true" for that one. And the reason is that he is quoting one year in McCain's -- how often McCain votes with President Bush. But if you look at McCain's record over the entire Bush administration, he's been as low as 77 percent, which is very low for a Republican, and averaged about 89 percent. So we gave that one a "half true" on the Truth-O-Meter.
ABRAMS: All right. And then the last but not least, we go to the -- what you call the Flip-O-Meter, the latest and greatest tool from PolitiFact. We are learning today that Biden actually pressed hard to get this spot on Obama's ticket, but listen to what he had to say two months ago on Meet the Press.
[begin video clip]
BIDEN: If asked, I will do it. I've made it clear -- I do not want to be asked.
BRIAN WILLIAMS (guest host): Do not want to be asked, but if asked, the answer, of course, would be yeah.
BIDEN: Of course it would be.
[end video clip]
ABRAMS: All right. Well, look. You know, this one -- you guys are really doing a Truth-O-Meter on this? Because, they all -- I mean, they all said this, right?
ABRAMS: I mean --
ADAIR: And, indeed, nobody wants to be seen as campaigning for --
ADAIR: -- for the running-mate spot, but we wanted to have a little fun here. And if you go back through some of the other things he said, he had been really adamant that he would not take it under any circumstances, and he's pounding the desk about it. So we gave that one a "full flop" on the Flip-O-Meter.
ABRAMS: All right. You know, it'd be interesting to see if anyone has totally told the truth about -- in this election season. We'll see who the Republicans pick. We'll see who McCain picks and what that person has said. My guess: That person, at the very least, has claimed they didn't want the job.
ADAIR: Exactly. And I think that's just part of the ritual dance. You don't want to be seen as too eager to be running mate --
ADAIR: -- but, you know, for PolitiFact, it's fair game. And --
ABRAMS: Oh, yeah, I know. It's fair game. You know. All right.