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By Robert Farley August 14, 2008

Off on the wrong footnotes

An Obama TV ad called "Low Road" begins with an image of McCain and the announcer stating, "He's practicing the politics of the past."

The ad then takes a page from movie trailers that steal snippets from movie reviews as part of their advertising campaign.

As the image of McCain speaking at a lectern freezes in black and white, the narrator says "His attacks on Obama...'Not True'" as the citation, MSNBC 7/28/08, flashes on the screen. The announcer keeps reading, "'False' ( 7/28/08)...'Baloney' (USA Today Editorial 7/29/08)...'the low road' (New York Times Editorial) 7/30/08...'baseless' (Time 7/30/08).

We decided to look at these citations to see if they say what the Obama campaign says they do.

Let's take them one by one. The first quote, from MSNBC, relates to a McCain campaign ad which criticized Obama for his last-minute decision to cancel a visit with wounded troops in Germany during a recent tour of Europe.

"He made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops," an announcer in the McCain ad states. "Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras."

We at PolitiFact looked into this claim at the time and concluded that the McCain ad was stretching the truth. We called it Barely True.

In a July 28 television interview with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell called the McCain ad "literally not true" and said that she could attest - as a member of the traveling press corps - that Obama had no intention of bringing cameras with him to visit wounded troops.

The second snippet, "False," from also refers to this same alleged snubbing of wounded troops in Germany. "McCain's facts are literally true, but his insinuation — that the visit was canceled because of the press ban or the desire for gym time – is false," the item states. The last quote — "baseless" — from Time also refers to this same issue. Reporter Karen Tumulty, in the magazine's Swampland blog, wrote "So how many more times are the McCain campaign and the Republicans going to repeat what is a thoroughly baseless charge?"

The "baloney" quote from a USA Today editorial (and the Obama camp gets points for noting that it was an editorial), relates to a McCain campaign ad that suggests Obama is to blame for the high price of gas.

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"Even by the elastic standards of political ads, this is more than a stretch," the editorial states. "It's baloney."

The final quote — "the low road" — comes from a New York Times editorial (again, the ad notes that it is an editorial). Actually, the phrase is borrowed from the headline, "Low-Road Express." The editorial takes McCain to task for a litany of what it characterizes as false charges against Obama. Among them, "that Mr. Obama opposes 'innovation' on energy policy; that he voted 94 times for 'higher taxes'; and that Mr. Obama is personally responsible for rising gasoline prices."

We don't take issue with the fact that these sources used the words that were quoted in the ad. They do. But the ads take evaluations of very specific McCain claims and give them a more far-reaching import.

As presented, the ad essentially states, for example, that "His (McCain's) attacks on Obama (are) false," according to

Jamieson, who works at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication, which produces, said she felt like the quote was a distortion, and traded on's reputation.

"I saw that and said, 'FactCheck should fact-check that,'" Jamieson said.

No media outlet has a problem with being accurately quoted, she said, but the ad leaves the impression that has made a blanket determination that "everything Sen. McCain has said is false." The article took issue with just one McCain campaign ad. The nonpartisan fact-checking site has found some McCain statements to be true, some false; and the same for statements from Obama. How would Obama like it if McCain ran the same ad with the exact same setup and source citation? she asked.

To suggest that these sources have concluded that the entirety of the McCain campaign is deceptive, well, that's deceptive, Jamieson said.

We agree. With the exception of the New York Times editorial, which faults the McCain campaign for a number of alleged distortions and its overall tone, the snippets refer to very specific statements made by McCain about Obama. We realize that some details must go in a 30-second ad, but the shorthand presents an overall impression that the these media outlets have judged McCain's ad campaign much more broadly than they really have.

We rule the source citations Half True.

Our Sources

YouTube, "Obama Campaign Ad: Low Road"

You Tube, "MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell: McCain attack ad 'literally not true'" July 28, 2008, "Snubbing Wounded Troops?" July 28, 2008

USA Today, "Our view on campaign fairness: McCain attack ad cheapens campaign. More to come?" July 28, 2008

New York Times, "Editorial: Low-Road Express" July 30, 2008

Time, "UPDATE: Obama and the Troops" by Karen Tumulty, July 30, 2008

Interview with Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report, Aug. 12, 2008

Interview with Allan J. Lichtman, professor of History at American University, Aug. 12, 2008

Interview with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Aug. 12, 2008

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Off on the wrong footnotes

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