James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist

  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

  • Archives

  • November 2008
    S M T W T F S
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Key presidential election question: ‘Which liar do you trust most?’

Posted by James McPherson on November 2, 2008

The presidential campaign seems to be “spinning” to an appropriately odd ending, with John McCain discussing strategy (“Reverse Maverick,” “Double Maverick” or “Sad Grandpa”) on “Saturday Night Live,” McCain robocalls using Hillary Clinton’s voice and words as an authoritative voice to try to boost Republicans, and Barack Obama’s latest ad promoting the endorsement of his opponent by a sitting vice president.

At least they don’t have anyone pretending to be the opposing candidate in those ads (a move that may cost Elizabeth Dole her Senate seat in the same election in which the GOP presidential candidate reminds voters of her husband’s 1996 “Sad Grandpa” bid). Dole’s Senate campaign provides a reminder that perhaps every political campaign has its share of distortions and outright lies. As campaigns grow increasingly desperate, the lying tends to increase. Fortunately for those of use who care, there are more ways than ever to check the accuracy of campaign ads and stump speeches.

The oft-criticized mainstream media do a better job than they once did at fact checking. Even more valuable are FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.org (a product of the mainstream St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly). On Friday, Factcheck.org released an updated version of “the whoppers of 2008,” including McCain camp lies about welfare, taxes, health care, terrorism and ACORN, and Obama lies about Medicare, stem cell research and job losses. The site also calls attention to distortions from other groups both liberal (MoveOn.org and VoteVets.org) and conservative (National Rifle Association and National Republican Trust PAC).

PolitiFact also released a Friday update, recalling some especially egregious “pants on fire” moments from the campaign. Those cited include Mike Huckabee, who falsely claimed that most signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen, and John Edwards who suggested that the president has power over Congressional health care. Of course other Edwards lies were to cause him more problems, but by then his campaign had ended.

PolitiFact gave most of its “pants on fire” ratings to e-mail messages: “They include the bogus list of books that Sarah Palin supposedly wanted to ban, the fake receipt that supposedly showed Michelle Obama ordered $400 in lobster and caviar from a New York hotel,  and the distorted Bible verses to suggest that Barack Obama was the Antichrist.”

It is sad and disturbing to see how often candidates and their supporters lie. But the increased oversight is a bright spot. As PolitiFact notes: “The 2008 election has been the most fact-checked campaign in American history. Between our 750-plus items, and dozens of articles published by our friends at FactCheck.org and other news organizations, the presidential candidates have been challenged about their accuracy more than ever before.”

In short, in this election–as with perhaps every election–Americans will choose between liars as they cast their ballots. The key question thus becomes, “Which liar do you trust most?”

6 Responses to “Key presidential election question: ‘Which liar do you trust most?’”

  1. ngoldfarb said




  2. James McPherson said

    Aside from the questionable linkage of Ayres and Obama, of course, there’s also the fact that your headline fails to note that the comparison in numbers killed is limited to just the past 50 years. Not to diminish the activities of the Weather Underground, but you could also say that toilets, five-gallon buckets, sharks or grizzly bears all have killed considerably more people than either the Weathermen or the KKK during that period. But thanks for the comment.

  3. Rich Strauch said

    Watching SNL last night, I had the strange feeling that McCain was delivering a strange kind of eulogy to his own campaign.

    However… Reading the Public Editor column in the Times this morning, I began to think: WHAT IF McCain actually did squeak out a win on Tuesday. Very unlikely by the popular vote, but with the right alignment of planets, etc. he manages one of the unlikely scenarios by which he gets all of the toss-ups and flips PA. What would we be hearing in the news media next weekend (once the shock of “how did we get that one wrong” wears off)?

    The biggest question would be to which constituency of the Republican party does McCain owe his vitory, because we would now have a seriously weak President-elect, VERY much beholden to some group (or groups) of conservative voters. There would also be a large number of seriously deflated Obama supporters to contend with. I suspect “polarization” doesn’t even begin to get at the political landscape that a President-elect McCain would wake up to on Wednesday. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be him.

  4. mizclark said

    Great piece! I too feel the same way about the references to Ayers and the KKK. As a Black American I feel it belittles centuries of suffering where as Ayers only did a few bombings. I don’t condone either, but the poster isn’t accepting comments from dissenting opinions.

  5. […] of history leads to a world in which actors,  liars,  crooks, blowhards, political losers and overrated buffoons become leaders, television hosts and […]

  6. […] know that politicians lie, generally to get elected. But rarely do they lie as blatantly or as widely as Republicans are lying now in reaction to a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: