Two weeks ago, Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign publicized a spate of news reports about misleading and untruthful statements in the advertisements of his rival, Sen. John McCain.
Asked by a voter if he would respond in kind, Obama told a voter in New Hampshire, “I just have a different philosophy, I'm going to respond with the truth,” adding, “I'm not going to start making up lies about John McCain.”
Yet as McCain's misleading advertisements became fodder on shows like “The View” and “Saturday Night Live,” Obama began his own run of advertisements on radio and TV that have matched the dubious nature of McCain's more questionable spots.
A radio advertisement running in Wisconsin and other contested states misleadingly reports that McCain “has stood in the way of” federal funding for stem cell research. McCain did once oppose such federally supported research but broke with President Bush to consistently support it starting in 2001 (his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, does not support it.)
A commercial running in Roanoke highlighting McCain's votes against subsidies for alternative energy companies misleadingly asserts he supports tax breaks for “one industry: big oil.” McCain's proposed corporate tax break would cover all companies, including those developing new sources of power.
A new television advertisement playing in areas with high concentrations of elderly voters and emphasizing McCain's support for President Bush's failed plan for private Social Security accounts misleadingly implies he supported “cutting benefits in half” — an analysis of Bush's plan that would have only applied to upper-income Americans retiring in the year 2075.
A much criticized, Spanish-language television advertisement falsely links the views of McCain, who was a champion of the sweeping immigration overhaul pushed by President Bush, to those of Rush Limbaugh, a harsh critic of the approach, and, frequently, of McCain. The advertisement implies Limbaugh is one of McCain's “Republican friends,” and quotes Limbaugh as calling Mexicans “Stupid and Unqualified.” Limbaugh has written that his quotes were taken out of a context and that he was mocking the views of others.
In all, Obama has released at least five commercials that have been criticized as misleading or untruthful against McCain's positions in the past two weeks. He drew complaints from many of the independent fact-checking groups and editorial writers who just two weeks ago were criticizing McCain for producing a large share of this year's untruthful spots (“Pants on Fire,” the fact-checking Web site Politifact wrote of Obama's advertisement invoking Limbaugh; “Wrong,” FactCheck.org said of his commercial on Social Security.)
Some Democrats expressed concern that Obama, in stretching the truth in some of his advertisements, was putting at risk the “above politics” persona he has tried to cultivate.
“I do think there is a risk,” said Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic strategist. “The risk is that they seem to be different, that the appeal for Obama is ‘It's not the same old politics.'” Nevertheless, Trippi described the advertisements as “an eye for an eye.”
And other Democrats shrugged off the falsehoods, saying they were relieved Obama was responding to continuing, frequently misleading assaults from McCain. They did not distinguish between advertisements that are tough on McCain and those that are untrue.