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Political Ads Are Slippery Evasions of Truth

Politics is an ugly, dirty business, a business where truth, in Winston Churchill’s marvelous phrase, is usually “attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in political TV ads, where the slippery evasions of marketing merge with the needs of ideology.

This week’s winner of the Lillian Hellman Memorial Prize for Mendacity (“Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the”—Mary McCarthy) is a new TV ad for the Obama campaign that the Washington Post, a liberal newspaper, gives four Pinocchios to.

The ad, for instance, describes Mitt Romney as a “corporate raider,” a phrase that brings to mind the Michael Douglas character, Gordon Gecko, in the movie Wall Street. But as the Post points out, corporate raiders are invariably adversaries of the management of the corporation they seek to control. Bain Capital was an ally, one that worked long-term with management to make the company more profitable for everyone, not just Bain Capital. As the Post’s Fact Checker writes,

In a previous life, The Fact Checker covered renowned corporate raiders such as Carl Icahn and his ilk. We also have closely studied Bain Capital and can find no examples that come close to this situation; its deals were done in close association with management. Indeed, Bain generally held onto its investments for four or five years, in contrast to the quick bust-em-ups of real corporate raiders. So calling Romney a “corporate raider” is a real stretch.

It’s not a real stretch, it’s a lie. The Obama campaign’s justification for the term? A single use of the phrase by a Reuter’s stringer that apparently got by the Reuter’s copyeditors.

One of the nice things about living in a deep-blue TV market is being spared ads like this by the thousands. A school classmate of mine who lives in Ohio was complaining at a reunion two weeks ago that his airwaves are already saturated with political ads. I expect that come October, he will be reading a lot of books. They may be an old-fashioned form of entertainment, but they are blissfully ad-free.