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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

‘Lying’ About Being Liberal?

A McCain-Palin ad twists Obama's words.


A McCain-Palin ad claims Obama was rated the "most liberal" U.S. senator, which was true only for 2007 but not for his entire Senate career. He was rated 10th and 16th in his two previous years.

The ad also misquotes Obama. It says he defended himself against the "most liberal" rating by saying "they’re not telling the truth" and "folks are lying." Actually, Obama said McCain and Palin weren’t truthful about the "Bridge to Nowhere," and he was correct. And his "folks are lying" remark referred to anti-abortion groups that accuse him of favoring "infanticide" because of votes he cast in the Illinois state Senate.

After twisting Obama’s words, the ad accuses him of being "not presidential."



The McCain-Palin ad "Folks" was released Oct. 8 to run nationally.

[TET ]

McCain-Palin 2008 TV Ad: "Folks"

Announcer: Who is Barack Obama? The National Journal says he’s the Senate’s most liberal.

How extreme. But when pressed, how does he defend himself?

Obama: They’re not telling the truth.

I hate to say that people are lying, but here’s a situation where folks are lying.

Announcer: Mr. Obama, we all know the truth.

Obama: Folks are lying.

Announcer: Not presidential.

McCain: I’m John McCain and I approve this message. [/TET]

Not Telling the Truth

An announcer asserts of Sen. Barack Obama, "the National Journal says he’s the Senate’s most liberal." The ad then says Obama defended himself by saying, "They’re not telling the truth  … [F]olks are lying." The announcer says Obama’s response is "not presidential."

The ad is misleading regarding the "most liberal" claim, and simply false in the way it twists Obama’s own words.

It is true that the National Journal rated Obama "the most liberal senator" in 2007, based on 99 votes in the Senate that year. But in his previous two years, Obama was rated 10th and 16th most liberal. So his career voting record is far from "most liberal." The McCain ad is misleading about that.

And it is downright false when it implies that Obama accused the McCain campaign of lying about the "most liberal" rating. He did not. He accused Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin of "not telling the truth" about the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, and he accused independent, anti-abortion groups of "lying" when they accused him of favoring "infanticide." The ad takes Obama’s words completely out of their context.

Bridge to Nowhere

The first comment from Obama quoted in the ad comes from an interview that the senator did for MSNBC’s "Countdown" with Keith Olbermann that aired Sept. 8. He was discussing a new ad from the McCain-Palin campaign that claimed Palin "stopped the ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’ " After video of the ad "Original Mavericks" played on screen, Olbermann noted that Palin had actually supported the project at first, before canceling it long after it became a target of criticism by McCain and others. Here’s the exchange:

Keith Olbermann, MSNBC’s "Countdown" (Sept. 8): What are Senator McCain and Governor Palin doing in this new commercial, do you think?

Obama: They’re not telling the truth. You know, I mean, it’s — I think we’ve all gotten accustomed to being able to spin things in politics. But when you’ve got somebody who was for a project being presented as being against it, then that, you know, stretches the bounds of spin into new areas.

We agree with Obama about that ad. We called it "old bunk" in an item on the FactCheck Wire on Sept. 9. Palin’s misleading claim about the bridge is something we’ve noted on more than one occasion.


The second Obama quote comes from an interview that he did with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, and it was not directed at either the McCain campaign or the National Journal. Obama was attempting to clarify his position on "born alive" legislation in Illinois. This is how that part of the conversation went:

David Brody, CBN News (Aug. 16): Real quick, the born alive infant protection act. I gotta tell you that’s the one thing I get a lot of emails about and it’s just not just from Evangelicals, it about Catholics, Protestants, main — they’re trying to understand it because there was some literature put out by the National Right to Life Committee. And they’re basically saying they felt like you misrepresented your position on that bill.

Obama: Let me clarify this right now.

Brody: Because it’s getting a lot of play.

Obama: Well and because they have not been telling the truth. And I hate to say that people are lying, but here’s a situation where folks are lying. I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported — which was to say — that you should provide assistance to any infant that was born — even if it was as a consequence of an induced abortion.

For the record, we wrote about the back and forth between the National Right to Life Committee and Obama, regarding his votes against "born alive" legislation during his time in the Illinois state Senate.

More Misrepresentation
The McCain-Palin press release announcing the TV spot is wrong, too. It claims  that "the ad highlights Barack Obama’s defense of his extreme liberal voting record by accusing others of lying," which is untrue. Obama and his campaign have disputed the National Journal‘s 2007 rating by saying that he missed too many votes while campaigning for the rating to be representative, and that some of the votes (particularly one in favor of stricter ethics rules) should not properly be seen as either liberal or conservative. But he has never said the Journal was "lying" or "not telling the truth."

For the record, the National Journal did not offer a rating of McCain’s votes for 2007, because he missed more than half the votes that would have figured into the rating, even more than Obama missed.

— by D’Angelo Gore 


Transcript. "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." MSNBC, 8 Sept. 2008

Transcript. "EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Barack Obama." CBN News’s The Brody File, 16 Aug. 2008

Friel, Brian, Richard E. Cohen and Kirk Victor. "Obama: Most Liberal Senator In 2007." National Journal, 31 Jan. 2008

Press Release. "McCain-Palin 2008 Launches New TV Ad: ‘Folks.’" JohnMccain.com, 8 Oct. 2008

Tapper, Jake. "Obama Pushback on National Journal Rankings." ABC News Political Punch blog, 31 Jan. 2008