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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Why Do They Do It?

Why do politicians persist in peddling exaggerations, twisted facts and outright falsehoods? Here's a theory from a veteran political reporter.

Jon Keller of WBZ in Boston offered up his explanation in his "Keller @ Large" commentary for Sept. 15. It was prompted by our coverage of the recent Republican presidential candidates' debate and our criticism of President Obama's jobs speech.

We were flattered by the nice mention, of course. But what really caught our attention was Keller's conclusion:

Jon Keller, Sept. 15: The president and all his allies and enemies have one thing in common — they frequently cite and repeat falsehoods that reflect, at best, sloppiness and carelessness, and, at worst, outright dishonesty.

Why do they think they can get away with this reprehensible behavior?

Because we do it all the time ourselves.

We repeat gossip and rumor, forward garbage e-mails, and convince ourselves that falsehoods which fit our world view are actually the truth.

So I’m wondering – why would we expect the people who represent us to not reflect us in this way as well?

We see evidence of that every day at FactCheck.org. Readers forward to us an endless stream of chain emails they have received containing false claims. The emails come from family, friends or acquaintances who either don't know that they are repeating falsehoods, or don't care. Some of these messages have been circulating for years, despite being debunked by us and often by other myth-busting sites as well.

So do we, the public, get the politicians we deserve? That's a question worth pondering before sending on that viral email that so perfectly confirms your opinions, but which you haven't really checked out for factual accuracy.

— Brooks Jackson