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McCain’s Education Ad Blasted by Fact-Checkers

By Michele McNeil — September 11, 2008 1 min read
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A day after this blog took issue with Sen. John McCain’s new ad, which hits Barack Obama on a committee vote he cast five years ago on sex ed while in the Illinois State Senate, two big newspapers are agreeing with us.

The Washington Post declares that his ad is “dishonest, deceptive.” In the ad, the McCain campaign pulls out a quote from an Education Week story from early 2007 that says Obama hasn’t made a “signficiant mark” on education. The Post correctly points out that the EdWeek story, however, was “generally favorable” to Obama and detailed his grassroots efforts while in the Illinois legislature, and his push for early education. The Post also takes issue with the attribution of two other statements in the ad—that’s he’s been “elusive” on accountability and that he’s defending the “public school monopoly.” These come from opinion pieces in The Post and the Chicago Tribune, but you wouldn’t know that if you’re not closely paying attention because the attribution quickly flashes on screen. “A casual viewer or listener could easily get the impression that all the quotes came from Education Week,” The Post said.

The Post further wrote:

It implies that its critique of the Democratic presidential nominee has been endorsed by the nonpartisan journal Education Week, when in fact it is a hodgepodge of quotes from a variety of sources stitched together to form a highly partisan political attack.

Meanwhile, the New York Times finds in its “Check Point” feature that McCain’s ad “distorts Obama’s policy.” The Times essentially says that the ad distorts the coverage of Education Week, saying:

The same publication has also criticized Mr. McCain, in language that was perhaps even stronger. Early this year, in an article titled “John McCain Where Art Thou?” it complained that he offered “a laundry list of fairly vague answers” on how to improve schools and did not make education a priority. “McCain is a campaign-finance, foreign-relations, anti-abortion, tax-cut candidate,” the magazine said. “Education is not his thing. Depending on your perspective, McCain’s relative silence on education may be a good thing. If you think the federal government has grossly overreached into the state business of education, then he may be your guy.”

But a little fact-checking of the fact-checkers finds one flaw with the New York Times: they elevate my mere blog post to an “article.” “The publication” didn’t write those words—I did. As a reporter who writes both blog posts and “articles,” I can assure you there’s a big difference. My blog posts have a lot of voice in them as I strive to bring perspective and attention to the issue of education in this election year. They’re short, written in sometimes a few minutes’ time, and are part of an ongoing dialogue and back-and-forth about the issue of education—and need to be taken in that context. Our stories are far more heavily edited, are much more comprehensive, and don’t take on the same voice as our individual blog posts do.

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