To find out who shaded the truth most, TIME asked each campaign for a list of its rival’s worst deceptions. After examining those claims and consulting independent fact-checking websites, we selected some of the most prominent falsehoods and prevarications of the 2012 campaign*—at least so far. Compared with the Obama campaign’s, the Romney operation’s misstatements are frequently more brazen. But sometimes the most effective lie is the one that is closest to the truth, and Obama’s team has often outdone Romney’s in the dark art of subtle distortion. On both sides, the dishonesty is “about as bad as I’ve seen,” says veteran journalist Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org.
(Cover Story: The Fact Wars — Blue Truth, Red Truth)
The lying game unfolds on many –levels. Campaigns obfuscate, twist the truth and exaggerate. They exploit complexity. Most of all, they look for details—real or unreal—that validate our suspicions. There was no Obama “apology tour,” but the canard flourished because some voters are wary about his sense of American exceptionalism. If you read the whole paragraph, the President’s “You didn’t build that” riff seems a lot more reasonable, but context fell victim to a perception that Obama disdains free enterprise. Bain was never the beneficiary of a taxpayer bailout, and yet 75% of Americans believe the contrary, partly because Democrats have cast Romney as the kind of plutocrat for whom the rules are rigged.
Even for the most open-minded and informed voters, truth is often subjective. Discerning it is that much harder when the campaigns cater to two different groups of voters who seem to prefer two very different sets of facts.
* These quotes come from the candidates or campaign ads they personally approved, with the exception of the Obama team’s claim about Bain Consulting, which was repeated by Vice President Biden
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