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In a presidential election year full of speeches and debates, it's not always easy to separate fact from fiction. Susan Huxman, director of the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University, explains why inaccuracies occur in presidential campaigns and some of the challenges facing the candidates.
Huxman says there are many informative Web sites that watch the accuracy of what candidates are saying, such as Factcheck.org, by the Annenberg School, Politifact.com, and realclearpolitics.com.
Announcer: Separating fact from fiction during a presidential campaign isn't always easy to discern. Susan Huxman, director of the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University, says there are reasons why candidates appear to be truth challenged.
Huxman: "Candidates tend to flirt with fact or fiction, in part because there's no such thing as truth with a capital T. This is political discourse and we're talking about social values."
Announcer: Huxman said inaccuracies happen, in part, because politicians have to draw sharp distinctions between themselves and the other candidates. She also says one reason candidates sometimes say something inaccurate is because the formats are so constrictive — ads and answers during presidential debates often don't allow for enough time for complete responses. This is Joe Kleinsasser at Wichita State University.
Sound bite #1
Huxman explains why candidates sometimes say inaccuracies. The sound bite is 14 seconds and the outcue is "to two minutes."
Huxman: "One of the reasons that candidates sometimes say inaccuracies is because the formats are so constrictive — ads and presidential debates are anywhere from nine seconds to two minutes."
Sound bite #2
Huxman talks about how inaccuracies happen during presidential campaigns. The sound bite is 18 seconds and the outcue is "leads to exaggeration."
Huxman: "Inaccuracies happen, in part, because politicians have to draw sharp distinctions between themselves and the rest of the crowded field. And so you see a candidate really struggling to say, "I'm quite different from candidate X," and that leads to exaggeration."
Sound bite #3
Huxman says the kind of inaccuracy can be more important than the fact that there was one at all. The sound bite is 36 seconds and the outcue is "when they were governor."
Huxman: "I think generally people are not that concerned when a candidate may miss a number in saying something like 20,000 homeless sleep under a bridge who are veterans, when maybe the real answer is 18,000, and this was a comment particularly related to John Edwards. I think we're far more concerned, and rightly so, when candidates make large kinds of cause and effect arguments, that simply on very close analysis are not true, like, did they really reduce taxes in their state when they were governor?"
Sound bite #4
Huxman says it's nearly impossible for political candidates to tell the whole truth. The sound bite is 21 seconds and the outcue is "audience share."
Huxman: "You know, candidates simply cannot tell the whole truth. In a political context, that's impossible. If they were to do that, if they were to with complete context be entirely accurate, they would only be speaking to an audience of experts and technical scientists and would lose an audience share."
Sound bite #5
Huxman says it's good that there are organizations that hold candidates' feet to the fire. The sound bite is 18 seconds and the outcue is "repeated again."
Huxman: "I must say that I think it is incredibly important in a democracy that we do have organizations and news sources who hold candidates feet to the fire, so that if there is an inaccuracy, whether it's slight or large, that once that's called to attention it's not going to be repeated again."
Sound bite #6
Huxman said we have to look at more than whether a candidate is telling the truth. The sound bite is 16 seconds and the outcue is "separate criteria."
Huxman: "I think we need to realize that, in addition to truth, we need to be looking at ethics. We need to be looking at aesthetics. We need to be looking at what is the effect of a particular person's ideas or proposals or initiatives, and those are separate criteria."