The fact-checking of political ads is a cottage industry in any election year, but the 2012 presidential race has been especially rich in misrepresentations, cheap shots and outright lies. Media critics and services such as FactCheck.org have been working overtime to deconstruct attack ads and quantify their deceptiveness. (The Washington Post bestows up to four "Pinocchios" on deceptive ads, with one Pinocchio indicating "some shading of the facts" and four reflecting "whoppers.")
Now one monitor of misleading ads is trying to persuade television stations that air political ads to engage in their own fact-checking. FlackCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, is reminding radio and television stations that they are free to reject — or insist on changes in — "third-party" political ads such as those aired by "super PACs."
That might come as news to some broadcasters, which are more familiar with ads placed by the candidates themselves. Under federal law, broadcasters may not refuse or censor candidate-produced advertising even if it is inaccurate or defamatory. But there is no such obstacle to policing third-party ads.
Admittedly, there are gradations of misrepresentation. And with political advertising, as with other kinds, hyperbole is inevitable. Who's to say whether a particular breakfast cereal is the "world's greatest" — or a particular candidate "Wall Street's best friend"? Some assertions in campaign ads aren't easily verified.