A PolitiFact guide to political advertising

As the May 20 primary nears, metro Atlantans will see a plethora of political ads on television, in their mailboxes and online touting individual accomplishments, attacks against other candidates and lofty campaign promises.

So what should you look for in these ads to figure out whether there are hidden messages behind them and to determine their accuracy? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution thought we’d offer some clues.

Who’s buying?

The rise in Super PACs, political action committees with a seemingly endless supply of cash, has resulted in nastier ads. They spent nearly $600 million during the 2012 election. They’re produced by groups outside Georgia and prefer to identify themselves without much fanfare at the end of their ads. One such group, the Ending Spending Action Fund, is taking on both sides — airing ads against U.S. Senate candidates Phil Gingrey, a Republican, and Michelle Nunn, a Democrat.

Quotes & videos

Some political ads contain damning remarks that have previously been made by the target of the attack ad. Be wary of those quotes. They often do not contain the entire quote, omitting critical context that might give a completely different impression about what the person was actually trying to say. Case in point, the now infamous video of former U.S. Agriculture Department employee and Georgian Shirley Sherrod that seemingly suggested she harbored racist attitudes toward some farmers. A look at the entire video showed she had come to object to racial stereotyping.


Many candidates now include footnotes to support the content in their attack ads. It’s become standard practice, said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University.

“They provide those footnotes as cover to what they’re saying,” Gillespie said.

Unlike school papers in which those footnotes support a student report, political footnotes are often debated by campaigns and can use even more detail. PolitiFact has noticed the footnotes often tell only one side of the story.

Code language

Gillespie noted political ads often contain words or images purposefully intended for certain demographic groups. Some say they wrongly exploit differences in race, gender and class. Gillespie noted some ads have been criticized for making African-American men look darker to make them appear more sinister to white voters. She said female candidates have been described in ads as “show horses” or “emotional.” Newt Gingrich aired a commercial during the 2012 presidential campaign that noted Republican rival Mitt Romney “speaks French,” which was seen as one of many efforts by Democrats as well to label Romney an elitist because of his wealth.

PolitiFact Georgia has tried to get to the truth behind some of these ads. Here are a few of our fact checks:

Ending Spending Action Fund claims U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn supports raising taxes.

Congressional candidate John McCallum says in an ad that children born today will eventually inherit $1.5 million in federal debt.

Gov. Nathan Deal claims Georgia has “the lowest taxes per capita of any state.”

U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue says he “added 2,500 stores and 20,000 jobs” as Dollar General’s CEO.

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