McCain's 'Education' Spot Is Dishonest, Deceptive

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A new John McCain ad caricatures Barack Obama's education record by claiming that his only achievement is to pass legislation ensuring "comprehensive sex education" for kindergartners. 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.


Education Week bills itself as the "journal of record" for education professionals. In March last year, it ran a generally positive article about Obama, describing him as one of several Democratic candidates with a demonstrated interest in education policy. The article noted that Obama had gained considerable "grassroots experience" in education problems in Chicago as the member of a board of a school reform initiative known as the Annenberg Challenge. It went on to say that he had not made "a significant mark on education policy" in either the Illinois Senate or the U.S. Senate, but that he had pushed for the expansion of early-childhood education.

The McCain ad includes captions attributing the quotes on accountability and Obama's alleged support for "the existing public school monopoly" to a Washington Post editorial and an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. (Needless to say, the ad omitted The Post's criticism of McCain for failing to come up with a detailed education plan.) But a casual viewer or listener could easily get the impression that all the quotes came from Education Week.

The McCain ad is wrong when it claims -- in a voice dripping with sarcasm -- that Obama's "one accomplishment" in the education field was a sex education bill for kindergartners. While it is true that Obama supported the bill, he was not one of the sponsors. As far as kindergartners were concerned, the principal purpose of the bill was to make them aware of the risk of inappropriate touching and sexual predators. Other states, including California and Massachusetts, have passed similar legislation.

Obama was more closely identified with other education legislation in the Illinois Senate, including a 2003 bill he co-sponsored to double the number of Chicago charter schools from 15 to 30. On substance, Obama has attempted to tread a fine line between his opposition to vouchers and his support for greater choice for parents, including support for charter schools. In a speech in Dayton, Ohio, earlier this week, he proposed doubling the funding for "responsible charter schools."


Nobody expects television ads to be fair and objective analyses of public policy. Almost by definition, the ads are partisan sales pitches, designed to promote one political brand while running down the rival brand. But they should not misrepresent the record of the other side and should clearly distinguish quotes from nonpartisan news sources from standard political rhetoric. The McCain "Education" ad fails this test.

THREE PINOCCHIOS: Significant factual errors

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