Political fact-checker on negative attack ads: ‘It’s not your grandfather’s politics’

Posted at 6:56 PM, Oct 30, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. -- Scattered with political mailers attacking this candidate or that one, Warren Fiske’s desk resembles many mailboxes in Central Virginia.

Fiske is the editor of Politifact Virgina, and the long-time political fact checker said he cannot remember a General Assembly election with so many negative attack ads running on television and landing in mailboxes.

"Virginia, it's just not your grandfather's politics anymore. The courtliness that people once attached with Virginia is gone," Fiske said.  

With candidates spending millions of dollars on television attack ads in the closing weeks and days of the campaign, Fiske’s team has found both Republican and Democrats running ads that include outright false statements or stretching the truth.  

Politifact Virginia has posted fact checks recently with the ratings false, mostly false, full flip-flop, and pants on fire.

“My one piece of advice in watching ads is the more negative that they are, the more questions it should raise in your mind,” Fiske said. "If it sounds ridiculous to you, chances are it is ridiculous, not always but chances are it is.”

While negative campaigning and stretching facts may not be new to political campaigns, Fiske said it shows him the stakes at play with the balance of power in Richmond on the ballot November 5th.

“If you don’t have to do a negative ad, you don’t do it.  It just tells me that these things are serious, they're tightly contested, they're huge stakes in-state and out of state,” Fiske said.

Candidates on both ends of the political spectrum have attempted to tie their opponents to national political movements or polices, like the Green New Deal or President Trump.  Even though local General Assembly races have almost no influence on federal policies, Fiske says campaigns would not spend money on advertisements that do not work.

"I think people respond to national issues more than state issues," Fiske said.

When a voter sees and ad on TV or in their mailbox, Fiske urges them to think deeply about the claims being made and do their own research, either through media outlets, like Politifact Virgina, or via a candidates website or public forum.

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, many people were already highly skeptical of the ads flooding their local commercial breaks.

"I find them to be annoying sometimes, just to be honest," said Kevin Mosby.

"I'll watch them, but they'll put me to sleep," said Vincent White with a laugh.

"I kind of don't believe everything that they're saying.  Lately, a lot of politics is a lot of drama really," said Lionell Thompson. "Hopefully, the results will get somebody up into office that's really trying to work and get up into office."

"I don't know if they're true or not, but people sure do what they need to do to get elected," said Brandon Dunn. "I would like to see a lot more of let's talk about what good they're doing."

Virginia voters head to the polls on November 5th. The party that wins the most seats will control the legislative and budget priorities in Richmond for at least the next two years.

You can read Politifact Virginia's work by clicking here.