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Why aren't political ads legally required to be truthful? | Why Guy

You can say your opponent is an idiot, but you can't say he's a felon if it’s not true. That's not only defamation, but also a lawsuit.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — Today's Why Guy question from Dawn Shifflett, who asks, "Walt, I still follow you from Tucson. Don't know if you can help, but I'm screaming at my TV when political ads come on making totally false inflammatory statements about their opponents. How is this legal?"

Dawn, we're approaching midterm elections, where it's about to hit the fan. Again.

Political ads don't have to be truthful. You can thank the first amendment for that. However, when ads run that skim the truth, there are fact checkers in television and newspaper newsrooms waiting to challenge those lies.

Television stations can also refuse to run a candidate's commercial if they believe it to be particularly untrue. Political analyst Steve Swatt this can backfire for candidates, too. 

"Candidates who believe they have been slandered can try to create a voter backlash by running their own ads, citing credible sources, that rebut their opponents comments and thus, their credibility," Swatt said. 

You can say your opponent is an idiot, but you can't say he's a felon if it’s not true. That's not only defamation, but also a lawsuit.

Candidates use political ads because most people get their information from them.

"Attack ads are used simply because they work if done properly, they expose voters to new and negative information about candidates that perhaps otherwise would not have been revealed," Swatt said.

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