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posted: 9/4/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Sift through the political sound bites, slogans

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

If Mork from Ork had just landed on Earth last week and tuned into the Republican National Convention, no one could fault him if he believed that President Barack Obama single-handedly created and drove up a $3.6 trillion budget deficit.

Mork, of the classic TV show "Mork & Mindy," also might think it's entirely Obama's fault that 23 million people here are unemployed. And that Obama oversaw the shuttering of a GM plant in Janesville, Wis.

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Now, don't get us wrong. We know that Mork will get the same skewed view of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, from Obama and his surrogates this week from the Democratic National Convention. By week's end, Democrats will lead Mork to believe Romney has grown horns, a pitchfork and a tail.

This is the sorry state of American politics. It's really not all that new, even as plenty of people decry the worst negativity among ads from the candidates and their super PACs ever. It continues despite clear evidence that the nasty ads and skewed spins work to lower civic participation.

Really, the Republican convention probably wasn't nearly as bad as some of those from both parties that preceded it. Romney and several of the GOP speakers were quite careful to pointedly say they had wanted Obama to succeed and that they believe he is a decent man with good intentions.

But the road through the conventions is paved with good intentions. And that is precisely why we all must realize that responsible citizenship is a duty that requires work. That is precisely why, no matter what our political leanings, we all must make time to sift through the claims and make use of any and all fact-checking organizations we can find.

At the Daily Herald, we aim to do our best throughout the rest of the campaign season, to offer fact-checking stories, charts and graphics from our national syndicates and with our own local reporting on suburban campaigns and candidates. We made it a point to provide fact checks of Romney and Ryan's speeches online and in print last week, and we will do the same with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Following Ryan's remarks, the media world exploded with stories of his many misrepresentations and omissions (even Fox News joined in). And then it exploded with Republicans contending the fact checkers were wrong and needed checking. This was simply another example of liberal media bias, they said.

Look, we all have our points of view. Professional journalists are trained and work very hard more often than not to set aside their biases and to prosecute claims made by both political parties. None of this is simple.

Most of the claims are complicated, and the misrepresentations on both sides often contain some truths. But the fact checking can help provide much-needed context. It can help you think through the claims and this critical election more carefully. Make use of our resources and others. As The Washington Post reported last week, there is FactCheck.org run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, or PolitiFact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project of the Tampa Bay Times. Or there is Votesmart.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group founded by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, among others that provides voting records, position statements, ratings and campaign finance details.

Don't be a Mork. Don't fall prey to the skewed sound bites and slogans and half-baked claims. Pay attention to the fact checkers. Seek them out. Listen to them, the Democrats and the Republicans this week and in the weeks ahead with a critical ear and an open and probing heart.

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