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The truth, the whole truth and anything but...

Karen McCarthy reports from New York on the trail of deceit as US presidential candidates take liberties with the truth.

IT’S A frenzy of fibs and flip-flops, gaffes and attacks, and tall-tales from the campaign trail. An election season when freedom of speech means no truth-in-advertising and that candidates have free rein to lie to voters as much as they like.

Some yarns have been debunked. Senator Barack Obama, it turns out, did not want to replace the national anthem with I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing, and Senator John McCain did not invent the Blackberry. Despite Governor Mike Huckabee’s mathematical prowess, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin did not get more votes as Mayor of Wasilla than Senator Joe Biden got running for president.

Some truths have been outed by the national media, like Palin’s ignorance of the Bush Doctrine and Senator John McCain’s assumption that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is somewhere in Latin-America.

It’s a mess out there but fortunately for voters, factcheck.org and politifact.com are excavating the truth from the bottomless mud-pit. The biggest finger-pointing scrap comes amid the Nightmare on Wall Street.

"Senator Obama did nothing and actually profited from this system of abuse and scandal," John McCain charged in his weekly radio address. The Illinois senator was the third highest recipient of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he said.

Later, Obama slung some mud back saying McCain had 26-years to do something in Washington, but is instead blaming him for the worldwide crisis.

A creatively clipped ad also circulated in Indiana showing McCain saying "I don’t believe we’re headed into a recession," and there’s been "great progress economically." But the Obama-Bidens forgot to mention these were pre-meltdown comments made last January and April.

Both candidates are guilty of distorting the truth.

McCain claimed credit for warning Congress two years ago that "the Fannie and Freddie thing was a very serious problem," when he was actually responding to a 340-page report that brought issues to light.

Obama meanwhile put claims on a bipartisan economic stimulus package, saying it was based on his work. Some of his policy proposals were included along with those of other politicians, which makes this claim a bit of a stretch. He does deserve some dispensation for offering a plan to bolster the economy before Congress acted.

And taxation is still the mud of choice on both sides of the brawl.

Obama released an ad claiming that McCain wants to give oil companies another $4bn in tax breaks when in fact McCain is an equal opportunity tax cutter for all companies. He then scared people into thinking Obama plans to raise taxes on people earning $42,000 a year, when he’s in fact, plotting a tax hike on those earning over $250,000.

"We spent $3m of your money to study the DNA of bears," McCain is fond of saying to bolster his ticket’s aversion to what’s called pork barrel spending (the favouring of one group for Federal funds). He claimed Obama asked for $1m for every day he’s been in office, which is almost true, but bearing the McCain punch line is harder now that his running mate requested millions for programmes that included studying mating habits of Alaskan crabs and the DNA of harbour seals.

The title of most successful pork barrel politician goes to Palin for the infamous $200m "bridge to nowhere", to connect 50 people and an airport to a town of 7,500. She was all for it before it became an object of ridicule. Then she was against it, but kept the $200m for other transportation projects.

Keeping the title of Energy Tsar wasn’t so easy. McCain’s claim that Palin "knows more about energy than probably anyone in the USA," coupled with her own assertion that "my job has been to oversee nearly 20% of the US domestic supply of oil and gas," was quite a stretch.

Aside from nuclear scientists and Al Gore, who probably know more than anyone, the Energy Information Agency reports Alaska only produces 7.4% of oil and gas.

When told that being able to see Russia from her back yard wasn’t acceptable as foreign policy experience, Palin countered that many aspiring vice-presidents had never met a head of state. The Washington Post reports that vice-presidents Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Dan Quayle, George HW Bush, Walter Mondale, and Gerald Ford all met heads of state prior to taking office.

When it comes to family fables, everyone’s telling the truth. McCain’s grandfather did come home from World War II, "exhausted and died the next day". The New England Genealogical Society confirmed Obama is a distant cousin of Wild Bill Hickok and Brad Pitt.

The McCain campaign didn’t lie, Obama is a celebrity after all.