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Will the 2012 campaign be a record for lies – and charges of lying?

The Romney and Obama campaigns have lately traded charges of lying – and lying about lying. Big money will add to the high number of false campaign ads. Is there a rub-off on Americans who might see lying as justified?

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This is a frame grab from a recent Romney campaign ad.

AP Photo

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Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have lately accused each other of spreading lies in negative campaign ads. Over the history of presidential politics, there’s no big news in that.

But with a possible $2 billion or more being spent on political ads in the next three months, might so much public lying only encourage Americans to lie in daily life?

Many experts on lying, such as Sissela Bok and Dan Ariely, have worried about the cumulative effects of lying by those in public life, especially politicians. It sends social signals that lying is justified. Democracy, which relies on accurate information, would falter with a slow erosion of trust that such lying causes.

“Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Truth is the best disinfectant for political lies. But even with so many campaign fact-checkers for the 2012 election – such as FactCheck.org, Politifact.com, or even Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert – it can be difficult for voters not to be overwhelmed by untruths and half-truths in repetitive negative ads. A lie repeated enough times often seems true.

A study of two weeks of campaign ads ending July 9 found about 89 percent of President Obama’s ads carried an anti-Romney message and 94 percent of Mitt Romney’s ads contained an anti-Obama message, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG. Many contained falsehoods or charges of lying.

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