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NBC 'Reality Check': 'Effective' Obama Ad Paints Romney as 'Mr. Burns' and 'Evil Don Draper'

In what co-host Matt Lauer billed as a campaign ad "reality check" on Tuesday's NBC Today, a Romney ad criticizing the Obama administration for gutting Welfare reform was dismissed as ineffective, "too complicated" and "Pants on Fire" false. Meanwhile, an Obama ad slamming Romney over taxes was praised for making Romney look like a cross between wealthy Simpson's villain "Mr. Burns" and an "evil" version of Mad Men's Don Draper. [Listen to the audio]

Much of the commentary came from ad critic and MediaPost.com editor-at-large Barbara Lippert. She quickly rejected the Romney ad: "I don't think it's effective because it's such a battle of images....It's too complicated. You have to turn it around in your mind." Then she enthusiastically gushed over the Obama ad and threw in her own nasty jabs at Romney:

It's effective. First of all, that Trump image is a killer. Because, you know, if there are ever two guys who didn't need tax reform, it's them. And secondly, it's payback for what Trump was doing with the birth certificate. It's a better made ad, it goes against one emotion, it simplifies everything to us against them, the rich guys. They make him look like Mr. Burns sitting at the board table all by himself, and they make him look like an evil Don Draper. So, you know, if – they couldn't have given – if they gave him a moneybag and a monocle, he couldn't look like an out of – more out-of-it rich guy.

 On the factual content of the two ads, Lauer brought on Politifact's Bill Adair, who gave the Romney ad a "Pants on Fire" rating, while saying Obama's ad was "half true."

On the Romney Welfare ad, Adair argued: "It relies on a memo that the Obama administration wrote that – and the Romney campaign claims that shows they ended the work requirement. But that's not what the memo says. The memo says very clearly they want to give states flexibility to meet the work requirement." Lauer helpfully added: "And actually, they'd like to increase the work requirement by some 20%." Adair concluded: "Exactly. It's really how they can interpret that is surprising. 'Pants on Fire.'"

When news broke of Obama's changes to Welfare reform, The Heritage Foundation's Foundry blog explained:

In the past, state bureaucrats have attempted to define activities such as hula dancing, attending Weight Watchers, and bed rest as "work." These dodges were blocked by the federal work standards. Now that the Obama Administration has abolished those standards, we can expect "work" in the TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] program to mean anything but work.

Here is a full transcript of the August 21 segment:

7:43AM ET

MATT LAUER: With the ad war well underway in the presidential race, spending has already crossed the $500 million mark and election day still more than two months away. So should you believe everything you see? Here with a reality check, Chuck Todd, NBC's political director and chief White House correspondent. Bill Adair, editor of Politifact. And ad critic Barbara Lippert. Good morning to all of you. Good to see you.

CHUCK TODD: Good morning, sir.

LAUER: We'll take this from three perspectives: Who's the ad targeting? Is it true? And is it effective? And let's start with an ad that was release by the Romney campaign just yesterday. This one accuses Barack Obama of gutting Welfare reform. Take a look.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [AD NARRATOR]: Welfare recipients were required to work. This bipartisan reform successfully reduced welfare roles. On July 12th, President Obama quietly ended the work requirement, gutting Welfare reform. One of the most respected newspapers in America called it "nuts," saying, "If you want to get more people to work, you don't loosen the requirements, you tighten them." Mitt Romney's plan for a stronger middle class will put work back in Welfare.

LAUER: Alright, Chuck, it seems fairly obvious, but who's this targeting?

CHUCK TODD: White working class voters, particularly in specific states, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, these are three states that Romney's underperforming with this voting group. As vulnerable as any place where the President could be, but he's overperforming there and that's why they're going with this.

LAUER: And Barbara, what he's saying in this ad, or what the ad is saying is,  'Hey, some of you guys are out there working your butts off trying to make a living and support your family. Other people are kind of cutting the corners.' Is it effective?

BARBARA LIPPERT [EDITOR-AT-LARGE, MEDIAPOST.COM]: I don't think it's effective because it's such a battle of images. First he starts with Clinton, with this golden age of Welfare. You don't understand why. Then they show Obama coming from outside of a tree, like he's the ultimate outsider. And then you don't understand "gutted." He gutted Welfare or he gutted the reforms to Welfare? It's too complicated. You have to turn it around in your mind.

LAUER: Alright. And Bill, most importantly, you. Is this ad true?

BILL ADAIR [POLITIFACT]: No. We rated it "Pants on Fire," which is our

LAUER: Liar, liar, pants on fire.

ADAIR: It's our lowest rating.

LAUER: What's wrong about it?

ADAIR: Well, it relies on a memo that the Obama administration wrote that – and the Romney campaign claims that shows they ended the work requirement. But that's not what the memo says. The memo says very clearly they want to give states flexibility to meet the work requirement.

LAUER: And actually, they'd like to increase the work requirement by some 20%.

ADAIR: Exactly. It's really how they can interpret that is surprising. "Pants on Fire."

LAUER: Alright, so "Pants on Fire" on that one. Let's go to this next one. This is an Obama ad. And it goes after Mitt Romney for the rate of taxes he pays. Take a look.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [AD NARRATOR]: You work hard, stretch every penny. But chances are you pay a higher tax rate than him. Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010, but paid only 14% in taxes, probably less than you. Now he has a plan that would give millionaires another tax break, and raises taxes on middle class families by up to $2,000 a year. Mitt Romney's middle class tax increase. He pays less. You pay more.

LAUER: Chuck, it's been running in some swing states since the beginning of the month.

TODD: This is why the Romney folks were desperate to find something to counteract this. That's what the Welfare ad campaign's about. Because this ad in particular and this issue on tax returns has kept that white working class vote in Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin – the same places I'm talking about – has kept that either in undecided or even in the Obama column, more so than Romney.

LAUER: Barbara, talk about the key images. What makes it effective or ineffective?

LIPPERT: It's effective. First of all, that Trump image is a killer. Because, you know, if there are ever two guys who didn't need tax reform, it's them. And secondly, it's payback for what Trump was doing with the birth certificate. It's a better made ad, it goes against one emotion, it simplifies everything to us against them, the rich guys. They make him look like Mr. Burns sitting at the board table all by himself, and they make him look like an evil Don Draper. So, you know, if – they couldn't have given – if they gave him a moneybag and a monocle, he couldn't look like an out of – more out-of-it rich guy.

LAUER: Most importantly, Bill. Is that ad true?

ADAIR: We gave it a half true. It's one of these where it depends how you calculate taxes. If you include payroll taxes, the ad is correct. If you don't, the ad is not correct. The other thing that's relevant, the image suggests of the lady comparing the tuna cans, that it's the middle class that would be paying more than Romney. Actually, it's the wealthier who are paying higher rates than Romney.

LAUER: So, half true.

ADAIR: Half true.

LAUER: Half false and misleading.

ADAIR: Exactly.

LAUER: We're going to do this each time these campaigns release a new ad.

TODD: Well, it's unbelievable the amount of money that's being spent. I can't underscore, it's money we've never seen before.

LAUER: We'll try and educate consumers of these ads so they make proper decisions. Guys, thank you so much. I appreciate it.