Tall Tales On The Campaign Trail

They were the shots heard round the world.

"I was under sniper fire," Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said.

But as everyone now knows, those shots didn't happen, CBS News anchor Katie Couric reports.

That contrast between her words and CBS News images has caused her reputation to take a hit. In a recent poll, 46 percent of Americans say Clinton is phony; only 48 percent say she's honest.

"What do you think leads a candidate to exaggerate or be hyperbolic about his or her record?" Couric asked Republican strategist and CBS News political analyst Nicolle Wallace.

"You take all the pressure of a press corps that is on top of them all day, every day, and the competitive pressure of being head-to-head with an opponent now for months on end, and there is extraordinary pressure to come up with new proof points to prove her narrative and her reason for being the best candidate to carry the Democratic mantle," said Wallace.

But stretching the truth can be as common on the campaign trail as kissing babies ... and Barack Obama has gilded the lily as well.

Obama claimed it was the Kennedy family who helped send his dad from Kenya to America.

"It is partly because of their generosity that my father came to this country," Obama said at a rally at which he received an endorsement from the Kennedys.

Except that wasn't true. Neither was another story about the 1965 March on Selma inspiring his parents to fall in love.

Trouble is, Obama was born four years before that.

John McCain's rhetoric doesn't always pass the smell test either.

"It's called al Qaeda is in Iraq. And my friends, if we left, they wouldn't be establishing a base," McCain said. "They wouldn't be establishing a base, they'd be taking a country."

"John McCain doesn't need to exaggerate his biography, it's a spectacular biography. But he does exaggerate the threat of al Qaeda in Iraq, which is a small Sunni group in a Shi'ia country," Joe Klein, a columnist for Time, said.

In this day and age, candidates embellish at their own peril.

"We're operating in a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week news environment now," said Mike Feldman, a former advisor to Al Gore. "There really are no off-camera moments.

It may be harder today but it's hardly new.

In a 1992 "60 Minutes" interview, Correspondent Steve Kroft asked presidential candidate Bill Clinton: "Who is Gennifer Flowers? Do you know her? How do you know her, how would you describe the relationship?"

Mr. Clinton nodded and replied: "Very limited."

Gore's statement about creating the Internet played into the Republican strategy in 2000 that he wasn't trustworthy. While Democrats argued Mr. Bush wasn't up to the job.

"Roger Simon in his book called it Dumbo versus Pinnochio. When President Bush would make a misstatement, it was often seen as benign, a simple mistake," Feldman said. "When Vice President Gore would make a misstatement, it was often seen as malicious or intentionally misleading."

In this campaign cycle, Hillary Clinton runs the risk of being portrayed the same way.

"Her vulnerability among Democrats is that she will say or do anything and there is a willingness on her part to stretch or strain the truth," Wallace said.

That's not Obama's weakness, but something else could be.

"People view Obama as essentially honest so they give him the benefit of the doubt. But questions about experience and readiness for office-those are the ones, if he stumbles, could really harm him," said CBS News political analyst Joe Trippi.