Better yet, do any of our candidates want to tell the truth.
Although we’ve already gotten news releases from this or that peddler of partisan pabulum and pap suggesting an opponent or potential opponent is a slimy cur who should live in the dark alleys of our state, we haven’t seen anything yet. Now that candidates have filed for office, spring attack ad season is ended. The regular season is afoot.
It’s pretty clear our campaign system abandoned a commitment to truth long ago. A few weeks ago in this space we listed several resources voters could go to and learn whether commercials are truthful. We mentioned FactCheck.org, run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Our long-time friend Mike Cavender at the Radio-Television Digital News Foundation recently told us about a related site that we commend to you: FlackCheck.org.
Mike’s comments were directed at those of us who are news directors and editors, urging us to check the accuracy of the ads that our own stations air. But they apply to Joe and Josephine Voter as well.
“Why is this initiative important to you?” he asks. “…If TV and radio stations sell political advertising to one individual federal candidate—they’re required to sell to all federal candidates who want to buy. And stations are not allowed to edit or change the content—or refuse the ad—even if the messages are blatantly deceptive.
“Not so with Super PAC ads, however. These ads—sponsored by outside groups in support of one candidate or another—do not have to be carried if a station finds them deceptive or otherwise incorrect. And that’s where ‘Stand By Your Ad’ comes in.
“Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson says the Center’s goal is to serve as a watchdog over deceptive ad claims, while applauding stations that have the fortitude (and willingness to take the financial hit) to reject such ads. A group of Ohio stations did just that recently and Jamieson says she hopes others will follow their lead as more deceptive Super PAC ads are uncovered.”
Flackcheck also has a segment on media coverage that we need to spend more time with — it’s not just aimed at the politicians and their crafty phrase-makers.
We looked at the FlackCheck.org site and spent several minutes with it a little while ago. One of the first ones on the list called “Taking Down the Worst” looks at the ads that start out with “Obamacare kills jobs.” No attribution is given by the Chamber of Commerce, the group behind the ads that in Missouri attack Senator McCaskill. FlackCheck’s information says the ad is misleading from the first three words. We also looked at a clever presentation on how well President Obama has kept his 2008 campaign promises, using the narwhale as a gauge. In general, says the presentation, he gets a grade of “incomplete.”
We would hope that radio and television stations, and networks such as ours, would demand the SuperPACs be honest before airing their commercials. But SuperPACs have a powerful incentive to convince stations to carry their misleading stuff. They have lots of money. Broadcasters, especially the big corporate owners of broadcasting outlets who in too many cases have destroyed local news departments to save money, drool at SuperPACs.
Places like FactCheck and Flackcheck are not just for the media. They’re for the public, too, and we hope the public floods websites such as these two and the others we mentioned in our previous blog. None of us needs to swallow the kind of swill that political campaigns will try to feed us this year.