Thursday, November 02, 2006

WCPN Wants Shiny Happy Campaigns

So I’m an NPR fan and all, but that may change if I’m subjected to many more shows like this morning’s The Sound of Ideas. Cleveland’s 90.3 aired an hour-long session of thumbsucking over “Negative Advertising.” Participants included Jo Ingles from OPR, Ed Horowitz from CSU and Brooks Jackson from The Annenberg Center which runs FactCheck.org.

Why was it so bad? First off, any discussion of “negative advertising” needs to start with a typology. There is negative advertising focusing on policy, negative featuring personal attacks, deceptive ads and outright lies. Each category merits separate discussion. Guest host Rick Jackson wasn’t up to the task of keeping all those plates spinning.

So instead, any ad not featuring happy family shots of the candidate set to pastoral music is “Negative.” Right out of the box this introduces an unstated bias into the discussion, because candidates challenging incumbents must criticize the incumbent to make the case for change. No one ever beat an incumbent by saying “I’m really good. Never mind about the guy currently in the office.”

To make matters worse, the participants play the false equivalency game. Going to criticize a Republican ad? Quick come up with Dem example to even the scales. This frustrated me the most. My impression, colored by my admitted bias, is that Democrats are criticizing Republicans for the failings of the status quo and Republicans are responding by throwing as much crap as possible in the air to turn off shaky voters and create the impression that it’s just a negative year. No one wandered into the area code of that point.


High as my frustration was listening to the show, it soared when I went on the Fact Check website to research this piece. There I found a recent article confirming my impression that Repubs are flinging more poo. The authors, including Brooks Jackson, compare ads from the National Republican Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They find that NRCC ran more and a higher percentage of negative and that their negative ads were more likely to engage in on personal rather than professional attacks.

    Both political parties are functioning in the 2006 House races as factories for attack ads, but the National Republican Campaign Committee's work stands out this year for the sheer volume of assaults on the personal character of Democratic House challengers.
* * *
    What stood out in the NRCC's ads was a pronounced tendency to be petty and personal, and sometimes careless with the facts. We found 29 of the NRCC's ads to be assaults of a personal nature on a candidate's character or private professional dealings, rather than critiques of his or her views or votes while in federal, state or local office. Applying the same screen to the DCCC, we came up with 15 such ads, and several of those were comparative, rather than purely negative.
* * *
    Democrats are not innocent when it comes to making false or misleading attacks on personal character . . . [b]ut the pattern of deceptive and unfounded personal allegations contained in this year's NRCC ads is one we judge to be truly remarkable.

Why didn't anyone, least of all Brooks Jackson, say this? Again I think it's false equivalency. Republicans have shouted media bias so long and so loud, everyone with a reporter's notebook is scared of the right side of his shadow.

The participants in the discussion on CPN wrung their hands over What Is to Be Done. One suggestion, stop stretching to find equivalency. As long as the Republican attack machine can hide behind the “Everybody Does It” excuse, Republicans have no incentive to change tactics. If the media is serious about cleaner campaigning, they need to call out the side most responsible for the filth.

2 comments:

redhorse said...

Hear, hear, and as you've noted, we see it even down to the local level as well.

Jill said...

I listened to the show too and kept going for the phone and ended up just emailing. My sentiment:

When you have a president who will tell the biggest damn lie about WMD in Iraq in order to topple Saddam, then everyone beneath comes to believe that it's okay to do the same if the goal is worthwhile.

It's called the ends justifying the means.

Except they don't. (which of course is why I'm voting against Issue 3 (you knew I had to slip that in!)