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Totally Toxic and False Political Ads Keep the Media Free...........sorta

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 13, 2010.

I have, as they say - or, rather, as I say - entered Late Youth. This is the time of life when serious decisions need to be made as to direction and vocation and purpose. Not given to rushing in to anything without forethought and insight, fortified by review and confession and judicial restrictions, and because I'm only in my early 60's, I amassed my immense wisdom and experience and applied it this year to the election next month in order that lesser breeds and inferior people might benefit. Gather round children, and prepare to be improved.

Because I'm far more sensitive than others - or at least you - and because I'm so much smarter than anyone else - particularly you - and because I'm about to take an ax and copies of evergreen diatribes I've written over the years to the lobbies of Denver's television stations and scream them at full lung capacity just previous to chipping a desk leg - I'm not in great shape, somehow - I would like to direct your attention to the issue of how our news is going to be paid for in the future. Again.

I recently wrote a screed to 9News, the Denver NBC affiliate, on their message board about the running of political ads. All these 30 second political ads are disgusting, oversimplistic, and often bogus, but they are paid for, and nobody likes the extended and ridiculous election seasons more than the media, which profits hand over fist. Through the years, not a few citizens have correctly complained about the general inaccuracy of these ads, mostly for partisan reasons but not a few souls of the superior sort - mine, for example - object for ethical reasons. In response, television stations have turned loose their investigative reporters on the ads to accurately decide what's true and what is not, and to provide context for them. Then, it's presented in reluctant tones to the public during a newscast, demonstrating the station's devotion to the public trust and FCC license

That might seem like public service, but in reality it's more likely that station managers - who like to have investigative reporters on the masthead but not on salary - decided that here was a project of value that could be done by interns and a cell phone. So, these stations offer advertised critiques of the political ads that run, most often during the news shows. This is true across the nation, and not just with television stations: newspapers and radio stations run the ads and discuss them as well, but nobody reads newspapers anymore and only partisans listen to FM radio and only idiots to AM, so let's stick to television.

With few exceptions, the stations find the ads are provably bogus, and when not bogus so out of context as to be very deceptive, and when neither bogus nor deceptive absurd to the nth degree. Each sentence in the ad gets a verdict and an overall critique. Then, with furrowed brow concern, the anchors and investigator conclude the segment. This is normally followed by the ad itself with a loud ka-ching from the station's bookkeeping department.

So I wrote 9News and asked how a station could accept money for running an ad its own news team concluded was false.

If their news team had revealed, after their own investigation, that a local pizza parlor was selling radioactive product with psychedelic mushrooms and meat slices from rabid cats all covered with moldy cheese and tobacco, would they accept money to run advertisements from that establishment? Would they tickle their sense of irony to run the ad during the newscast that exposed it as false? How about if their investigative reporters discovered an acne medicine from, say, Johnson, Merc, and Lilly, widely advertised on the news, dissolved the brain within weeks? Why is a political ad, equally noxious and toxic to the environment and my digestive system, somehow different?

They don't answer, but I can step up and provide their excuse, I think. It would be a violation of Free Speech if they rejected political ads and would subject them to lawsuits, and every political party would try to be the bigger bully and legal pain. So, just run the damned things and air your caveat and let the Great American Plantlife figure it out. This is not far from "Kill 'em all and let God sort them out," also a cost saving measure.

But in a way, it's worse. Our media should not makes money from advertising blatant falsehood, and politics should not be excepted from existing policies. A bundled warning label within the newscast is insufficient. Run a disclaimer across the screen as the commercial is run or, better don't run it at all. If stations rejected political ads that make small effort to be true it would seriously improve the whole atmosphere, violate no law or policy, and, you know, would be the right thing to do.