COLUMN: From Here and Back Again

Jim Coufal

COLUMN: From Here and Back Again

Take a second look before believing political ads

Tis the season – for political campaign ads designed to influence your vote. They can be annoying, disgusting and even truthful and enjoyable. They are made in written form, on radio, television and especially now on social media.

Wherever they occur, they’re used because they work.

The European Union and many other countries round the world ban such ads because they fear wealthy individuals and groups could gain control of airtime, making fair play impossible and distorting the political debate in the process.

If not banned outright, some countries limit the time such ads can be used.

Below are a few suggestions regarding what to watch for in such ads:

  1. Is the approach positive or negative?
    1. Does the ad focus on its candidates actions and policies, for example its actions on the environment, inequity, women’s rights, abortion, guns, immigration, Social Security or health care? Or does it sidestep these to keep them hidden, especially by attacking one’s opponent?
    2. Does it discuss timely items or drag up long ago activities? If the latter, how valid are they today? Does it blame the opposing candidate for something they had no control over?
    3. Does the ad play on anger and fear, or on unification and cooperation? Does it scapegoat individuals or groups? Use character attack tactics? Does it put the party or the people first?
  2. Is the ad truthful?
    1. Does it offer evidence for the claims made?
    2. Are the evidence and claims backed up by fact checkers (for example Politico, Snopes, Political Ad Sleuth, and others online)?
    3. Remember, there are a variety of ways to lie. There are lies of omission, as well as those of commission; lies of taking things out of context, purposeful lies and lies made out of ignorance. They all distort the truth.
  3. Does the ad make known the source of its funding?
    1. To whom does the source make the candidate beholding?
    2. Follow the money.

It’s your vote to use, don’t give it cheaply but do remember Franklin D. Roosevelt’s statement that “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

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