Mike Kueber's Blog

August 9, 2012

Fact-checking, negative ads, and super-PACs

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:24 pm
Tags: , , ,

Both James Poniewozik in Time magazine and Ross Douthat in the New York Times wrote this week on the limits of fact-checking. 

As a liberal, Poniewozik questioned whether PolitiFact was justified in giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a “pants on fire” rating for his statement that an unnamed source said Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for the ten years prior to 2010.  Poniewozik concedes that Reid is “willfully rumormongering, trying to spread an impression that is at worst completely bogus and at best he has given no evidence for,” but believes “pants of fire” should be reserved for proven liars.  The problem is that Reid can’t be proven a liar unless Romney releases his tax returns, which is obviously what Reid’s ultimate objective is.

As a conservative, Douthat focused his column on a political ad by an Obama super-PAC that falsely accuses Mitt Romney and Bain Capital of shutting down a steel plant, with this shutting-down resulting in a woman losing her job, and then her health insurance, and finally her life to cancer. 

The first half of Douthat’s column was devoted to debunking the super-PAC ad as “so preposterous that it can be swatted down by media fact-checkers.”  The problem is that most negative ads from the super-PACs won’t be so extreme that fact-checkers will be able to play a significant role – “This means that with rare exceptions, viewers and voters, not reporters and pundits, will always get the final say on whether a particular advertisement crosses a line.” 

Douthat concludes his column by expressing his judgment that voters will rise to the challenge:

  • Even before its details were debunked, my instinct was that the anti-Romney cancer spot fell squarely into the latter category – not because jobs and health care don’t matter in 2012, but because there’s only so far over the top you can go before voters tune you out.  If I’m right, conservatives should save their outrage: Even if the media’s fact-checkers can’t quite close the book on this particular exercise in demagoguery, the wisdom of the American people will finish what they started.”

I have previously expressed similar sentiments about the influence of super-PACS.  In fact, the cover of Time magazine this week read, “For Sale: How to Buy the White House,” and the gist of its follow-up articles was that the super-PACs now own the process of electing our president.  Unless someone can figure out a constitutional method for muzzling rich politically-minded people, American voters will need to develop an appreciation (and disdain) for various negative ads.

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