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Rem Rieder, USA TODAY 2:54 a.m. EDT March 19, 2015
The numbers are simply staggering.
During the final two months of last year's election, television viewers in the tri-state Philadelphia area were barraged during news broadcasts with four times as much political advertising as actual news about the campaign.
when the story roster is stripped down to those about issues as opposed
to who's ahead or what the candidates were doing today, the stat is
truly chilling. For every minute of issue coverage, the audience was
treated to 45 minutes of paid propaganda.
While Philly is a very
distinctive place, there's no reason to think this is a local
phenomenon, an aberration. Experts say there's little doubt the
situation is the same throughout the country, and will be so in 2016,
particularly in battleground states.
This is seriously bad news for democracy.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
People sign in before casting their vote on Nov. 6, 2012, at a polling
location inside the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Northeast
Philadelphia where a Barack Obama mural painted on a wall behind two
voting booths was ordered covered up by a Philadelphia court. (Photo: Joseph Kaczmarek, AP)
The profoundly discouraging numbers come from an ambitious study released early Thursday called Philly Political Media Watch, a joint venture of four organizations. They include the San Francisco-based Internet Archive; the Washington, D.C.-based Sunlight Foundation; the Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia-based civic group; and the Center for Community Research & Service in the School of Public Policy & Administration at the University of Delaware.
and other outfits such as PACs spent a whopping $14.4 million to buy
12,000 commercials on six Philly stations in those two months. That sum
is even more impressive in that the region, which includes parts of
Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, didn't have a whole lot of
competitive races. Some 8,000 of those ads aired during newscasts.
no way for a citizen to make his way through the bombardment and
onslaught (of political ads) and make an informed decision," says the
study's author, Danilo Yanich, a professor at the University of
Political Ads & Local TV News by Danilo Yanich
That's particularly true when the stations do so little enterprise
work analyzing the candidates' positions and the content of those
Television stations have been major
beneficiaries of the wild-spending days of the Citizens United era. All
the more reason for them to dedicate airtime and resources to helping
their audiences cut through the clutter.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson,
director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of
Pennsylvania, finds the performance of the television stations
"pathetic." She says the combination of so much advertising on newscasts
and so little analysis is a double whammy for the electorate.
the ads juxtaposed with the news gives them a "halo effect," she says
being in close proximity to news gives the propaganda heightened
credibility and causes confusion.
"People divorce the source and
the message, and remember (the ads) as news," she says. That's even more
the case when the ads aren't "contextualized" with real reporting.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of
Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Walter and
Leonore Annenberg Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the
University of Pennsylvania.
Photo by Kyle Cassidy, University of Pennsylvania. (Photo: Kyle Cassidy, University of Pennsylvania)
The result, she says, can be viewers who emerge from their local
news-watching experience more "misinformed" than "well-informed."
And she hardly thinks this is an only-in-Philadelphia thing, like the Mummers Parade and the Rocky statue.
"The findings are consistent with earlier work," she says. "There's no reason to think this is any worse" than elsewhere.
stations, of course, are not the only game in town. Newspapers and
websites also cover elections. But local TV tends to have a big impact.
That's the reason it's so popular with the free-spending ad-buyers.
regardless, Yanich says, the fact that material might be available
elsewhere hardly absolves the TV outlets of their responsibility to step
up, particularly when they are the ones raking in all that electoral
cash. So true.
The report takes a dim view of the ramifications of the picture it has painted.
short answer is that political reality is bought," it says. "Political
ads spout their versions of the truth and, with all that money, the
sponsors make their claims over and over again. The repetition works."
the more reason that it's incumbent on TV stations and their media
colleagues to aggressively fact-check the candidates and their ads.
See the original article at USA Today.