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50 State Ad Network

Same shit, different year

by: Eric B.

Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 13:08:35 PM EST

Four years ago, I complained mightily that what remained of the state's political media had reduced the way it covered the gubernatorial campaign not to an examination of the candidates, what they said they wanted to do, and even more importantly what they might reasonably be able to pull off given the make up of the Legislature and mood of the political class (i.e. Would the Tea Party really have allowed America's Shoutiest Mayor to found a state bank to lend money to someone other than the very wealthiest?). In particular, I complained that covering our beneovlent overlord Rick Michigan's Super Bowl ad as an important campaign event gave it double the bang for the buck, free media as well as paid. Later on, when the campaign got into full swing, that was paired with complaints that the fact that ad buys were taken out was taken as highly newsworthy but whether the actual content was accurate didn't appear to concern anyone. In fact, coverage of the entire 2010 gubernatorial campaign was almost entirely reactive journalism. Reporters bitched all over the place that Rick Snyder wouldn't answer their questions but refused to do any of the leg work or reporting that might force him to open up. It appeared that political journalists in this state expected stories to be handed to them.

Four years later, the faces of the reporters have changed, but the coverage doesn't appear to have. This was brought home to me in reading the New York Times' Sunday editorial railing against the inaccurate Koch brothers-funded ad attacking Gary Peters.

In one typical example, the group’s ad against Representative Gary Peters of Michigan, a Democrat who is running for an open Senate seat, is full of distortions and lies. It accuses Mr. Peters of lying when he said the law bars cancellations of insurance policies. Mr. Peters happened to be right, as millions of people who once faced losing all insurance after they got sick now appreciate. The 225,000 Michigan residents who the ad said received “cancellation notices” were actually told that they could change to a better policy; they were not told they could no longer have insurance, as the ad implies. And though the ad said health care costs are “skyrocketing,” national spending on health care is now growing at the slowest pace ever recorded, in part because of the reform law.

The New York Times has developed a pretty good track record of linking back to coverage that helps to inform their editorials and have developed a decent habit of going as local as possible to do it. Yet, this editorial doesn't link back to any Michigan sources. There's Politico and the Washington Post and their own in-house reporting, not on the ad, but on the shadowy network of money that went into supporting it. Coverage of the ad itself through Michigan outlets is very much the same as coverage of ad campaigns were back in 2010, which is to say that they covered the fact of the ad campaign, which made claims about Gary Peters, but nobody appeared to care whether the claims are accurate. In fact, the coverage all repeats claims made by the ads and appears to accept them as accurate. As in 2010, it's getting double bang out of the advertising buck, with the added value of appearing to receive the blessing of appearing unchallenged in reporting.

The reason for this, and it's an industry trend rather than the fault of a few people, is decades of complaining by conservatives that the media has it out for them. If the media considers the accuracy of a campaign ad in its reporting and finds it lacking, then clearly that's a matter of media bia. As an example, this 'graf in an article by the Detroit News' Chad Livengood.

“We don’t have electoral intent with this ad,” Phillips told reporters. “It’s a long-term effort to repeal Obamacare, and that necessarily involves moving the public further and further our way on this issue of Obamacare. ... We think the only way to see the eventual repeal of this law is to keep it on the very front burner for Americans.”

This is thinly veiled horseshit, and has no business being included in any reporting on this ad campaign. There is clear electoral intent with the ad, because it's very clearly aimed at achieving a full repeal of Obamacare through getting someone other than Gary Peters elected to the Senate. Otherwise, the ad would focus on Carl Levin, since a full repeal has already passed the House of Representatives without Gary Peters' help. It's a very obviously false statement and including it in the article misleads readers. And, by the way, the reporter's first and only loyalties are supposed to rest with the people who consume his product and not his or her sources.

Missing entirely from the coverage is how the ad is getting funded. If you're going to cover an ad campaign like it, itself is news, then part of that story has to be where the money from the ad comes from. Americans for Prosperity is a well known Koch brothers group. Of course it is, the New York Times identifies the ad as being from them, and anyone who has followed state politics for more than five minutes knew it probably before the Times. At a time when transparency in political money is a giant controversy, reporting whether the ad was made with small, $5 and $10 donations or by two people using a complex web of swaps to channel millions is part of it.

While we're at it, what about the person who has benefited on the sly from all this, Terri Lynn Land. I realize that she has no part in this particular ad campaign, but reactive journalism, the same sad phenomenon manifesting itself this year, gives her almost completely a miss. Last week, she got to jump on the "Dump Goat Killer" bandwagon only after John Yob got aboard it, very late. In fact, after I posted that she had, I had people ask when it'd happened because it was nearly to the middle of the afternoon. Betsy DeVos pulled a Nixon Goes to China earlier in the week, and by the end of it Terri Lynn Land got to grab some coat tail effect from it, despite months of remaining silent (it's worth noting that last week, her campaign appeared to think that it was very important that, rather than engaging important issues, that they Tweet out pictures of some idiotic big rig the campaign had squandered a bunch of money on).

The ultimate impact of this is a media that passes along false claims made by campaigns, claims that reporters should by nature be skeptical to pass along because of their nature. The public, to whom their primary loyalties are supposed to lie, will go to the ballot box less better prepared than they should be. And, the influence of money on our political system will be further engrained.

Eric B. :: Same shit, different year
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That Terri Lynn Land rig is odd. I get the potential value of having a promotional vehicle of some sort... but why that?  Giant middle finger to the environmental community, or something?  Is it even made in Michigan?

Great Lakes, Great Times.

The caption on one of its photos says:
"made in America by International - with a bed from Ford & a transfer case from Meritor."

Great Lakes, Great Times.

[ Parent ]
"Giant middle finger to the environmental community, or something?"
I wouldn't be surprised if it were.  In fact, that may be much of the subliminal message.  The other may be "I'm a woman, but I'm tough enough to drive THIS!"

Greetings from Detroit, Ground Zero of the post-industrial future!

[ Parent ]
I've seen this story before
Bill Prendergast, who made his name over at Daily Kos blogging about Michele Bachmann, pointed out repeatedly that nearly all of the critical coverage of her came from outside Minnesota.  Meanwhile, the local media gave her a pass, ignoring all of the more inflammatory material she'd say on conservative outlets.  He found it very frustrating.

Greetings from Detroit, Ground Zero of the post-industrial future!

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