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The Daily Ardmoreite
  • Michael Winship: Campaign cash? TV news hits mute button

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  • That ringing in your ears isn’t church bells or a touch of tinnitus. It’s the sound of campaign cash registers all over the country, chiming together like the world’s biggest carillon, as money pours in as never before. The total being spent for all the races in 2012 is projected at $6 billion this year; possibly rising to as much as $8 billion — which perhaps not coincidentally is the same amount the National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend on Halloween.
    Scary stuff, and almost as frightening is the realization that even though Election Day’s still more than a month away, the post-analysis already has begun, much of it focused on whether those vast amounts of campaign money spent on TV have had an effect or merely annoyed the heck out of the viewing population of America, especially if you live in one of the swing states where the din has been unbearable.
    Maybe, as some have argued, minds were made up long ago and all the spending has been a waste, reminiscent of the famous comment by British Air Chief Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris writing about the dropping of millions of propaganda leaflets over the Maginot Line during the first weeks of World War II: “My personal view is that the only thing achieved was largely to supply the continent’s requirement of toilet paper for the five long years of war.”
    Nevertheless, the bulk of all those billions worth of campaign lucre is going to TV ads, and consultants and strategists are moving political spots around the airwaves like pieces in that tri-dimensional chess game Spock and Kirk used to play on “Star Trek.” But despite the pundits, we won’t know the full impact for a while to come and chances are that all that money will have its deepest impact on down ballot races for the House and state legislatures, where massive cash infusions can overwhelm sparsely funded competition.
    All of which is interesting and relevant; none of which you will see or hear being reported on the local TV stations that are hauling in the bounty that is political ad spending. Most of them are owned by giant media companies, and given their record of forthright transparency it may come as no surprise that the stations are resistant to allowing coverage on their local news about those profits and where the money’s coming from.
    Tim Karr at the media reform group Free Press has just written a report, “Left in the Dark,” revealing that in five cities in swing states, local TV stations have received millions of dollars in political advertising from outside groups like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the pro-Obama Priorities USA. But with a single exception, there was no local reporting on the cash these groups are pouring into the election and no fact checking of the claims made in their ads.
    Page 2 of 2 - In the swing state of Ohio, for example, during the month of August, “Cleveland’s four affiliate stations provided no coverage of the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity, despite airing the group’s anti-Obama attack ads more than 500 times. Americans for Prosperity has reportedly spent more than $1.5 million to place ads on Cleveland television stations.”
    To be fair, some stations are doing some form of due diligence — local stations in Denver, Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas and Minneapolis, for example, are attempting to fact check political ads running on their air. But they’re overwhelmed, and the media giants that have taken over most of our TV have been able to ignore their public obligations with impunity.
    The recent FCC decision to insist that stations place online public records of political ad buys was an important step toward transparency. But even after Election Day has passed, pressure has to continue on Congress, the IRS, the FCC and the Federal Elections Commission — despite its current, weakened and feckless status. Dark money has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light.
    Michael Winship is senior writer for “Moyers & Company,” airing weekly on public television, Sirius XM Radio and online. Check local airtimes or comment at www.BillMoyers.com.

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