Archive for August, 2012

ABC News fails to challenge GOP Chair Ryan Call on his Claim of Making Inroads with Hispanic Voters

Friday, August 31st, 2012

by Michael Lund

Ryan Call appeared on an ABC interview Wednesday from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, commenting on Colorado’s status as a swing state in this November’s general election, and highlighting Hispanic, women, and young voters’ key role in deciding who gets the nine electoral votes at stake.

Call acknowledges that candidate Mitt Romney needs to do “appreciably better among Latinos” than McCain in 2008 in order to win Colorado. He said:

“We are making significant strides within those members of our community. The issues of entrepreneurship, about creating opportunities for education, and especially as it relates to the current status of the economy and jobs, that’s the contrast that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan bring to the table versus the failed record of Barak Obama.”

The question that immediately springs to mind is, “Is the GOP making ‘significant strides’ among Hispanic voters?”

And if, as I suspected, he might be wrong, why didn’t the journalists interviewing call him on the inaccuracy?

My analysis of polling among Hispanics suggests that Call might be a little overly optimistic. While McCain garnered 31 percent of the Latino vote in 2008 (Obama came in with 67 percent), a Gallup poll from June 24, 2012 shows Romney with only 25 percent of the registered Hispanic vote (Obama with 66 percent) – a drop of 6 points from four years ago. That’s a drop of 6 percent, hardly “significant strides”. In an even more recent survey from NBC/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo (August 22, 2012), 65 percent of Latino voters plan to back Obama compared to 25 percent for Romney. That’s not good news for Call or Romney, no matter how you try and spin it.

If ABC News didn’t know that polling data contradicted Ryan Call’s contention, they could have asked him to substantiate his claim.

If they had, Call would have had a hard time reconciling his efforts to attract Hispanics with the polling data available to him and everyone else with access to Google.

Back in April of this year, in an article from The Denver Post, Call acknowledged the uphill battle, saying, “We will work to do much better.” He qualified this by saying that, typically, the GOP party ‘s real efforts to recruit Hispanic voters come later in the election cycle.

So now, with 65 days left until the election, I’m wondering about a couple of things. First, how “late in the cycle” is too late in the cycle for the GOP’s Latino surge to materialize and show substantive results in the measure everyone’s watching, namely, the polls.

Second, where has the GOP gone wrong? What does the polling data suggest about each party’s successes and failures in securing Hispanic support and votes, especially here in Colorado?

Maybe I can shed a little light for ABC News journalists covering the RNC convention and reporters everywhere.

In the past six months, Colorado’s GOP chairman Ryan Call has appeared on Spanish-language radio, Solomon Martinez and Pauline Olvera from Colorado Hispanic Republicans have made their pitches on the talk radio circuit, and celebrity Hispanic politicians from both sides have been paraded and promoted in front of cheering partisans at public events, most notably and recently at the GOP convention. The GOP has deployed Latino outreach directors in many states and implemented social media strategies.

In those efforts, the generalized GOP message has been coordinated and consistent: Hispanic voters are actually Republicans who are not yet enlightened enough to know it (see Susana Martinez’s speech to the GOP convention), jobs and the economy are the basket in which to place all your eggs, and that the Republican platform promoting values such as faith, family, freedom and free market is all that is needed to convert traditionally Democratic Hispanics and recruit them to the big tent of the GOP.

Call, in his ABC interview from the convention, offered only a slightly enhanced version of that message, by acknowledging “opportunities for education” as part of the GOP pitch to Hispanic voters.

Hispanic voters have consistently rated jobs and the economy as the most important issue affecting their decision as voters in this election, over other issues such as education and immigration.

But the spiel on the campaign trail doesn’t get much more nuanced than calls for unchaining the private sector and reducing the regulatory burden. Apparently, that generalized message hasn’t paid off.

In addition to the overriding jobs issue, education is clearly an issue Hispanics care about, but the Republicans haven’t been able to capitalize. Besides being co-opted on many K-12 policy innovations involving accountability, choice, and charters, the Colorado GOP has acquired an obstructionist image in their handling of policies which directly engage sectors of the Hispanic community.

One example of “education policy as political opportunity” was the ASSET tuition bill in Colorado (as well as the previous five similar bills presented to legislatures over the past decade, which would have made college more affordable for undocumented students who qualify).

Call told FOX31 Denver last April that he was “disappointed” that House Republicans killed the bill in committee. I’d be disapointed, too, considering the opportunity it presented for engaging the Hispanic community. And remember, this was a measure that had broad support. Seven newspapers, seven school boards, six chambers of commerce, ten organizations that represent k-12, eight institutions of higher education, five local governments, twelve faith based organizations and tens of thousands of individuals and organizations endorsed ASSET.

Then, earlier this summer, when media attention was piqued around Metropolitan State University of Denver’s decision to institute a new tuition rate for undocumented students, Republicans missed another opportunity. Instead of engaging Hispanics by debating merits and implications of the bill, Colorado Republican legislators challenged the move by Metro’s Board of Regents, and called on Governor Hickenlooper to block the measure. They grumbled about collusion among Democrats, perhaps justifiably so, but in doing so lost the opportunity portray themselves as proactive problem solvers and representatives of the broader Hispanic community.

Immigration, another issue rated as less important than jobs and the economy to Hispanic voters in polling has proven to be similar lesson in lost opportunity for Republicans. Obama’s executive order of Deferred Action for the deportation of qualified minor children of undocumented immigrants engaged the media and boldly addressed an issue undeniably important to Hispanics. It’s not that all in the Hispanic community universally agree with Obama’s mandate, but it was an acknowledgement and a proactive action to a problem which has long demanded bipartisan solutions.

The Deferred Action mandate could turn out to be a liability to Democrats and a net loss in their electability standings, but it was a vehicle for Obama (and Democrats by proxy) to gain visibility in the Hispanic community and affirm their presence, participation, and importance in America. Lawmakers who are viewed as obstructionists, along with their supporters, were the losers in this window of opportunity, at least in the short term.

Hispanics’ view of the GOP as obstructionists might also extend to the GOP’s response to another issue important to Hispanic Voters – Healthcare.

Add in the selection of Ryan for Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, and you might be able to make a case charging the GOP with playing to their base of extremists at the expense drawing Hispanic votes. Ryan has voted against the DREAM act and is hostile to other issues Hispanics care about. Another lost opportunity.

So, with all this behind him, Ryan Call goes on ABC is able to say with a straight face that the GOP is making significant progress convincing Democratic Hispanics that they’re actually Republicans. And he’s not asked to justify it? He’s not asked to explain why his lack of success reflects the lost opportunities?

Fact checking the TV fact checkers: mostly accurate analysis of ads attacking Romney’s positions on abortion

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Two Denver TV stations so far have fact checked political ads attacking Mitt Romney’s positions on a women’s right to choose.

The ads were aired and checked a while ago, in early August, but I thought I’d spotlight them today, because women’s issues will come up again and again and again, we can be sure.

The two ads, analyzed by 7News’ Marshall Zelinger and CBS4’s Shaud Boyd, were slightly different, but the ads mostly made the same allegations.

AD:  “Mitt Romney opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraception.”

CBS4 Reality Check (scroll down to abortion ad): TRUE

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: TRUE Both stations got it right.

AD: “Romney supports overturning Roe Vs. Wade.”

CBS4 Reality Check: TRUE

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: TRUE Both stations got it right.

AD: Romeny would cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood

CBS4 Reality Check: TRUE

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: This fact wasn’t included in the ad checked by Channel 7. Channel 4 got it right.

AD: “Romney backed a bill that outlaws all abortion, even cases of rape and incest.”

CBS4 Reality Check: MISLEADING

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: MISLEADING (but it also found the “even-cases-of rape-and-incest” part to be “MOSTLY UNTRUE”) First, both Channels 7 and 4 point out that there was not an actual bill. The ad shows a clip of Romney saying he’d back a bill outlawing “all abortions,” if, hypothetically, such a bill came to his desk. That’s not enough to call the statement misleading, more like “MOSTLY TRUE.”

But the addition of the phrase “even cases of rape and incest” makes the statement more complicated. Channel 7 separated out this phrase and deemed it “MOSTLY FALSE,” arguing that even though the hyopothetical bill would have banned “all abortions,” the bill didn’t mention rape and incest specifically.

In addition, both Channels 4 and 7 aired video of Romney saying that he supports abortion in the case of rape and incest.

But Romney told Mike Huckabee just last last year that he “absolutely” would have supported an amendment to the Massachusetts’ consitution defining life as beginning at conception, otherwize known as the zygote or fertilized-egg stage.  (Video here at 6:25)

And if you define life as such, like personhood backers do, and you do so in a state constitution, you give legal protections to zygotes created as a result of rape. So it’s fair to conclude that Romney opposes abortion for rape victims, though obviously it’s a Olympic flip from what he’s said elsewhere.

Romney also told Huckabee:

“Would it be wonderful if everybody in the country agreed with you and me that life begins at conception, that there’s a sanctity of life that’s part of a civilized society, and that we’re all going to agree that we’re not going to have legal abortion in the county? That would be great.” (Video here at 8:15)

Against this backdrop of Romney’s own dueling positions, I don’t understand how Channel 7 could conclude that it’s mostly false to say that Romney opposes abortion, even in the case of rape and incest. It could be true or false. Take your pick.

You have to conclude, like Channel 4 did, that Romney’s obviously a flip flopper on abortion. And you certainly can’t say it’s untrue for Obama to tell us Romney opposes all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

So Channel 4’s take-away comment, which it calls the “bottom line,” hit the mark:

“The ad says women, a key voting bloc, should be troubled by Mitt Romney’s position on abortion.  And they should, because it’s changed so many times. Mitt Romney brought this one on himself.”

Reporter Shaun Boyd discusses CBS4’s “Reality Check”

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

When Channel 4’s Shaun Boyd sits down to fact check a political ad, for her station’s “Reality Check” feature, the first thing she does is ask for documentation from the people that produced it.

“Sometimes they send it before the ad starts running,” Boyd told me. “They drown me with information.”

Boyd sits at her desk sifting through the documents and doing other research.

So while most TV reporters spend their time shooting footage and writing stories, she says, with Reality Check, she spends most of her time as a researcher.

“Some days it’s brain damage,” says Boyd. “But my hope is I give people information they use to make informed decisions.”

She gets criticism from all sides. “It’s amazing they’re looking at the same piece,” she says.

Most often the criticism is directed at the final portion of her analysis, which is called the “Bottom Line”

Here’s Boyd’s “Bottom Line” for two anti-Romney  ads:

Bottom Line: This ad is trying to channel our resentment over high oil prices to Mitt Romney.  But if Romney is a tool for Big Oil, this ad fails to make the case.

Bottom Line: “The ad says women, a key voting bloc, should be troubled by Mitt Romney’s position on abortion.  And they should, because it’s changed so many times. Mitt Romney brought this one on himself.”

You can see why these conclusions could piss off people. It’s not as if all fact-checking isn’t interpretive to some degree, especially when stuff like “What You Need to Know” is added, but the “Bottom Line” makes the interpretation more obvious.

“The ‘bottom line’ [segment] is, here’s what’s really happening,” says Boyd. “It could be, ‘here’s why they’re doing this.’ It could be, ‘here’s the take-away.’”

Boyd says the “bottom-line” comment is what separates CBS4’s “Reality Check” from the other stations’ ad-checks. So despite the blowback from the campaigns, she says it’s worth it.

Reality Check airs on CBS4 during the 6 p.m. broadcast because, Boyd told me, they “require people to think” and “viewers at 10 p.m. are sometimes tired and don’t want to think more.”

So far this year, Channel 4 has analyzed more political ads than any other station in Denver (all are doing it), but as the election approaches, she predicts she’ll spend more time on the campaign trail and less behind her desk.

“People start to tune out the political ads toward the end,” says Boyd, who’s been doing Reality Check since 2010 and has been at Channel 4 for 15 years. “By the time we get into September, Reality Check becomes less effective. It’s something we’ve learned.”

Boyd will not repeat an analysis of an ad that makes a claim that she’s already addressed in a previous Reality Check. As the election nears, she expects to see fewer and fewer ads containing new allegations, meaning she’ll focus her political reporting elsewhere.

“I try to apply a Reality-Check veneer to every story I do,” She told me, “rather than reporting that this candidate said this and this candidate said that.”

“The vast majority of people, their eyes glaze over when a political story comes on,” Boyd says. “My challenge is to make it matter to them.”

The details of Gardner’s love for Ryan are left unexplained in radio interview

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

If you’ve been soaking up the sound waves from talk radio the past month, you know that Rep. Cory Gardner has been talking a lot about the horribleness of President Obama and the greatness of Romney vice presidential selection Paul Ryan.

For example, here’s Gardner on KFKA’s AM Colorado Aug. 23:

HOST TOM LUCERO: So, Cory, give us your thoughts on the selection of your colleague, Paul Ryan—vice presidential pick by Mitt Romney.

GARDNER: I think it’s a brilliant selection. This is a guy who understands the budget and the economy perhaps better than anybody other than Mitt Romney. This is a person who actually knows the numbers. He has –I’ve seen him personally, I’ve witnessed him personally explain to the president of the United States why his policies have been such a disaster, and why the policies we have pushed forward would actually get this country back on track, [and] do so in a way that was simple for everybody to understand across the country. I’m not sure the president understood it because he continues with his failed policies. But the fact is, Paul Ryan adds a level of excitement and certainly a level of solutions that we were missing. [Listen to the audio here.]

It would be nice if AM Colorado’s co-hosts, Lucero and Devon Lentz, aired out a couple of the controversial issues dogging Ryan.

A good one for Gardner would be personhood, because Gardner, like Ryan, supports it, and has left no doubt about it in the past.

Gardner didn’t co-sponsor it federal personhood legislation, like Ryan did, but he’s been a full-on endorser of personhood amendments in Colorado.

This means both Gardner and Ryan oppose common forms of birth control, as well as all abortion, even in the case of rape and incest.

So, is this part of the reason Gardner thinks Ryan is a brilliant selection?

Or does the brilliance emanate from Ryan’s proposal to partially privatize Medicare? Is Gardner worried that a disproportionate number of healthy retirees would use their Medicare vouchers to buy health insurance from private companies, leaving Medicare to serve the less healthy population, which, in turn, could cause Medicare costs and Medicare premiums to rise, sending even more of the healthier retirees to the private sector as Medicare costs spiral out of control?

A report from the liberal Center on Policy and Budget Priorities concluded in March:

The budget resolution developed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would make significant changes to Medicare. It would replace Medicare’s current guarantee of coverage with a premium-support voucher, raise the age of eligibility from 65 to 67, and reopen the “doughnut hole” in Medicare’s coverage of prescription drugs. Together, these changes would shift substantial costs to Medicare beneficiaries and (with the simultaneous repeal of health reform) leave many 65- and 66-year olds without any health coverage at all. The plan also would likely lead to the gradual demise of traditional Medicare by making its pool of beneficiaries smaller, older, and sicker — and increasingly costly to cover.

How about Ryan’s votes against the Dream Act, which would allow the best and brightest undocumented teenagers, brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, to become productive members of our society?

Why is that so brilliant?

The list of interesting topics goes on and on, and it’s more interesting to debate it than to hear Gardner’s platitudes about Ryan.

As it happens, I’ll be discussing “media bias” tomorrow morning at 7:40 on KFKA’s “AM Colorado,” with Lucero and Lentz.

Maybe I’ll be able to convince them to bring in more viewpoints on their show more often, or at least bring back Lynn Bartels, who was on their program weekly during the legislative session.

Radio hosts should challenge Coors’ claim that he has more individual donors than Perlmutter

Monday, August 27th, 2012

On KOA’s Colorado Weekend on Saturday morning , GOP congressional candidate Joe Coors told co-hosts July Hayden and Chuck Bonniwell that his fundraising was going well, beyond the money he’s given to himself, and, Coors said, he’s gotten more individual donations than Ed Perlmutter, his opponent.

That didn’t sound right to me, knowing that Perlmutter goes to all those grocery stores, and I hadn’t heard that Coors went to grocery stores at all.

I checked the Federal Election Commission website and found that Coors has 524 individual contributors versus 871 for Perlmutter.

So I don’t understand Coors’ response to this question by Bonniwell:

Bonniwell: I know you’ve got a few bucks on your own to put in, but how’s the fundraising going?

Coors: “We’re very pleased with the fundraising effort. Just launched the Joe Coors 2012 Club, which has gotten some very nice grassroots support.  We have more donors, individual donors, than my competition does. And so we’re very pleased with that outreach.”

Hayden and Bonniwell should have Coors back on their show to explain what he meant, in light of the numbers I found.

And while they’ve got him, they should ask Coors if he can explain the general anger of the GOP toward the Colorado redistricting process, in view of his positive feelings toward it:

Coors: I think the redistricting was a very good thing to do, because it really consolidated population densities. If I benefited, or if Colorado District 7 benefited, it’s putting Aurora back where it really belongs, in Mike Coffman’s district, and making Jefferson County and Adams County more concentrated for CD 7.

Hayden and Bonniwell should find out from Coors if he’s taken any heat for backing the redistricting process from his fellow Republicans who were so upset by it last year.

Listen to Coors here: KOA Weekend-Joe Coors-08-25-2012

Post editor says he didn’t block writer’s tweets in response to Harper’s article

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Denver writer and radio-show host David Sirota claimed in a tweet Friday that Denver Post Editorial Page Editor Curtis Hubbard blocked Sirota from Hubbard’s Twitter feed:

David Sirota@davidsirota

Following my @harpers piece, @DenverPost editor @CurtisHubbard blocked me on Twitter. Dear lord, that’s friggin’ hilarious.

He followed that tweet up with this one:

David Sirota@davidsirota

Can’t say I blame @curtishubbard – he knows Dean “Citizen Kane” Singleton signs his paycheck and is watching…

You wouldn’t expect Hubbard to block Sirota over one article, even if it comes down hard on The Post. Hubbard gets hit constantly.

So I asked Hubbard if it was true, he wrote:

“No, it’s not true.

I tried to unfollow him several months back. For some reason his tweets kept coming through, so I blocked him. My guess, and I’m not going to waste any time researching it, was that it was in the spring or early summer. It’s nothing personal.”

In the Harper’s piece, Sirota argues that big-city dailies, even in their weak state, wield as much power over civic life or more than they did in their heyday. Hence the article’s title, “The Citizen Kane Era Returns.”

There’s no question The Post is a major force in Colorado politics, and Sirota’s argument has some validity, and it’s fun to read, especially with so many local media observers quoted.

But Sirota gets carried away at times, for sure. He doesn’t prove that the Post is pushing a conservative agenda in its news section.

For example, in trying to prove that The Post’s conservative bias ushered Michael Bennett into the U.S. Senate, Sirota writes:

Considering that a mere 14,200 votes would have changed the outcome of the race, the Post’s omissions and evasions almost surely helped secure the Senate nomination for Bennet. They also serve as a smoking gun in a larger journalistic crime against voters.

In particular, Sirota thinks Bennet’s financial deals, as Denver Public Schools Superintendent, should have gotten more play in The Post, which, Sirota argues, would have sent shock waves throughout other Denver media and to the public.

I think the story was indeed underplayed in The Post, and it should have been reported earlier by the newspaper, but to assert that it was a game changer? No way.

Actually, conservatives can make a stronger argument that the McInnis plagiarism story was overplayed by an inordinately powerful Denver Post and resulted in the election of Hick. This might have better proven Sirota’s point about the staying power of newspapers.

But neither side can prove bias at The Post, which is largely owned by venture capitalists, not Singleton.

No doubt Singleton likes power, but he doesn’t get his way like he wants to, as described in Sirota’s article:

“He fancies himself an oldfashioned power broker–publisher,” says former Rocky Editor John Temple. who is now a managing editor at the Washington Post. “He loves the idea that he can call people into his office and be in the center of everything.”

So overall, with respect to the part of Sirota’s piece that focuses on The Post, Sirota is right that the paper, even in economic decline, has more power than it deserves, and in some ways as much or more influence on politics, due to its influence on elites, as it ever had.

But as for a conservative agenda, beyond cultural norms, I don’t see it, overall, though you can point to anecdotes, just like righties do in alleging liberal bias.

But you should read Sirota’s article yourself.

As for Sirota’s tweets, I, unlike Hubbard, like receiving them, even if Sirota stetches things a bit sometimes.

Let’s hope we see a lot of Chapin in The Post to fill partisan commentary gap

Monday, August 27th, 2012

The Denver Post’s new weekly columnist Rick Tosches is a great writer, no doubt, as anyone who’s followed him over the years knows. And he’ll be a great left-leaning addition to The Post’s right-leaning commentary section.

But he’s not the kind of raw partisan on the GOP side of the equation, like Mike Rosen and John Andrews, not to mention the not-so-raw partisan Vincent Carroll, who you see in The Post regularly (Carroll three times a week, Rosen weekly, Andrews every third week).

I mean, Rosen’s last column was titled, “Paul Ryan is no radical.” And Andrews’ last piece was, “Paul Ryan, Mountain Man.”

Not much subtlety there.

Tosches is too sophisticated to deliver crude Democratic talking points, like Rosen’s on the right. He’ll write about more interesting stuff, and only some of it will be political, you have to guess.

So that means The Post’s partisan gap on its commentary page may look like it’s going to remain open. (I’ve discussed this previously.)

But in announcing the addition of Tosches Sunday, Post Editorial Page Editor Curtis Hubbard wrote that The Post will also run columns from Democratic consultant Laura Chapin and others in the coming weeks, to offer more “voices on the left.”

Hubbard wrote:

I’ve heard from many of you in recent months that we need more voices from the left on these pages given the loss of Ed Quillen, Mike Littwin and others.

To that end, you’ll be seeing columns in coming weeks from two new writers: Laura Chapin, a Democratic consultant and former speechwriter for Gov. Bill Ritter; and Teresa Keegan, whose name may be familiar to you from her time as one of our Colorado Voices columnists.

Chapin is the kind of partisan writer who The Post needs to counter Andrews and Rosen. The title of her last Post column was, “Is there a GOP Obsession with LadyParts.”

Hubbard keeps a tally of the ideological bent of the content of the editorial page. Let’s hope he takes a close look at it, and factors in raw partisanship, as he decides how many columns he needs to add by folks like Chapin.

Should journalists decline interviews if questions are banned?

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Talking Points Memo reports that the Mitt Romney campaign told an Ohio TV station yesterday that it preferred not to answer questions about Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

“They were chatting and it came up and I believe [a Romney staffer’s] wording was that they prefer not to talk about it,” [WHIO-TV] assistant news director Tim Wolff told TPM. “But we didn’t care because we were going to talk about Ohio stuff.”

If I’m a journalist, and a campaign tells me it prefers not to talk about something, that’s immediately what I want to ask about.

But Wolff told me that the preference was expressed by a low-level logistical person in the Romney camp, and so it didn’t matter to the station, which wasn’t interested in the topic anyway.

I asked Wolff if his station would have conducted the interview, with some questions banned outright.

“We’ve never agreed to any kind of stipulations and never would,” he said. “So it wouldn’t be an issue for us.”

Dave Price, a reporter at WHO-TV in Iowa who also interviewed Romney yesterday, told Talking Points Memo that he also would not have agreed to the Romney interview, if he’d been told that Akin questions were banned.

I asked Wolff what he’d do if forced to reject an interview, due to unacceptable preconditions.

Would Wolff report that the interview invitation was declined?

“I’m not sure, just because I’ve never had it happen,” he said. “There are many variables in how it can happen. We may or may not report, depending on how big a deal it was, that we did not do the interview because of these circumstances.”

Normally, I’d think a reporter should tell us, if he or she doesn’t accept an interview because of banned questions or the like.

Transparency is key, and that’s why CBS4 did the right thing by going ahead with the Romney interview and reporting the ban on Akin/Abortion questions.

Rejecting the interview would have been an over-reaction, because, as CBS4 News director Tim Wieland tweeted, there’s a lot of other questions that can be asked–and you can still report that certain questions were banned, as CBS4 did.

But, at some point, and I’m not sure where it is, an interview gets so restricted that a reporter has to say no, and report what happened.

Or if a topic was so important at a particular moment, a reporter might decline an interview, just because one topic was banned.

So I think it just depends, but CBS4 made the right call yesterday.



With Channel 4 leading the way, four Denver TV stations to fact-check political ads this election cycle

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Channel 4 has jumped ahead of other Denver TV stations in fact-checking political ads so far this election cycle.

CBS4 has already aired segments analyzing 20 ads, over twice as many as 9News, its closest competitor among the four stations analyzing ads.

Sorry for the horse-race media criticism, but the numbers are worth pointing out, because Channel 4’s early analysis of the ads has undoubtedly been appreciated by regular people (none of whom read my blog), who’ve been trying to sort through all the political spots that have aired so early this election season.

“In the past, the ads didn’t start coming in nearly so soon or so often,” Denver Post Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett told me via email. “I’ve talked with national players who have visited Colorado this summer who couldn’t believe the number of ads that already were up and running.”

So it was a smart move for CBS4 to start dissecting the ads early, as part of its excellent “Reality Check” feature, led by “Political Specialist” Shaun Boyd. (Look for a post tomorrow with more on Boyd and Reality Check.)

“We’re committed to it,” said CBS4 News Director Tim Wieland. “We have a system in place that allows us to begin when the ads start rolling in. People are frustrated, and they want something that cuts through the BS. That’s the intent of this project.”

For its part, 9News is ramping up its ad-checking segments, called “Truth Tests,” with an idea that other media outlets may want to copy, straight up.

“Due to the sheer volume of political ads, 9NEWS has hired a team of three graduate students from the University of Denver to work as researchers for Truth Tests,” wrote 9News Political Reporter Brandon Rittiman, who’s the station’s primary Truth-Test reporter. “With the extra help, we hope to be able to tackle more ads than ever before this political season.”

9News, Denver’s NBC affiliate, will also work its newspaper partner, The Denver Post, according to Post Politics Editor Plunkett, with reporter Tim Hoover directing the coverage.

Channel 7’s “Truth Tracker” series is spearheaded by Producer/Presenter Marshall Zelinger, who’s scrutinized four ads so far and is scaling up the project now. Channel 7, Denver’s ABC affiliate, actually introduced the ad-checks to Denver TV viewers in the 1990’s, with reporter John Ferrugia’s “Truth Meter” series. It was later revived by Adam Schrager at 9News.

“I wanted to start a month earlier, because so many ads were rolling in,” Zelinger told me, adding that he plans to dedicate a significant amount of his time to Truth Tracker going forward, focusing on new ads and the ones airing the most.

For the first time, Fox 31, an independent station that’s become known as the local TV news leader in day-to-day political coverage, will produce a regular ad-check segment, called “Fact or Fiction,” anchored mostly by political reporter Eli Stokols. This might air once or twice weekly, Stokols emailed me, with a focus on “the most controversial ads and those airing the most frequently in Denver and around the state.”

Even though he’ll be fact-checking ads himself, Stokols is skeptical of his new endeavor, emailing me that, “especially now in this post-Citizens United world, [it] seems like a losing game of Whack-a-Mole — as soon as you finish checking one spot, it’s yesterday’s news and there are a dozen more popping up.”

“While campaigns are quick to cite such fact-checking spots in their effort to discredit opposition advertising, the campaigns we call out for blatant falsehoods don’t seem to care at all,” Stokols wrote. “And why should they? In a campaign that could see close to $1 billion in campaign spending, it’s inevitable that any TV ad, however false or misleading, will air hundreds of times, overwhelming any news outlet’s fact-check that might air a couple of times. Today’s campaign finance landscape enables political advertisements to have a reach that’s far wider than any fact-check — until, perhaps, the fact-check itself becomes part of a countering ad, just more noise in a never-ending echo chamber of allegations and attacks.”

Daily campaign-trail coverage and investigative journalism obviously had more of an impact than ad fact-checks in the last plagiarism-ridden election here, but political advertising can overwhelm all journalism, not just the stories fact-checking political ads. And the elucidation of facts can have an impact on the campaign trail, shaping the debate there, at press conferences and debates, for example, where they’re sometimes cited.

CBS4’s Boyd says in her normal reporting duties, covering events and such, she’ll often “turn a story and you don’t feel like you’ve influenced anyone.”

“Reality Check influences voters,” she told me. “I know that from the emails I receive.”

TV audiences pay attention to it.

“It’s the most popular thing we do in political coverage,” CBS4’s Wieland told me.

Maybe that’s because viewers don’t get enough day-to-day political journalism on local TV, like what you find in a newspaper, to get hooked on it. So the fact checking fills the void?

In any case, when you watch the ad-checks on TV, you can see why they work so well.

The ads themselves are usually already branded, if you will; they’re familiar to viewers. And the process of stopping and starting the ads, and analyzing segments with sharp graphics and simple analysis, is gripping, in its way.

The text-based fact-checking you’ve traditionally found in newspapers, without the video, doesn’t carry the same impact, at all.

The format for the fact-check segments at Denver TV stations varies a bit, but the basics are similar. Channel 7 provides a rating system with six options for the “facts” analyzed, including “misleading,” and “opinion.” 9News and CBS4 use a wider range of descriptions for the facts in question. And CBS4 concludes with a “Bottom Line” statement, which often offers a broader interpretation.

When Adam Schrager was at 9News, he actually taught people how to check ads themselves.

If you try it, you know how difficult it is to do. It’s hard to label the facts, found in a deliberately vague advertisement, as false or true, and partisans can almost always find something to get mad about.

But with an expanding sea of misinformation coming at us, the effort to shed nonpartisan light on political advertising is worth it. And the earlier the TV stations get started at it, like CBS4 did this election season, the better.

Radio wordsmiths offer new categories of rape, like the “very forcible” kind

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Conservative talk-radio hosts are fairly unified in their condemnation of GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin’s statement that the female body has a natural ability to identify and repel the sperm of rapists.

But they’ve been a bit more iffy on the question of how serious it was for Akin, who’s vowing not to drop out of the Missouri Senate race, to distinguish between “legitimate” rape from other kinds.

“If you’re a guy, and you throw the word ‘legitimate’ in front of rape, you’re in trouble,” KLZ radio host Jason Worley told listeners Monday. “You’re already in trouble. If that was all he did, he could actually come back, and he honestly could, and say, what I meant was ‘actual’ rape cases, like when there was a crime committed…He may have been able to come back from it.”

KOA’s Mike Rosen also sort of defended Akin:

“He had a very ill-phrased remark, put his foot in the mouth, talking about whether abortion should be allowed in cases, as he put it, of ‘legitimate’ rape. What he meant to say was in the case of very clear forcible rape. In any event, this is an area into which he should not have gone.”

These radio wordsmiths have developed new categories of rape. For Worley, it’s “actual” rape cases, presumably versus the fake kind.

For Rosen, it’s “very clear forcible” rape cases.

By adding the adverb “very clear,” Rosen is one-upping Rep. Mike Coffman, Rep. Cory Gardner, Rep. Doug Lamborn, and Rep. Scott Tipton, who all voted to redefine the definition of rape so that federal funding would only be available for “forcible” rape, not other kinds.

For Rosen, it looks like only the “very forcible” kind of rape counts?

I didn’t get a chance to listen to all our favorite radio hosts, but one can only imagine all the other categories of rape that they might come up with.

Please send me any and all new rape categories that you hear from conservative radio hosts. I’m working on a comprehensive list that I want to share with the talk-radio crowd, to see if I can get them on the same page, like they are so often when it comes to President Obama.