Colorado is a key swing state in the 2012 election, and that means local airwaves are inundated with political advertisements from campaigns and third parties.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson has been watching the ads and the resulting coverage in Colorado and elsewhere. Jamieson, a co-founder of FactCheck.org and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, this weekend singled out Denver broadcast media for consistently debunking the political ads it was airing.
“More so than in any other battleground market we are studying, newsrooms in this area have helped viewers cut through the political spin,” she wrote in the Denver Post. “Denver broadcasters deserve praise not only for reality testing political claims, but for also doing it well.”
Her opinion piece included a sidebar with comments from three local television stations about their approach to fact checking this election. Each of the stations that responded have a regular fact checking feature. They have also put more resources into the practice in order to keep up with ads and other forms of political speech.
NBC affiliate KUSA runs what it calls Truth Tests. Patti Dennis, the station’s VP of news, summarized their efforts:
Political reporter Brandon Rittiman leads the number of weekly/daily Truth Tests; three additional general assignment reporters are now working on Truth Test reports; three University of Denver graduate students research dozens of ads with complete backup in fact checking for our files.
A September report from Free Press suggests that the situation in Denver could be an exception. The report said “perhaps the most important story of the 2012 presidential election is the toxic mix of money, politics and media that is shaping so much of the discourse in the months before the general election. Yet that’s not a story you’ll find on the local news.”
The Free Press found that local news stations were airing political ads but not providing additional reporting to debunk false claims, or help viewers place the ads in context. As Jamieson noted in her piece, local stations “have to air even blatantly false ads by federal candidates … [but] have the unquestioned right to reject third-party ones outright and to insist on the accuracy of those they choose to air.”
Recent research “confirmed that both reading and watching fact-checking increased the accuracy of viewers’ responses to both a deceptive Republican and Democratic ad on the hot-button issue of Medicare reform,” according to Jamieson.
In her view, the data “expose a flaw in the logic” of the Free Press report:
In our wired world, viewers can find stations’ and newspapers’ fact- checking pieces 24-7, which is, of course, how we in Philadelphia knew that Denver stations were engaged in the activity. Indeed, at any hour of the day or night, viewers can locate multiple analyses of just the sorts of ads that troubled the author of the Free Press report.
With the election less than a month away, the ads in Colorado and other swing states will become more frequent, and perhaps more deceptive.
Let’s hope the Denver stations and their counterparts in other swing states can keep pace.