...don't even ignore 'em.
-- Samuel Goldwyn

Friday, August 12, 2005

Politics and Advertising. Wrong tool.

A pro-choice lobbying group has pulled a 30-second TV spot opposing the appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court off the air under intense pressure from all sides. Here's a description of the ad, with its text, from E.J. Dionne's column in the Washington Post:

Here's what the ad says: "Seven years ago, a bomb destroyed a women's health clinic in Birmingham, Alabama." The ad then quotes Emily Lyons, whose clinic was bombed in January 1998: "When a bomb ripped through my clinic, I almost lost my life. I will never be the same." The announcer returns: "Supreme Court nominee John Roberts filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber." Text on screen: "Roberts filed court brief supporting clinic protestors." Lyons again: "I'm determined to stop this violence so I'm speaking out." The announcer: "Call your senators. Tell them to oppose John Roberts. America can't afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans."
The mercifully short life of this ad campaign is a graphic example of why we must end the application of advertising techniques to American politics. There's simply no way this kind of deceitful, toxic media contrivance advances debate, truth or even the point of view of its sponsor. I can't imagine attack ads changing anybody's mind. The only purpose I can imagine for garbage like this is to cater to the most rabid partisans. Unfortunately, I hear the group is preparing a replacement ad. They just don't get it. There's no way they're going to produce a fair ad, having proven they can't, or that anybody's going to buy their arguments now.

I've often told advertising clients that their brochure is only for them--the customer will never read the boring crap they want in it. Likewise, political advertisers are only entertaining themselves and their most extreme supporters. Mean-spirited distortions made up of selected facts only sell the rest of us on hating all politicians. The perpetrators--the political "consultants" and media mavens--don't have to live with the consequences. The candidates, party leaders, the office-holders, the government, and the citizens must try to get things done through the poisonous fog that is the aftermath of every advertising bombardment.

Political advertising isn't the only reason the atmosphere reeks. But getting rid of political TV and radio ads once and for all would be a great place to start cleaning up our environment.

Want to get balanced coverage of the Roberts debate in progress? Look at the Post's Supreme Court blog.

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