Whenever I hear a claim of “fact,” or any sort of debatable assertion, my first caution is to “consider the source.” I’m not alone here. This is something we all do, at least to some extent. When we know that a claim has a self-serving bias, we add the appropriate measure of salt.
The veracity of Bob’s assertion that “Brenda is a selfish two-timing bitch” should obviously be tempered by the knowledge that Brenda just yesterday dumped Bob as her boyfriend.
Searching for a good plumber, you may happen to catch Joyce’s tweet that “Peter’s Plumbing is the best in town.” However, your faith in her recommendation will be sharply diminished if you discover that Peter is Joyce’s brother-in-law and that she gets a commission for all referrals.
And so it goes. You should always consider the source before passing judgement.
This is one huge reason why the current rules regarding political advertising desperately need to be fixed. With the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, corporations are not only free to spend almost unlimited amounts of money on attack ads, they can do so without revealing who paid for the ad. In other words, citizens have lost their critical ability to “consider the source.” This is especially critical when you consider that the majoity of these ads have been rated as “untrue” by organizations such as factcheck.org.
What can be done about this?
For one thing, we can push for new legislation and rulings that requires greater transparency regarding political advertisements. As noted in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, one such ruling by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission will accomplish this.
Unfortunately, it does not take effect until after this year’s election — and it only affects California.
Fortunately, there’s something effective YOU can do right now — whatever the rules may be. You can refuse to believe, be influenced by, or pay any attention to political ads — especially attack ads. This is not as difficult as it may sound. But it will take a bit of discipline. Personally, I have decided to stop listening to all news programs on television until after the election — from local news to ABC News to CNN and beyond. By doing so, I not only miss all the accompanying ads, I also avoid any discussion of the ads that might crop up during the program itself. For other programming, I use my DVR to record shows, so I can skip over any ads that show up there. Despite all this, an occasional ad still slips through — which I do my best to ignore.
If we all did this, political ads on television would become worthless. If politicians wanted our attention, they’d have to change their way of doing business. I’m too much of a realist to believe that we’ll see this happen any time soon. But I’m willing to start the ball rolling. How about you?