You see an ad on TV in which a candidate or someone else says flatly, “______ (my opponent) raised taxes.” And you say to yourself, “Gee, that must be true or they wouldn’t allow it on TV.”
Wrong. Under the Federal Communications Act, which governs broadcast stations (because the airwaves, allegedly at least, belong to the people), candidates may lie with impunity.
In fact, the law “requires broadcasters who run candidate ads to show them uncensored, even if the broadcasters believe their content to be offensive or false,” as Brooks Jackson, explained in the best primer on the issue on the web.
Ironically, that’s the same Brooks Jackson, formerly of CNN, whose erroneous report is the evidence Bill Clinton is referring to in the Meg Whitman ad that falsely accuses Jerry Brown of raising taxes when he was governor. (Clinton, btw, has since denounced the ad.)
The First Amendment, which we all remember says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” makes it really difficult for anyone to craft legislation allowing any third party to adjudicate what is and is not “true” or “factual” in political speech.
All a candidate has to do is show a picture in the ad of himself or herself and have a statement saying he or she approved the ad. And they can lie away, which they often do. (For further discussion of this phenomenon see “The Death of Truth: eMeg and the Politics of Lying.”)
Which is why, according to Brown’s mouth organ The Sterling of Clifford, “Most people assume what they see in political ads is not true. People see a commercial and they go to whatever news source they trust to confirm or reject what they just heard.”
This is not the same in commercial speech, which is where the confusion comes in.
Ford cannot run an ad saying its latest car will get 100 miles to the gallon if that’s not a fact. If a commercial product makes a claim that’s not substantiated by facts or is not a subjective observation like “It’s Amazing!” then the ad can be censored by the TV station or network and the sponsor may be liable for damages.
A candidate’s right to lie in commercials, however, does not necessarily extend to political committees and other political players besides candidates themselves. That’s because when broadcast stations run ads from committees making charges, they may be held liable if the person skewered decides to sue for libel or slander.
Now, for a public figure to win a libel or slander suit is really, really, really hard because he or she has to show that the person or entity being sued knew the facts were wrong and broadcast them anyway with malicious intention. The standard is deliberately difficult for public figures in order to encourage robust public debate without fear of being charged with false defamation.
So, Calbuzzers, when you see an ad on TV, check to see who paid for it at the end. If it was put up by a candidate, no one had to say whether it was true or not before it was broadcast. That’s why newspapers, online sites, radio and TV reporters pay attention to what’s in those political ads. They’re the only ones who can tell you whether they’re based on truth or falsehood.
Department of Dumb Ideas: Regular readers of Calbuzz know that we have nothing but respect and affection for our friend George Skelton at the ByGodLA Times (he’s got even more institutional memory than we do!). But his piece arguing that Jerry Brown should pledge to serve only one term suggested that George is desperately seeking fresh material about the current state of politics, even if he has to resort to what he knows is a bonehead idea. Which, he acknowledged by saying: “I don’t know of anyone else who thinks it’s a good idea.” You got that right, George. Unless Krusty — should he happen to beat eMeg — wants to start out his third term as the lamest duck ever to sit in the horseshoe’s back office.
Yes, no, maybe so: Meg Whitman kept bobbing and weaving on Proposition 23 Monday, telling the Sacramento Bee editorial board she was pretty sure she’d be making her stance on the most high-profile measure on the November ballot clear any day now.
When asked about Proposition 23, which would suspend the state’s global warming law AB 32, Whitman said she would release a list of her proposition positions at the end of this week or at the start of next week.
Or maybe whenever the eMeg Empire marketing department gets around to telling her what she thinks.
Whitman has been all over the lot on the out-of-state-oil-company-financed measure, aimed at blocking California’s landmark legislation; she’s variously bashed AB32 as “a job killer,” said she favored suspending it for one year instead of indefinitely and just completely dithered on the matter, as she did with the Bee ed board.
A few hours before her latest procrastination, Brown, who opposes Prop. 23, stepped up the pressure on eMeg at a campaign stop with green industry types at a SoCal solar company:
Meg Whitman wants to have it both ways. She wants credit for supporting the environment and green jobs, but she won’t do what is necessary to support this vital industry. We need a governor who will do what is right, not a governor who doesn’t know what is right.
Despite efforts to pressure her from the right she simply has nothing to gain by backing the measure. The election between her and Brown will be decided among independents, who strongly favor AB32; sure, the right-wingers will be grumpy if she doesn’t support their who-really-knows-if-global-warming-is really-real proposal, but what else are they going to do – write in Chuck DeVore?
Bill Brushes Off Jerry’s Gaffe: In an interview with Yahoo! News and the Huffington Post, Bubba said all’s good between him and Jerry Brown and that he understands why the old man made his stupid joke about not having taxes with this state. Also: “Unbelievable,” Clinton said. “Meg Whitman made me a household face again and my younger self, too, which I’m very grateful for.”