A modest proposal

It is illegal to make false claims in a TV or radio commercial unless you are running for political office.

If you’re selling toothpaste, your claims must be vetted by legal and medical professionals. But not if you’re selling a candidate.

If you’re selling a candidate, not only can you lie about his record, but more to the point, you can lie about his opponent.

These lies are seen and heard by millions, not only when they run as paid advertisements, but also when they are run again for free on 24-hour news networks hungry for controversy. And after they are run for free, they become talking points in an “unbiased” conversation that pretends there are two sides to every story, even when one side is lies. Two words: Swift Boat.

Lies, and a candidate’s embarrassing efforts to brush them aside, fill the news cycle and constitute the national discourse. And this terrifying and morally indefensible rupture from reality persists even when the country is on its knees.

If networks refuse to accept cigarette advertising, how can they readily approve dishonest political advertising? Cigarettes kill individuals, but lying political ads hurt the whole country. No democracy can afford this, let alone when the country is at war, and under existential threat from terrorists, and in economic free fall.

So here’s my idea. One that could actually work, if America’s networks remember they are Americans first, revenue seekers second.

Just as they once united to stamp out cigarette advertising, radio and TV stations and advertisers must get together and agree that false statements in political advertisements will not be tolerated. If you run a political ad that proves to be a lie, your network will pay a steep fine, and the advertiser will pay an even steeper one.

To avoid these crushing fines, networks will insist on proof of statements made in political advertisements, just as they demand proof of statements made in sugarless chewing gum commercials.

Political advertisers will not be able to lie about opponents. They will either have to attack opponents honestly, or talk about the actual issues facing the country, and how their candidate will solve those issues.

Imagine. We might hear ads about the banking crisis and how each candidate will address it.

Candidates might summarize their positions on Iraq and Afghanistan and end with links to more detailed positions on their websites.

The public might discuss the real issues facing us instead of manufactured Entertainment-Tonight-style “controversies.” People might even vote for candidates based on their resumes and positions on the issues.

It would be just like democracy.

[tags]advertising, political, political advertising, lies, TV, radio, politics, presidential[/tags]