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]

Tracking Elections From the Ground Up

PollTrack is a new website that combines poll tracking data and written analysis to decipher “what voters are actually thinking and feeling” in the lead-up to the election. The site is not complete: sections are unfinished, artwork is rough, and usability problems involving labeling (“Today’s Map Today”) have yet to be sorted. But though the paint is not dry, the site’s potential fascinates.

The Presidential Race section includes a three-layered map showing current poll averages, projected averages in the coming weeks, and projected election day averages. It’s nail-biting stuff.

Commentary by Maurice Berger complements the visual data, explaining what the polls reveal or analyzing the way events in the news affect how the country says it intends to vote. Berger is a cultural historian, curator, art critic, and the author of numerous books, including White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness.

The site needs, and will no doubt acquire, polish. Copy is required to help the first-time user understand what the site is about and make better use of its features. The design feels more like a wireframe than a layout, and the stock photos on the home page are unneeded and poorly chosen. Intended to humanize, they merely cause the site to feel generic—and it is anything but.

But these are fixable problems, and almost beside the point. What matters is that PollTrack delivers insights and information on the most important election in years.

[tags]polling, election, vote, websites, webdesign[/tags]