Watchdog focuses on Denver TV ahead of debate


Colorado has been considered a battleground state in recent years, and Denver has been buried under a deluge of political advertising. Free Press is dismayed at the ratio of ads to news about the ads, and has questions about truth in advertising issues as well.

According to Free Press, the four network affiliates in town have run 26,000 political advertisements already, and that’s just since August 1, with a month yet to go before Election Day.

Stations are required to run pretty much anything an actual candidate gives them to run, notes Free Press, but the same does not hold when a political action committee is running an ad. They have no such guarantees.

Free Press notes that the FCC requires stations to avoid knowingly airing false advertising messages. And it says that several messages run by PACs have been labeled misleading at best or flat out false by fact-checkers. Sometimes these fact-checkers have been reporters for the same Denver stations.

However, the ads continue to run.

Free Press also has a problem with the balance between advertising and news stories about the truthfulness of the advertising. It says that three of the stations have spent 10 minutes and 45 seconds on ad fact-checking (the local Fox affiliate has done no such stories), but the stories are outnumbered 162-to-1 by political ads on a minute-for-minute basis.

Free Press notes that the onslaught is chasing some viewers away from local broadcast television. And it also wonders if stations are putting themselves in a compromised position by labeling the content of an ad false via their own news department, then running the ads regardless.

RBR-TVBR observation: We’d note that it is the FTC, not the FCC, that generally goes after misleading advertisements. That said, we can’t remember them ever bringing a case against a political advertiser.

There is almost always a certain amount of gray area involved – for example, the FTC can’t fall back on its favorite argument that a claim is not backed up by solid scientific evidence – and of course, such as action would by definition be politically charged and as such very difficult for a federal agency to deal with.

That goes quadruple these days, when some parts of the electorate are so polarized it can often be difficult to get agreement on what the facts even are in the first place. So bottom line, we don’t expect either the FCC or FTC to wade into this quagmire any time soon.