Ad Attack

Political commercials outnumber political reports on local television.

Predictably, political ads were in much greater supply during these time blocks. Here's the scorecard.

•Channel 4: Eight campaign commercials aired in thirty minutes, with only one of them, a spot featuring 7th District Republican candidate Bob Beauprez touting prescription drug coverage, steering entirely clear of slams. The others included an ad laying into Mike Feeley, Beauprez's 7th District Democratic rival, with accusations like "Mike Feeley doesn't understand Colorado families," "Opposed cutting the income tax -- Twice!" and so on; an abortion-oriented whack at Beauprez, who, a graphic claimed, "has vowed to take away a woman's right to choose, even for victims of rape and incest"; and two blows aimed at Strickland, who was described alternately as a "Washington D.C. Lobbyist" and a "Millionaire Lobbyist." Expect him to be characterized as a "Mustachioed Lobbyist" in the near future.

Also in the hopper was a factually suspect and inexcusably vicious assault on Matsunaka -- the on-screen juxtaposition of a Matsunaka photo and the command "Tell Him Real Coloradans Pay Their Taxes" cynically flirts with racism -- along with two pro-Strickland efforts. The first couples complimentary remarks from assorted police and fire representatives with the ominous phrase "They know something Wayne Allard doesn't"; the second features one Betsy Markey calling Allard "too extreme." Since Markey is chair of the Larimer County Democratic Party (a position not mentioned in the ad), this opinion doesn't exactly come as a shock.

•Channel 31: Eight political advertisements in an hour, all nasty. Among the highlights were one of two commercials attempting to undermine Amendment 31, the English-immersion measure, via stark, black-and-white images that seem straight out of a Sally Struthers-hosted plea for "Save the Children"; two Strickland's-a-bum ads ("Fighting for us? Who's he kidding?") separated by nothing more than a commercial for Cricket cell phones; and a self-consciously hip strike against Allard that's modeled on a series of Federal Express commercials starring onetime Daily Show regular Steve Carell. In this last production, two dudes engage in forced comic banter while painting Allard as a guy who thinks arsenic is a yummy additive for drinking water:

"Once again, you've lost focus. Start over. Colorado elects a man named Wayne Allard..."

"My cousin's named Wayne."

"Yes, I've met him once. But pay attention."

•Channel 9: Six election-inspired offerings between 10 p.m. and 10:35 p.m. A Bill Owens valentine, in which the governor takes the controversial stance of saying kids should learn to read, is wholly positive -- but since Heath couldn't win if he were the reincarnation of Franklin Roosevelt, Owens can afford to be nice. Other spots took the low road, arguing, respectively, that Matsunaka is a jerk, Feeley is a jerk, and that even some Republicans think Beauprez plays "loose with the truth and with ethics."

•Channel 2: Seven paid-political forays in an hour. Most of the greatest hits alluded to above are on hand, but they're accompanied by an unexpected entrant. Words such as "Promises?" "Trust?" "Your Interests?" and "Hobnobbing Bigwigs" appear against a black backdrop, as someone who sounds an awful lot like Bill Clinton makes his pitch. Turns out it's a commercial for Rocky's Autos. What a relief.

•Channel 7: Six local-campaign ads -- a genuine accomplishment, because a sizable percentage of the commercial space for shows such as Good Morning America is reserved for national spots. The last segment before 8 a.m. was the most tightly packed -- two political commercials (one anti-Strickland, the other pro-Owens) sandwiched around a public-service announcement.

There's debate over whether the volume of commercials in 2002 is unprecedented. Ray Dowdle, vice president and general sales manager for Channel 31, doesn't see a huge increase over previous election cycles. "Years when there's a senatorial campaign are typically the busiest -- much more so than if there's a presidential election but no Senate campaign," he says. "That's especially true in years like this one, where it's such a hotly contested race. But I don't know if this is the most ever. Perhaps there'll be a little bit more, but we won't know that until it's all over with."

A highly placed source at a local station, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, is less cautious. In his view, we may be seeing as many as 60 percent more political commercials this year than any other.

Unfortunately, quantity hasn't led to quality, and that's left many viewers uncertain about who or what to believe -- which may be part of the strategy in some cases. To her credit, Rocky Mountain News reporter Karen Abbott has attempted to clarify things through her AdWatch column and accompanying analyses of the commercials. These pieces provide a useful counterpoint to the Rocky's election reporting, which has been much more abundant, thorough, varied and lively than that managed to date by the Denver Post. Sure, the Post made a splash with Susan Greene's controversial profile of Allard ("What's Left?" October 3), but too many other articles have been dry and uninvolving. Contrast the Rocky's October 17 coverage of an Allard-Strickland debate sponsored by the Post. In the News, reporter Charlie Brennan led with the candidates' comical inability to remember how much a postage stamp or a gallon of gas costs; in the Post, Ryan Morgan buried this info in the final paragraph, and had no fun with it whatsoever.

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