More Messages: Straight From the Source

The October 12 edition of the Message concerns the process by which political advertisements are approved for airing on local TV stations. The general managers of these outlets are the folks best able to answer questions on the topic, but in the end, only one person in this position -- Channel 4's Walt DeHaven, seen in a photo from 2002 -- chose to do so. (Channel 7's Darrell Brown and Channel 9's Mark Cornetta declined interview requests, while sales executives spoke for channels 2 and 31.) DeHaven may regret being so forthright, though, because a prominent local website is currently attacking him using words he shared with Westword as ammunition.

The site in question is Colorado Media Matters, a left-leaning project that points out what its staffers regard to be conservative misinformation; the Message profile of the organization can be accessed by clicking here. In an October 13 item headlined "Is CBS4 Violating Its Own Policies by Airing Unsourced Beauprez Ad?," the piece's authors reference an October 12 report by Channel 4's Raj Chohan about the latest ad in the "Case File" series, in which supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez have been assailing Democratic hopeful Bill Ritter's record as Denver district attorney. Here's the way Media Matters reps describe the portion of the spot they see as dubious:

In "Case File," the Beauprez campaign claims that an illegal immigrant whom Ritter's office plea-bargained for a December 2001 drug charge later was arrested for sexual abuse of a minor. According to Chohan's research, the person pictured in the ad actually was arrested in Denver under the name Walter Ramo. On the broadcast version of the "Reality Check," Chohan reported, regarding the ad's assertion that the person was "arrested again for the sexual abuse of a minor," that "[t]he claim is true regarding a guy named Eugene Estrada, who did get arrested in 2003 in California for a sex offense to a minor and later plea bargained to a misdemeanor. The Beauprez camp says he and Ramo are the same guy...

Chohan gave greater detail in the written version of the "Reality Check," reporting that the Beauprez campaign has refused to provide sourcing for the claim that Ramo and Estrada are the same person. Chohan stated that "[t]he Beauprez campaign says Ramo is one of about seven aliases Estrada Medina uses, but I haven't been able to independently confirm that claim. The Beauprez campaign says the information comes from a proprietary source which they can't reveal." Chohan also stated in the written "Reality Check" that "it occurred to me that if Beauprez' information is correct, he must have some source with access to a federal database indexed by fingerprints. John Marshall of the Beauprez camp was unwilling to talk about his source, only calling the person proprietary."

The Ritter campaign charges that Beauprez partisans broke the law in order to get the Ramo/Estrada info; this Rocky Mountain News article details the controversy, which the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has agreed to examine. However, the Media Matters critique focuses on Channel 4's internal procedures for okaying political commercials. Again, here's Media Matters' take:

Despite the fact that CBS4 is airing a political ad featuring a claim that the station's own reporter says is unsourced, Westword reported that, according to DeHaven, the "first round" of CBS4's political ad-vetting process involves checking to make sure that sourcing is provided for pertinent claims.

As noted in this blog, written as a companion to the most recent Message, Chohan's "Reality Check" offerings generate some interesting internal tension, since they often imply that advertisements approved by the signal's business department contain false or misleading information. That's certainly true in this instance -- and no matter what conclusion the CBI reaches, this latest spat suggests that stations rethink their approach to campaign commercials.

Right now, the people who approve ads for broadcast are more accustomed to dealing with submissions from car dealers, furniture retailers and the like. Political spots are completely different, in that operatives are always trying to push things as far as they possibly can. Attorneys with specific training in media law would presumably be much more capable of determining when lines were crossed, yet in most cases, they only see problematic commercials once they've begun airing, and only if there have been complaints about them. Placing lawyers at the head of the line, rather than in the second slot, would be more expensive, but in all likelihood, it would lessen or eliminate disputes like the one detailed above.

Betcha DeHaven wouldn't mind that outcome in the slightest. -- Michael Roberts