More Messages: Truth Testing

This week's Message column deals with the process by which political ads reach the airwaves at local TV stations. But at two Denver outlets, the sort of fact checking that's done by folks on the business side is supplemented by further scrutiny from journalists in the editorial department. As such, reporters charged with this assignment regularly question the veracity of commercials that their own employers have chosen to broadcast.

Specifically, Channel 9's Adam Schrager conducts "Truth Tests" on campaign commercials; this page on the signal's website sports a roster of his critiques. Meanwhile, at Channel 4, correspondent Raj Chohan takes a similar approach in his "Reality Check" segments; webmasters overseeing the CBS affiliate's site place past examinations here.

These samples demonstrate that Schrager and Chohan do a commendably evenhanded job of breaking down claims -- and when they point out deep flaws in spots their stations are airing, the result is irony aplenty. But Channel 9 news director Patti Dennis notes that she can't yank offending ads even after her guy picks them apart. "We have nothing to do with commercial time, how they're run or how they're sold," she says. "And with federal candidates, there are guidelines that don't let us turn them down." Moreover, she notes that even the most dubious assertions made in political spots this year "have been in the gray area of opinion or lack of full disclosure" rather than bald-faced fiction.

Channel 4 news director Tim Wieland agrees. "Whether it's 527s or candidates' committees, they're very careful not to include something that's outright wrong," he maintains. "Instead, they provide some spin on the truth. So what our series does is cuts through the spin to say that this is their version of the truth -- but this is what you need to know the whole story."

By the way, Channel 4 general manager Walt DeHaven noted in the aforementioned Message column that no political ads had been rejected thus far in 2006. Yesterday, however, politicos backing Democratic Congressional hopeful Ed Perlmutter issued "Texas Republican's 527 Commercial Pulled for False Attack," a press release that begins with the excerpt below:

Today, the Campaign for Ed Perlmutter, candidate for Congress in the 7th District, applauded local television stations and newspaper reporters for immediately confirming that a TV commercial paid for by Texas-based 527 was blatantly false. These independent assessments along with legal action taken by Perlmutter against the 527 led to the Republican group to pull this ad from Colorado airwaves...

If only the rest of the season's political commercials would vanish, too, the TV world would be a nicer place to visit. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts