Iowa Politics with Jeff Stein — Thu. Oct. 15, 2020

Iowa Politics with Jeff Stein — Thu. Oct. 15, 2020

I’m Still Speaking

Yesterday, we started having “the talk”, which we do around each election. If you missed it, the podcast is at kxel-dot-com. I reminded you that federal law prohibits radio stations from refusing to air political candidate ads, and requires that they run with the lowest cost to the campaigns possible. More on that topic now.

Some of you have called to complain about inaccuracies you say are in the ads. No doubt there are plenty of examples of, at least, “shading the truth”. But again, we are powerless to halt or censor those ads. The concern, just as with the rule about charging them the same low rate, is while truth is absolute, accuracy is often in the eye of the beholder, and you don’t want radio and television stations censoring the ads for fear of bias creeping in. Just look at yesterday’s example of Twitter and Facebook censoring a New York Post story that tells of wrongdoing by Joe Biden and his family.

There’s another category of ads, those paid for by public interest groups that are separate from the campaigns themselves. The rules for airing those are not as strict, but a station can still risk losing its license to broadcast if it discriminates against one group and in favor of another. They ads are supposedly not connected to the campaigns, but they sound virtually the same as official ads, right down to talking points.

You can tell the difference because of the disclaimer each ad has…it tells you who paid for the ad. You have to listen closely, or look at the fine print on television, but it’s there…so you can distinguish between an official ad approved by a candidate, or an ad paid for by an interest group. Again, it’s perhaps a difference without distinction, but it’s there.

If you think this year has been different in terms of ads, you’re right…there have been many more of them than in the past, and they started earlier and therefore have been running longer. Democrats in particular seem to have a money printing machine in the back room, because they are spending large amounts to be heard even within programs whose hosts don’t agree with them.

But again, federal law requires we air the ads. More on why, in our final part of “the talk” tomorrow.