Don Rogers: About that ad …
October 31, 2016
Man, I have some explaining to do. Seems half our readers are ready to hang me, and I don't mean in effigy.
Of course, I knew this would be trouble when the ad department sent me a long piece expressing less than charitable views about the presidential candidate I'm voting for.
The polemic strained credulity even in final form, though we've pretty much heard it all long before from Rush Limbaugh or one of his bretheren on the radio. We've seen it and more surfing the web. In shorter form and more sophisticated packaging, its like is bombarding the airwaves in the battleground states.
In the paper, though, Armeggedon. Even if maybe a little shy of Ann Coulter, a nationally syndicated columnist whose work once appeared regularly in The Union.
If it wouldn’t make the cut for commentary, why should it get a chance as a political advertisement? It’s one we’ll have to consider more thoroughly in the future, plainly.
I suspect many readers didn't get past the title of the advertisement, "Is your president a Muslim?" — tired, but apparently still an attention-getter. The author explained in his opening he wasn't talking about Barack Obama and at least recognized the fact Obama has long worshipped as a Protestant Christian. Yes, his "logic" was just as tortured as if he had declared this about Obama.
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No doubt I'm tone deaf. I don't care whether the president is man, woman, black, white, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, young, old, billionaire, pauper. None of that is germane to the job. Furthermore, "Muslim" isn't even a pejorative.
I get that to at least some voters supporting Donald Trump, the word is supposed to be some sort of negative. But 99.9 percent of the people who follow this faith are good, honorable people. "Islamic terrorism" makes up a tiny fraction of the acts committed here. Lightning, sharks and heavy furniture offer more to fear. Protestants are more violent in this country, statistically.
The piece was unfit for news, of course. Too long and too rich for commentary. So this fell outside the editor and the news staff's realm.
The lines for political advertising, especially from PACs in battleground states, are drawn further out than in news.
Ironically, though, more pernicious stuff than this is finding its way boldly to page ones across the nation. The purported coziness of the Clinton Foundation to a Clinton serving in office. What may or may not be in Trump's tax returns. Women stepping up to declare he groped them. The email server. Trump University. The Russians. The FBI. And on and on.
Frank Pinney's ad is old, tiresome, lightweight and laughable by comparison. Fortunately, California is not a battleground state and we're not regularly being asked to book ads in the historic vein of Willie Horton, swiftboating or insinuations about George W. Bush's military record. Today's versions of this ilk go even further, from both sides.
Comparatively, Pinney's polemic is lame and moldy: Clinton's chief aide's faith, scholarship with controversial professors, a founder of Planned Parenthood's thoughts in the era of eugenics among the elite, a famously profane president 60 years ago, tripe about what Obamacare might really be about, unsurprising views from survivors of Benghazi and the usual musings about what prosecutors should or should not be doing.
This is the stuff of satire, however unintended.
The author makes absurd conclusions about the facts he uses. He's mean spirited. He's also clear where he expresses his opinion and where he asserts his baseline facts. The facts he asserts appear to be legitimate and can be found in "mainstream" sources.
His conclusions are hardly what I would draw out of the same reading, but it's not about my personal views.
Where "censorship" and "judgment" meet is highly subjective and ever present. Where do we trust readers to make their own determinations and where do we decide to protect sensibilities beyond the conventions of libel in this era, and this race in particular?
From what I'm hearing from readers, we drew the lines too loosely. Or rather, I did. I made the final call. Ironically enough, I did so not out of sympathy for the positions taken, but in trying to apply standards of libel, invasion of privacy, obscenity and clearness of opinion from facts. And also from the standpoint of political rhetoric in an advertisement as opposed to news or commentary.
This does raise an obvious question that doesn't seem to bother our big league brethren: If it wouldn't make the cut for commentary, why should it get a chance as a political advertisement?
It's one we'll have to consider more thoroughly in the future, plainly.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 477-4299.
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