Here comes the clutter of political advertisements. The public’s least favorite time of year, when mailboxes are stuffed full of negative mailers and television ads assault the senses. It is caveat emptor out there, but informed voters are always the best.
First rule to remember: there is no truth in advertising in politics. Your local dentist can’t lie to you in a TV ad and Listerine can’t claim to cure the common cold. But campaigns can say whatever they like, regardless of the veracity
Products and regular advertisers are governed by Federal Communications Commission. Commercial speech can be regulated, according to the Supreme Court, in the interest of public safety.
Political speech, however, is not commercial speech and is protected, even if it is dishonest. There is nothing that can’t be said in politics, no matter how outrageous the claim. There is no third party arbiter to determine whether campaign literature is true or not. The Supreme Court has protected political speech to the point that if you “think it” you can say it. Evidence is not required.
Climate deniers would be locked up if political speech were regulated even half as much as commercial speech.
In the past, some in the media have attempted to alert voters to a piece of mail or an ad that was patently untrue. But true journalism is rare our current era and much of it has become partisan and egalitarian in nature. Moreover, anyone with a computer can claim to be a journalist—much to the chagrin of the few true professionals left in the business.
Moreover, in today’s day and age, a media source is more likely to take a partisan side than provide real objective reporting. Ed Marrow must be weeping in his grave.
So it is up to the voter to make an effort to distinguish fact from fiction. Now, some folks would simply dismiss all of the information they receive. Others believe every written or spoken word, falsely believing that libel and slander laws actually apply in the public debate. As noted above, they do not.
But that does not mean information given is not verifiable. Some of it is important and voters must take the next step to verify the information they are receiving. Democracy is a participatory sport and if we are to improve the process, voters must become engaged. They can also trust some sources. You may not agree with former Mayor Susan Hammer on an issue or candidate, but she is not going to lie to you.
Other trusted leaders include Mike Fox Sr., Congress members Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, and Anna Eshoo. Republicans Sheriff Laurie Smith and former Assemblyman Jim Cunneen are reliable sources. San Jose icons Carl Guardino, Bob Kieve, Susie Wilson, Dianne McKenna, Liz Kniss, former Assemblyman Dom Cortese are also good public policy validators, among many others.
This is not to say you will agree with them, just that you can believe what they say. They are all honest people.
On the other hand, if you get messages from the local Tea Party—you know right away the information is a lie.
Finally, there is a difference between an accountability mailer and ad, which stick to issues germane to the election, and “hit” pieces designed to destroy the personal character of another candidate. There are exceptions, but these “hit” ads are rarely true and should appropriately line the bird cage or litter box
But voters must be aware of what is coming. They must be discerning in their analysis of the information. For in a democratic republic, the voters are the ultimate arbiters of truth in a campaign. Use that power wisely.