Commentary: We shouldn’t trust political TV ads
By Jim Schuh
I’ve never liked liars. But they, along with their lies, are everywhere today. Maybe they always were.
Psychologists say all of us lie, maybe ten percent of the time. But the question is why we lie. Experts from the Paul Ekman Group say we often do it to avoid punishment. We do it for protection – for ourselves or someone else. We lie to conceal a reward or benefit, or to avoid embarrassment. Some lie just for the thrill it gives them. We sometimes lie to maintain privacy, and we’ve all lied to be polite. (The wife says, “How do I look in this?” The husband replies positively, even though the wife looks as big as a house.) Finally, some of us lie to inflate our image. Does that bring anyone to mind?
The seemingly never-ending political season’s in full swing, with plenty of negative TV ads. Lots of them contain half-truths, which are in fact, lies. It all becomes a blur after a while. As TV stations rake in cash from candidates and their detractors, we – the viewers – suffer. The ads almost function as an emetic. Mind you, we’re only in the primary season – the general election isn’t until November. That means the bulk of false advertising is yet to come.
Our president has a habit of lying. The Washington Post is keeping track of his lies and misrepresentations, and most of them silly and avoidable. The Post says he’s lied 4,228 times in 558 days in office. I wish the Post would come to Wisconsin and document the falsehoods that permeate the local airwaves nightly.
At our house, we have the 6:00 TV news on during dinner. Whoever controls the remote is responsible for muting the sound when a political ad comes on – and it’s requiring an ever-faster finger as the number of spots proliferates. Not only are most of these ads distasteful, they are repetitive and replete with half-truths.
Take our state’s senatorial ads, for example. Did Tammy Baldwin really miss all those “important” meetings, as the anti-Baldwin ads claim? What’s the definition of “important?” Is the empty chair in the anti-Baldwin ad really representative of her performance? Not if you watch her ads, which feature workers praising her for what she’s done for them.
I recoil when I see the ad for Leah Vukmir with a handgun beside her on the dining room table as she spouts tough talk. Who keeps a pistol on the table? Anybody you know? It’s not very subtle and clearly a tawdry play for pro-gun advocate support.
An anti-Vukmir ad says she stuck taxpayers with $15,000 in legal bills in an open records case she lost.
There’s some evidence that’s true, but we haven’t heard her explanation yet.
Can Kevin Nicholson really “clean up the swamp” in Washington singlehandedly? If he were to win, he’d be near the bottom of the seniority list with little power to do much of anything. He’d become chairman of the committee on lunch menus in the Senate dining room.
Talk about “fake news.” While advertising’s aim is to promote products, sometimes it takes liberties with truth or fact, as TV ads for and against political candidates do. As good citizens we should discount them altogether.
A reader of this column had a suggestion that looks alluring. She wondered if congressional candidates should be required to undergo lie detector tests when running for office. Wouldn’t that be fun? It’s probably unconstitutional, but nearly all of us would agree it’s appealing.
Most politicians have bent the truth to their advantage, such as taking credit for things that they had little or nothing to do with. Many have made promises they had no intention of keeping or wouldn’t even be able to keep. We’ve become accustomed to hearing such claims and basically disregard them, knowing deep down there’s no way a candidate could ever fulfill those pledges.
But we’ve graduated into a new era, where bold lies are now commonplace. Critics and even some supporters of our current chief executive are quick to point them out. At the same time, many supporters dismiss or downplay them. I can’t explain that. All I know is that, as a child, I learned not to lie. You always get caught.
Many of the president’s false or inflated claims are unnecessary. You may recall the first one – that the crowd at his inaugural was larger than at his predecessor’s. My first thought was, “Who cares?” When aerial photos showed his claim was untrue, I wondered why anybody would make such a silly boast in the first place. Doesn’t the president have better things to do?
I’m no psychoanalyst so I’m not qualified to determine what disorders the president may or may not have. But we judge people by how they act, and something doesn’t seem quite right to me. I’ll leave it at that.
I’ll repeat the old German maxim that should give us pause when looking at the president’s or any candidate’s claims. The proverb says, “Who once lies, him no one will believe, even when he tells the truth.” It’s another version of the boy who cried wolf.
I’m not sure where that leaves us at election time – are we to vote only for candidates that lie the least? How do we determine that?
I do know that we shouldn’t trust what we see in political TV ads. If you as I believe that a free press is a critical in our society (even with whatever imperfections it has), it’s our duty as citizens to make the effort to determine the facts and to try to do that without political bias. Only then will we be able to cast an informed vote with a clear conscience. No lie.