PolitiFarce fuels negative campaigns | WisCommunity

PolitiFarce fuels negative campaigns

It was inevitable that PolitiFarce, the Journal Sentinel's terribly tilted pretense at fact checking political statements, would end up as the centerpiece of those negative campaign commercials the newspaper sanctimoniously editorializes against in every election cycle.

The "PolitiFact" is anything but factual.  The word from the newsroom is that the outcome of the "checks" is predetermined by a committee, heavily influencded by the conservative Managing Editor George Stanley, before a reporter is assigned to write the interminable, boring piece that leads to the conclusion Stanley & Co. want.  A lot of journalism talent is being wasted on this project at a time when serious coverage of the campaign is sorely lacking.

The results have been predictable.  The only candidates who got a "pants on fire" rating have been Democrats, while total falsehoods by Republicans are rated "barely true" at worst.  (If you can find an exception, it's the one that proves the rule.

Having that slanted drivel on page 2 of the paper, or online, isn't really all that damaging.  Regular readers either skip right over it or recognize it for what it is -- worthless. 

But when it makes the leap to a television commercial that is shown statewide over and over to people who don't see the newspaper or have any idea what it's about, it can do some real damage.  In this day and age, the main role newspapers serve in many campaigns is to provide the headlines for negative commercials, which the paper claims to deplore.

When Tom Barrett cited some Journal Sentinel stories in a commercial criticizing Scott Walker for mismanaging Milwaukee County's finances, the newspaper got its back up -- mostly because Barrett's ad wasn't an exact replica of the paper's page layout and stories -- and gave him a "pants on fire" rating.  The paper said:

In some cases, the Barrett claim made through the narrator may be correct, or partly so. But in this item we are evaluating the manner in which they are presented and whether the overall message -- that the headlines support the claims -- is accurate. 

 So the claims may be accurate, but Barrett's pants are on fire.  And this is a fact check?

That negative rating has now emerged as the entire focus of a Walker commercial, pulling words and phrases from the paper's article to portray Barrett as a liar.  It's a nasty commercial, with the flames of hell burning in he background as terrible quotes (or selected words) about Barrett are highlilghted, along with the PolitiFact meter,

I am not enough of a conspiracy theorist to suggest that this was the outcome Stanley & Co. had in mind when they launched this political assassination scheme, but it surely must not have escaped their attention that these rulings would become part of negative TV campaigns. Could that be why no GOP candidates have gotten the "pants on fire" rating, no matter how big their lies?

Coincidentally, Ron Johnson began running an ad today accusing Russ Feingold of sending jobs to China -- and using two headlines from PolitiFact to attack Feingold's integrity and character.

Maybe in the next cycle Journal Communications could skip the middle man, with the Supreme Court ruling that corporations can pretty much do whatever they want and spend as much as they want to influence elections, and just produce its own negative commercials about Democrats.  Charlie Sykes has already done that over on the Journal Sentinel's sister station. 

But far more effective to do it in the guise of news, or whatever it pretends to be.

Can't wait for the next editorial about how negative everything's getting.


October 10, 2010 - 9:13pm