As the presidential ad campaigns pick up, will the media's advertising watchdogs bark? So far, none of the most recent advertising controversies are drawing much network attention.
Hillary's Soft-Money Slickness. The Democrats' first ads for Hillary Clinton were paid for with "soft money," which Democrats say they'd like to ban. But ABC's November 11 Good Morning America is the only network show to offer comment. Diane Sawyer noted a New York Times editorial demanded the ads be withdrawn, and asked George Stephanopoulos: "Did this cross a line?" He replied, "Probably not. This ad is probably legal...the question is, even though, if it's legal, is it politically smart?" He predicted "it's going to buy them a lot of trouble." But CBS and NBC aired nothing, even as NBC's Andrea Mitchell called the move "incredibly stupid" on Don Imus's MSNBC show.
Democrats Oppose Death to Families: On November 10, the Democratic National Committee released an ad running in 17 congressional districts suggesting the Republicans ought to "help working families, not bury them." [See box.] No national outlet found any poisonous partisan incivility in such a reckless charge.
Bradley Saves Life? Bill Bradley's first biographical ad features one Maureen Drumm claiming Bradley was a life-saver. "When I was pregnant with my second child, Bill Bradley proposed a law that women be allowed to stay in the hospital for 48 hours. Thanks to Senator Bradley, my daughter is alive today." In The Washington Post, Howard Kurtz wrote that "The claim by a Pennsylvania woman with lupus that her daughter is alive because of Bradley is highly misleading," since the law passed after the birth. Other outlets were softer. USA Today's Mimi Hall and Elizabeth Liptock found this claim "slightly misleading," though the ad in general was "fair and accurate." AP's Sandra Sobieraj wrote it "is a little unclear." On Good Morning America, Stephanopoulos called it a "bit of a stretch."
Bradley's Joe Camel Link: The New York Times reported Wednesday that top Bradley ad guru Alex Kroll had Joe Camel for a client at the Young & Rubicam ad agency, and that tobacco executives saw Kroll "as an official to turn to to defend the Joe Camel account." Gore aides said they may "pounce" on it, considering the heat over Gore guru Carter Eskew's tobacco ties. CNN's Inside Politics led with it Wednesday, but other networks did nothing.
Fragging Forbes: A liberal GOP ad attack on Steve Forbes demanding his ads play nice drew one question on the networks (on NBC's Today). But on NPR's All Things Considered Wednesday, reporter Peter Overby explained Forbes' ads on Bob Dole in 1996: "The ads defined Forbes as a slasher. This time, he has yet to attack another candidate. But the threat of a hard-line conservative millionaire buying wave after wave of attack ads still scares more moderate Republicans. The Republican Leadership Council, a centrist group, has spent $100,000 on this friendly warning." In NPR-land, getting reporters to call Forbes a "slasher" is a "friendly warning." - Tim Graham