Time's Sullivan Sees Another Free-market Failure: Campaign Advertising

September 24th, 2008 3:34 PM

Lamenting that there's no legal recourse against factually inaccurate political advertising, Time's Amy Sullivan scoffed at the notion that voters are smart enough toweigh campaign ads with a grain of salt. But her language seems to suggest not only that American voters are dumb, but that government regulation, not journalistic vigilance, would be the only long-term solution.

The relevant excerpt from her September 23 post, "Truth in Advertising? Not for Political Ads" (excerpt mine):

In a country with a free press, after all, journalists are able to fact-check campaign advertisements and let voters know when claims are exaggerated or misleading. What does it matter if McCain says Obama would impose a new tax burden on middle-class families or if Obama claims that McCain proposed abolishing the Department of Education? Candidates lie, fact-checkers out them, and voters have all the information they need to make their choices.

But the free market of ideas doesn't always work so well. As candidates know, a far greater percentage of voters hear the original lie in a campaign ad than ever read about the fact-checked version in a local paper or a website like Factcheck.org or Politifact.com. And even if voters do hear the refutation of an ad's claims, studies show that may not alter their perceptions created by the original ad. It may well be that the standards for commercial advertising have worked too well, instilling in many viewers the belief that what they hear on television is mostly true.

Might I suggest it's not that "the free market of ideas" doesn't work, it's that voters by and large eschew liberally biased media, liberal politicians and liberal policy prescriptions?