September 29, 2012

M.D. HARMON: Some negative ads distort truth, some are just true, but harmful

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military off

Faced with a well-financed blizzard of "negative" advertisements, some candidates for the U.S. Senate seat tossed aside by Olympia Snowe are crying foul.

Rightly or wrongly, independent Angus King is being taken to task for using political influence to support his former wind power project, from which he has withdrawn.

Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill is being accused of being the most liberal candidate in the race (though that's more of a description than an accusation).

And Republican Charlie Summers is being described as -- a Republican. He should sue.

Of course, all this shows is that there are two kinds of negative ads.

One type arguably distorts a candidate's record, taking something out of context or relating a statement or action in a different way than it actually happened -- if it happened at all.

On the other hand, some "negative" ads actually are accurate, but put the subject in a bad light.

The first kind is unconscionable, sure enough, but why is the second so bad? How else are we going to find out that Candidate X may not be the person his backers -- and certainly, his own advertising campaign -- are telling us he is?

So, when you see people decrying the influence of "negative advertising," remember that some negative ads have a positive impact on the public's right to know relevant facts about a political hopeful.

Lately, though, we've seen a new kind of "positive-negative" ad (at least new to Maine) in which complimentary things are said about a candidate in a commercial paid for by the candidate's opposition.

The current example is a TV ad ostensibly supporting Democrat Dill, who has been registering in the low teens in the race against King, a former governor, and Summers, who is Maine's secretary of state.

The ad, which doesn't mention Summers at all, says uncomplimentary things about King but "boosts" Dill by noting she is an outstanding progressive lawmaker who wholeheartedly supports President Barack Obama's health care reform law and wants to pass more restrictive laws controlling firearms.

The ad, however, is financed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which, of course, really backs Summers.

Dill is, to put it mildly, upset. She said such ads represent "the most deceptive political advertising to ever hit our state." The ads "continue the deception we've seen from the national Republican Party Super PACs," she added, by pitting her directly "against Angus King in the U.S. Senate race, hoping that the only candidate left standing will be Charlie Summers."

She claimed the "cynical ads" are robbing her of her voice. "The NRSC does not speak for me, it cannot muzzle my free speech and it does not speak for the Maine voters," she said. "Let's tell these charlatans that they cannot 'purchase' the U.S. Senate election in Maine."

So Dill is madder than a hosed-down barnyard fowl over an ad that "cynically" tells the truth about her record and philosophy. Why would that be?

Could it be that she doesn't think it will help her to be painted into a progressive corner, no matter how truthful such a portrayal actually is?

She's probably right about that. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, however, apparently figures that firing up the hard left to support her will keep them from voting for King, so why not paint her portrait in liberal glitter?

So, she objects? Ah, the truth gets such a bad rap these days.

And, in truth, this is not the first example of such hanky-panky in this election year. Why, those saintly Democrats did exactly the same thing in Missouri in the recent Republican primary for U.S. Senate to pick a candidate to run against the incumbent, Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill.

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