Monday, November 29, 2004

Election advertising boondoggle

It looks like we finally know the full cost of the recent election, and it’s a hell of a lot! The Alliance for Better Campaigns points out that more than $1.6 billion was spent in the hundred largest media markets on electioneering by parties, candidates and — most prominently this year — independent groups such as (the so-called “527s”). This tally, is, unfortunately, at the upper end of a spectrum of pre-election estimates that ran from $1 billion to $1.6 billion. It's also more than double what was spent in 2000. These findings, also covered in TVWeek (registration required) are more or less in line with other investigations into campaign TV advertising, such as those conducted by the Lear Center Local News Archive, as well as Nielsen Monitor Plus, and the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project. The Lear Center points out that almost two million political spots were aired on 615 stations in the top 100 TV markets — equivalent to 677 full days of advertising! So what, you might ask, is this doing to our democracy?

The worst part of all this, of course, is that local TV stations, where most Americans now get their news and where most of this $1.6 billion was spent, have largely abrogated their public service responsibility to provide comprehensive coverage of national, and especially local, elections. The election-related pieces local stations did air tended to be pretty flimsy, to say the least. Strategy and horserace stories outnumbered issues stories by a ratio of 3:2; ad watch stories, meanwhile, made up less than one percent of all campaign stories (Lear Center). I could go on about this — and in time I will — but for now, check out NOW with Bill Moyers’ piece on local elections coverage — or lack thereof.


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