Gaming the News Media



Advertising executive, Thom Mozloom, CEO of The M Network says presidential campaigns willfully deceive the national news media into playing commercials produced by the campaigns in an orchestrated effort to receive free media. Mr. Mozloom analyzes political ads from a marketing and branding perspective, and is always skeptical when batches of dozens of ads are blitzed to his firm and countless other news agencies by the campaigns.

“The traffic alone would be nearly impossible to pull off that kind of air schedule; it would be historic,” said Mozloom in an emailed statement. “The key to successful advertising lies in creating an effective message and repeating it in a variety of ways as often as possible,” he said, questioning the disjointed and incompatible branding techniques often used in these type of free media ventures.

Founding Dean of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University, Howard Schneider points out that, although the tactics and the technology are different, historically, campaigns have always tried to subvert media enterprises in this fashion. “The media needs to be smarter,” cautions Schneider in our interview. “People can remember what they’ve heard, but sometimes can’t recall where they’ve heard it from,” he said, stressing the need for more due diligence in the media industry.

Regulating campaign advertising, the Federal Elections Commission groups political ads into two separate categories called, Electioneering Communications and Public Communications. Electioneering Communications are those advertisements produced and paid for by third parties other than the specific candidate running for office, while the latter refers to those advertisements directly emanating from a candidate or candidate’s campaign.

According to FEC regulations, a political advertisement refers to, “A communication publicly distributed by a television station, radio station, cable television system or satellite system for a fee.” It goes on to say that the chief defining characteristic, and focus of a “Public Communication” is the now familiar disclaimer notice attached to ads with a candidate endorsing the content of the advertisement, a provision added only after passage of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002.

“When I hear or see a political ad endorsed by a specific candidate, I am assuming it is coming directly from that source,” says Schneider, illuminating the point that this is not necessarily the case if the advertisement is being filtered through the news media first.

In the age of the new, new media, campaigns are able to ratchet up message driving machines through web videos, chain email, Internet truth squads, and grassroots blog sites. While the possibilities seem all but endless and the rules governing Internet campaigning being as vague as they are prolific, technology has also berthed easier access to many public finance records available to citizens and journalists, and for every mechanism working in favor of a campaign on the Web, there are just as many working against it.

Inundated with political ads intermixed with Internet ads, sent en masse via email, the media has become siege to this unprecedented flurry of political communications and has failed in the process to fulfill its most basic assignment of verification. It used to be that news analysts would have to wait to see a commercial with the rest of the public before issuing any commentary on it. After all, a political ad is only a political ad if it’s been paid for and distributed through an outlet with access to a minimum audience of 50,000 people, according to the FEC.

Now, pundits get first viewing privileges, and possess the power to shape how the average voter perceives the message. And although the FEC requires political ads to have disclaimer notices and ad-buy money behind them, according to former FEC Official, Bob Biersack, “There is no requirement in campaign finance law to purchase time for every ad produced by a campaign.” And while there might not be an actual violation of FEC regulations, certainly improprieties have been committed.


One Response to “Gaming the News Media”

  1. Openmikeusa (@openmikeusa) Says:

    Great article! You touch on the internet advertising and this may be so huge and impossible to track. Pandora is out of her box.

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