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Flag It With Flackcheck

How to keep your local media honest and have fun doing it.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Repeat something often enough and it becomes true; that's the cavalier way of dealing with reality that's still being practiced by plenty of politicians and political activist groups. The runup to this year's elections is expected to be a carnival of misleading political ads.

For those of us who are already sick and tired of hearing inaccurate information in ads put out by SuperPACs, it's heartening to take a look at flackcheck.org, a website that flags deceptive statements while giving us an easy way to let our local media know, first, that they don't have to run every ad they're offered, and second, that we notice cases in which they put misinformation on the air.

That's important because the wave of money that comes to radio and TV outlets from running such ads is so enormous that it can only be countered by reminders from the stations' audiences that their credibility and ratings are at stake.

Broadcast stations have to air ads directly funded by campaigns trying to elect someone for a federal office, but have greater discretion over those offered by outside groups. Flackcheck.org has a device (see "Stand by Your Ad" in the right-hand column) that helps people locate and email the stations in their area to let them know about their right to refuse inaccurate third-party ads; check it out at flackcheck.org/stations/send-email-to-stations/.

Flackcheck is a video-based counterpart of the Annenberg Public Policy Center's award-winning website factcheck.org. Flackcheck.org takes the serious issues raised by its parent website and repackages them in short, satiric web-video productions.

Today the key issue is the economy, and central to that issue are jobs. Flackcheck posted a short video debunking Democratic and Republican statements on the June jobs data from three elected officials. It asks the viewer which statement is true, game-show style, and reveals the actual facts behind each misleading statement one by one. The answer: None of the statements were true. Ba-dum-tsh.

Another example is Flackcheck's Campaign Against Lincoln series, which imagines what it would be like if Lincoln ran for president today. One video in the series criticizes Lincoln's move to create Yosemite National Park as a "tree-hugging land grab." Another rails against Lincoln for his "Train to Nowhere" project. Who funds these ads attacking and defending Lincoln? Two Super-PACs, of course—the Anti-McClellan Super PAC and the Anti-Lincoln Super PAC.

Regulations governing third-party ads mostly sponsored by Super PACs are not as tight as those funded directly by campaigns. This leads to misinformation, distortion and outright falsehoods about candidates flooding media outlets everywhere. But the media can assert their rights to reject inaccurate material. Last October, when a Super PAC named "Building a Better Ohio" created a TV ad that misleadingly edited statements by a woman supporting collective bargaining rights for firemen, several stations refused to run it.

Flackcheck.org has a strong data source on which it builds satire; factcheck.org is a respected source of straight facts that uses stringent methods to assemble and synthesize data. It has a strong reputation for accuracy and not playing favorites. Flackcheck.org takes that data and turns it into laughter with a thoughtful center.

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