The site — created to crowdsource and make viral the debunking of political ads — is leveraging the power of the Web to incite a movement, reminding television stations that regulations, while requiring stations to air nearly every single ad from political candidates, do not require them to air third-party ads.
“What we’re trying to do is get rid of the deceptions in third-party ads by having the stations refuse to air them,” said Annenberg Public Policy Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson during an interview at The Post on Friday.
This year’s election cycle is on track to be the most expensive in history, with third-party groups able to spend unlimited amounts of money in an attempt to convince voters — in some cases using powerfully negative and occasionally misleading or false narratives and images — that their candidate is the best candidate.
The FlackCheck.org campaign, “Stand by Your Ad,” which launched Thursday, gives visitors an opportunity to target individual stations with a customized e-mail calling on them to refuse to air ads from third-party groups that contain misleading and/or false statements. The service offers users an opportunity to send a message to all but 100 stations in the national grid and copies FlackCheck.org on every message. The carbon copy allows the organization to keep track of messages being sent and identify markets where they believe more media attention is needed. “We purchased access wherever we could and made phone calls wherever we can,” said Jamieson, adding that FlackCheck was trying to get phone numbers for stations as well.
The grass-roots campaign — a take on the mail-your-congressman-approach — is the first, said Jamieson, of its kind calling for this particular type of action on the part of stations.
Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania communications professor who is not new to the fight against misleading and false political ads, is passionate about bringing an end to the practice of stations airing any and all ads they are provided without running them through a fact-checking process first.
“We basically lose control of the election process,” Jamieson said. “Money dominates. And you don’t want to elect that way.”
The rationale, said Jamieson, couldn’t be clearer: Insisting on accuracy is an exercise of a station’s First Amendment rights. With this in mind, Jamieson envisions a new model, where newspaper editorial boards remind communities of stations’ rights, viewers then hold their stations accountable, and stations, in turn, hold third-party groups and their donors accountable. All the while, reporters, said Jamieson, would be keeping track — something she believes they’ve been doing well this election cycle.