New Castle News

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November 5, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: Negative campaign advertising overwhelms process

NEW CASTLE — By now, I’m starting to feel like that little girl in the YouTube video.

You know, the one where she’s sobbing because she’s tired of hearing about the presidential campaign. Her mother seeks to console her with the fact it’s almost over.

Well, it is almost over. And not just the presidential contest. We have been hammered by advertising from campaigns for assorted offices in state and federal government. It’s enough to bring you to tears.

It’s not that I’m easily shocked. I’ve been in the news business for a few decades now, observing what I call the “silly season” around election time. As the voting draws near, the campaigns grow more desperate.

And more cynical. The negative advertising we’ve been subjected to this year is nothing short of appalling. When I see or hear these ads, either on the air or in print, I conclude they tell us much more about the people behind them than the candidates they are attacking.

I would like to think voters are turned off as much as I am by these ads, but campaigns still produce them. Their research must conclude that they work.

But I think they are disgraceful and repugnant. And along with becoming increasingly ugly, these ads also are increasingly distorting the truth.

It’s obvious to me that winning is more important to many candidates than winning with honor. The campaign smear is alive and well, and it’s leaving a growing stain on the nation’s political system.

An old saying — attributed to baseball great Casey Stengel — observes that sports doesn’t build character but instead exposes character. The same could be said of any form of competition, campaigns included. Sadly, the advertising we get speaks poorly of those who say they want to serve us.

Here at the New Castle News, we often are on the periphery of these bitter campaigns, as the candidates seek every advantage. They hope their attacks on opponents will become part of news stories, while they are likely to object to material in the paper that puts them in less than positive light.

That includes endorsements editorials. We often hear nothing from candidates the paper endorses, and that’s fine. Editorial endorsements are intended to serve our readers, not be viewed as favors to recommended candidates.

But we do, at times, hear from candidates who aren’t endorsed, as they take exception to that fact and go about critiquing the newspaper’s opinion. Yet come Election Day, all candidates will receive plenty of non-endorsements from voters. That’s the way it goes.

With each election cycle, as more and more money flows into campaigns, Americans will be forced to endure increasing amounts of negative advertising. The only way to stop it is for voters to demand cleaner campaigns. It won’t happen automatically.

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