Wednesday, November 9 was marked on my calendar for six months. When I wake up Wednesday morning, the air will be cleaner, the sun will be brighter, the streets will be free of litter and potholes, and television advertising will once again be about insurance, cars, beer and the lawyers wanting to offer us a boatload of money if we were injured in a car accident.
Why this anticipated euphoria? For six months, political lies pushed the Liar Meter well past the 100% range to the 150% range. Wednesday morning should mean that the “liar, liar, pants on fire” meter will drop faster than the stock market in a recession.
The Liar Meter has exceeded its ability to track the number of lies told by politicians in TV ads. There are so many lies told on television, I’m tempted to believe that television has been inhabited by a legion of demons, and I don’t even believe in literal demons.
“I’m tempted to believe that television has been inhabited by a legion of demons, and I don’t even believe in literal demons.”
Under so much stress, the Liar Meter will relax and return to normal levels. The usual lies and misinformation from pharmaceutical companies, lawyers, insurance companies (every company has the lowest rate guaranteed if you’ve never filed a claim), corporations, stockbrokers, salespeople mattresses, the My Pillow guy, will keep the Liar Meter active, but in the low 20% range.
Imagine producing a Liar, Liar Pants on Fire Index. The Liars Index will have two functions: one will be to aggregate the number of misrepresentations, misinformation, conspiracy theories and outright lies into a coherent indicator, and the other will be to normalize these components to eliminate the great variance that currently exists. exists with the reporting of lies.
The Liars Index has an analogous relationship to the Dow Jones Industrial Average in that it measures the ups and downs in the amount of lies politicians commit daily. This is a speedometer registering the danger of a runaway train capable of crashing into the house of democracy. The higher the number, the faster we are heading towards the occurrence of the loss of democracy.
Some of the monitored categories because lies include immigrants, social security, medicare, crime, violence, race, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, political campaigns, elections, conspiracy theories, inflation, anti-Semitism, hate groups, economics, science, history and climate change.
“The lies told in political advertising use one primary effect: fear.”
Why should I care about lies told on TV? The lies told in political advertising use one primary affect: fear.
According to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania: “Fear-inducing messages dampen our disposition to examine them for gaps in logic. When the message arouses fear, personal involvement and interest minimize systematic evaluation. She adds, “When fear is aroused, attention narrows, 34 simple autonomic behaviors are facilitated, complex, effortful ones are inhibited, and creative thinking is dampened.”
People are susceptible to lies told on television. Even though television has been around for over 70 years, the public remains mostly illiterate about the negative and hurtful aspects of television viewing. Dubbed the “plug-in drug” by child psychologists, television has a potentially harmful influence on children.
“Studies of visual media have shown that people tend to believe what they hear and see on television.”
Studies of visual media have shown that people tend to believe what they hear and see on television. Television has been given divine status in our minds even though people complain about it.
Viewers are not trained to separate the different types of communication they receive hourly. News, commercials, entertainment and reality blend seamlessly.
This phenomenon has been well explained by former NBC chairman Robert Mulholland during the 1988 presidential campaign: “I think during the campaign the average viewer starts to get a little confused. I expect to see Willie Horton endorsing a line of jeans any day now. … Some of the commercials are starting to look like news stories, they’re the same length, a few seconds. … Television is not only separated in the viewer’s mind between this is information, this is commercial and this is entertainment. Sometimes everything gets confused because everything enters the house through the same little piece of glass.
Television provides the perfect foil for one of the most misleading claims of truth: the single example. Debaters are trained to dismantle any argument that relies on a single example that an opponent tries to universalize. Television is a medium that maximizes the ability to turn a single case into a national crisis.
Viewers see a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, and political consultants cut ads that make it seem like this shooting is now happening all over the United States. Or an illegal immigrant rapes and murders a young girl, and soon all illegal immigrants are claimed to be rapists and murderers.
The fact: the United States has a problem with undocumented immigrants entering the country illegally. And it’s clear that television and social media make it easier for politicians to define our fears for us. They take these legitimate concerns, as political theorist Corey Robin puts it, and turn them “into imminent threats.” As John Fea points out, “The risk of being murdered by an undocumented immigrant is one in 10.9 million. Per year. One is more likely to die walking on a train track or seeing one’s clothing spontaneously ignite.
“Fear packs a punch more powerful than facts in the minds of viewers.”
Put allegations of rape, murder and violence on television in the mouth of a president and it becomes accepted truth. People will be frightened and neighborhood watch groups will be on the lookout for illegal immigrants wandering their streets with murderous intent. No one will bother to research the facts. Fear packs a punch more powerful than facts in the minds of viewers. On television, perception trumps reality.
Political advertising is a “ripe harvest field” for unscrupulous political consultants willing to tell the worst lies to have the most emotional effect on viewers. In other areas, advertisers have legal restrictions designed to limit misinformation, misrepresentation, and outright lies. These advertisers are less likely to be outright liars because we have truth-in-advertising laws.
When the Federal Trade Commission finds a case of fraud perpetrated on consumers, the agency files suits in federal district court seeking immediate and permanent orders to stop the scams; prevent fraudsters from committing scams in the future; freeze their assets; and obtain compensation for the victims. When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether on the Internet, on radio or television, or elsewhere, federal law dictates that the advertisement must be truthful, not misleading and, where appropriate, supported by scientific evidence. . The FTC enforces these truth-in-advertising laws and enforces the same standards no matter where an advertisement appears – in newspapers and magazines, online, in the mail, or on billboards or the buses. The FTC closely examines advertising claims that may affect consumers’ health or their wallets – claims about food, over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, alcohol and tobacco, and behaviors related to high-quality products. technology and the Internet.
Now, here is an idea that comes very late to the party. Why don’t we have truth laws in political advertising? When voters see or hear a political advertisement, there should be a federal law that decrees that this advertisement must be truthful, not misleading and supported by facts.
The Federal Commission for Truth in Political Advertising would scrutinize advertising that defames an opponent’s reputation. He would monitor political advertising that distorted the truth and lied to voters about claims that affect voters’ health and pocketbooks – claims about Social Security, Medicare, welfare, prescription drugs, facts about immigration, abortion, race, transportation, exaggerated claims about the illegality of immigrants killing and raping children, and false claims about the conduct of other politicians.
Of course, such a law would never pass Congress.
Next Wednesday, I’ll be singing the old Alka Selzer jingle, “Oh what a relief that is.” I’ll go back to yelling at the TV that someone should put those “blue bears” pushing toilet paper in a zoo, that the gecko be exiled, that Flo of Progressive Insurance fame will get a gig on a soap opera, and the wife AT&T to play a role in “Yellowstone” and limit the number of personal injury attorneys to three or four per week on television.
At least the Liar Meter will have a break until the next election cycle. Amen!
Rodney W. Kennedy is a pastor in New York State and teaches preaching at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is the author of nine books, including the new The immaculate error, on how evangelical Christians gave birth to Donald Trump.
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