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US election ads draw criticism -

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US election ads draw criticism

Reporter: Mark Simkin


TONY JONES: In the United States, the mid-term elections are only a week away and the airwaves are
full of allegations of sex and sleaze. These attack ads, as they are known, are an integral part of
US election campaigns, but some observers are still shocked by what is going to air this time
around. Others say they are a good thing for democracy. Washington correspondent, Mark Simkin

MARK SIMKIN: Cameras, kids and a candidate, some of the ingredients for an election ad. The
commercial they are making here is unusual, though, because it is positive. It highlights the
candidate's policies, rather than attacking his opponents.

BILL HILLSMAN: The worst part about political advertising in America is that it doesn't connect at
all with the customer, and the customer is voters. It doesn't inspire people to go vote.

MARK SIMKIN: Many of the ads are the opposite of inspiring. They are cheap, nasty and way below the

So far in this campaign, the national Republican committee has spent eight times more money on
attack ads than it spent promoting its own candidates.

JERRY MEYER: Attack ads have become a very dangerous cancer in America. I think that so many people
don't get into politics for fear of the attack ads that they will see directed against them. I
think they draw the voters' attention to non issues, to things that they really shouldn't be voting

MARK SIMKIN: Kerry Healey wants to be governor of Massachusetts. She's all smiles as she meets
potential voters, but the ads she is screening about her opponents are a lot less friendly.

KERRY HEALEY: If anyone you knew actually praised a convicted rapist, what would you think? Deval
Patrick did.

MARK SIMKIN: Negativity is in the eye of the beholder, and Deval Patrick isn't impressed.

DEVAL PATRICK: They have thrown at us everything but the kitchen sink and I expect the kitchen sink
any day now.

KERRY HEALEY: It's not a negative ad. It is negative information. It's information that people need
to have when they are making a decision about what kind of person do you want to have as your next

MARK SIMKIN: That's a view shared by some political analysts. John Geer has studied attack ads and
believes they are good for democracy.

JOHN GEER: Negative ads are more about issues than positive ads. Negative ads are more specific
than positive ads. Negative ads tend to be more documented and have facts in them, so to speak,
than positive ads, and, finally, the negative ads tend to be about the important problems facing
the country.

MARK SIMKIN: But a professor of politics at another university disagrees. Jerry Meyer believes
attack ads undermine democracy and to prove his point he's made a negative advertisement about John

JERRY MEYER: He wrote his new book while staying at a compound, in a state where he pays no income
taxes whatsoever.

There's no shred of evidence behind almost every lie you see in attack ads. I, just in 60 seconds,
made a renowned scholar, a star teacher and a law abiding and, I presume, sober citizen appear to
be anything but. That criticism that I made was entirely irrelevant to his book. It doesn't have a
damn thing to do with what he is talking about in this book, directly.

MARK SIMKIN: Political scientists say attack ads are popular because they are effective. In 1988,
the infamous Willy Horton ads damaged Michael Dukakis's credibility.

This windsurfing ad in the swift-vote attacks helped to sink John Kerry. Attack ads might not be
new, but they are evolving.

JERRY MEYER: A lot of negative ads today are coming with the unexpected element of humour, because
it insulates you from looking too harsh. You put a spoon full of sugar with that negative medicine
and it goes down easier.

MARK SIMKIN: How can politicians get away with it if it is misleading and deceptive?

JERRY MEYER: The Supreme Court has recognised that the most important type of speech is political
speech, so you'll never find the government in the United States saying candidate X lied. You are
allowed to lie. It is your privilege as an American political figure.

MARK SIMKIN: Political scientists say it's the dirtiest election in decades and they predict 2008
presidential campaign will be even worse. Mark Simkin, Lateline.

(c) 2006 ABC