Free Press Report Finds Electoral Coverage in Denver Doesn’t Offset Lies in Political Ads

Airing misleading ads could be a liability for local TV affiliates
Contact Info: 

Jenn Ettinger, 202-265-1490 ext. 35

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday, Free Press released Money, News and Deception in Denver, a report focusing on the five third-party groups buying the most political ad time in Denver, host city to the Oct. 3 presidential debate.

The report takes an in-depth look at political coverage on the local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates and asks whether newscasts are doing enough to investigate the claims made in ads produced by American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity, House Majority PAC, Priorities USA Action and Restore Our Future.

Since August, these five groups have signed contracts with Denver’s affiliates to air 4,954 ads in the local market, paying more than $6.5 million to secure the spots. And yet these stations devoted only 10 minutes and 45 seconds to fact-checking ads from these groups. That’s a ratio of 1 minute of news for every 162 minutes of political ads.

The report also found that stations kept airing ads even after their own journalists found that the groups were spreading false or misleading information.

Local television stations are legally required to air federal candidates’ ads, whether they’re accurate or not. However, this requirement does not apply to ads from “non-candidate” groups like the Super PACs and tax-exempt 501(c)(4)s that are the focus of the Free Press report.

“Stations can be held liable for knowingly airing false or deceptive advertising content in ads from third-party groups,” said Timothy Karr, Free Press senior director of strategy. “While some Denver stations have fact-checked political ads, these efforts aren’t enough to offset the deluge of misleading spots.”

According to Money, News and Deception in Denver, the city’s affiliates will air thousands of ads from three of the five groups through Election Day.

“Denver stations have done better than those in other markets at examining the claims in political ads, but they’ve stopped far short of refusing ads from groups that mislead viewers,” Karr said. “Lying is a liability not only for Super PACs and other groups that produce dishonest ads, but also for the stations that air them.”

A previous Free Press report, Left in the Dark, found that local TV newscasts in Charlotte, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Tampa ignored deceptive ads — even as the stations raked in millions from airing them.

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