District of Columbia or Domain of Cash?

Las Vegas made news last week when the New York Times reported that more political ads have aired in Sin City than anywhere else this election season. In fact, stations there have shortened news programs just to accommodate the ad glut.

There’s a similar dance going on in our nation’s capital. Drawing on data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group, the Washington Post reports that D.C. “ranks fifth nationwide among TV markets in the number of political ads broadcast during October.” Indeed, ad spending has skyrocketed in D.C. — in part because its media market includes belle-of-the-ball swing state Virginia, whose 13 electoral votes may prove key this November.

There are only so many minutes in the day, so D.C. affiliates — like their counterparts in Vegas — are bending over backwards to give political ads their moment in the sun. WTTG, the local Fox affiliate, has bumped Simpsons reruns (sorry, Principal Skinner!) to add 30 minutes to its 6 p.m. newscast. This sounds good on the surface — how could adding more news be wrong? — but this may not be a purely principled move.

“The expanded News Edge program,” the Post writes, “will focus on political news — the kind of programming political advertisers demand most.”

Meanwhile, the local ABC affiliate has added two weekend newscasts and has “occasionally,” in the words of its general manager, trimmed minutes off its weekday programming to make way for political ads. (It’s not clear how the GM defines “occasionally.”)

It isn’t just programming that’s getting manipulated. Local advertisers have had to take a back seat in D.C. to all the groups hawking political ads. In fact, these advertisers are getting a double whammy, the Post says: “They are having difficulty getting their ads on and are paying more for the ads that do make it.” Given how the economy continues to limp along, it’s no small thing to short-shrift local businesses in this way.

And then there are the viewers who have had to endure back-to-back ads for months now. It would be one thing if these ads were truly enlightening and substantive. But way too many are misleading or outright false. We at Free Press have said it before and we’ll say it again: Voters deserve better.

Free Press has launched a campaign to push local broadcasters to do the right thing. Tell stations to get with the program and stop airing misleading ads.

Original photo by Flickr user Onecle

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