Put a stop to political attack ads

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Editorial, Austin Daily Herald

Candidates routinely say that they want to avoid attacking their opponent, would rather talk about the issues and themselves. Any of them who meant it would take decisive action to end the negative ads that supposedly unaffiliated interest groups run on their behalf.

This summer, Minnesota’s gubernatorial candidates have all said they want a clean campaign. That hasn’t stopped the attack ads — billboards and television commercials are the preferred medium for negative messages — from showing up. Candidates generally point out that independent groups run those ads, and that their campaigns don’t have any direct control over the messages. While that’s all true, it’s not the whole truth. The reality is that any major candidate could put a stop to independent attack ads with a phone call to the right person. The message, “Thanks for trying to help but you are damaging my campaign, please stop,” would probably do the trick. If it did not, all a candidate would have to do would be to publicly call out the individuals responsible. Trouble is, no candidate will do that, presumably because they like having those third-party ads in the mix — the ones that belittle their opponents, at any rate.

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What Minnesotans should do, during this campaign season, is refuse to buy into the idea that candidates are merely innocent bystanders when mud is being thrown on their opponents. Those candidates are in the same position as someone who comes upon a highway accident — it’s a lot easier to drive on by, but it is the wrong thing to do.

Any candidate who wants a clean campaign can have one. And they all need to be judged by that standard.