Political advertising is often a pack of lies
A Times Editorial
Published October 29, 2006
It was the "nutty professor" flier that sent me over the edge.
The four-page, full-color flier is offensive from front to back in its attack on Bill Heller, a St. Petersburg Democrat running for the District 52 seat in the state House.
Heller, a lifelong educator, was dean of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg for 10 years. The son of farmers, he went to college and earned two master's degrees and a doctorate. Now 71, he has been married to the same woman for 52 years. He has been a contributing citizen of this community, serving on many boards and committees for good causes.
But the flier that was mailed to Pinellas voters has on its cover a picture of an unidentified old man with long, white hair askew, thick black glasses over his eyes, his tie flipped over his shoulder, a crazed look in his eyes and a beaker of red liquid in his hand. "Nutty professor Bill Heller," the flier states, "brewing you a toxic potion of HIGHER TAXES!"
Inside, the flier charges that Heller "has a disturbing record of promoting higher taxes." "Heller likes to raise taxes," it states.
Because Heller has never held office before, and therefore has never been in a position to vote on a tax rate, much less raise it all by himself, how can the flier's creators say these things?
Here is how the flier connects the dots: Heller was asked to chair a successful citizens' campaign to raise money for teacher salaries in Pinellas through a small increase in the property tax. The group got a referendum on the ballot in 2004, and voters overwhelmingly approved the new tax, most of which went to boost teacher pay but some of which was spent on things like books and art supplies.
It was Pinellas voters, not Heller, who decided to raise the tax. It was the School Board, not Heller, that approved the millage. But you wouldn't know it from looking at the "nutty professor" flier.
Here's something else you wouldn't know: that the tax increase was for schools. It doesn't say so anywhere on the flier. In fact, its back page reprints portions of St. Petersburg Times stories about the tax campaign and edits out any reference to schools.
So, for example, a sentence in a Times news story Oct. 1, 2004, that states, "With a little more than a month before Election Day, a citizens group is confident its campaign for a tax referendum for Pinellas schools will succeed," becomes on the flier, "With a little more than a month before Election Day, a citizens group is confident its campaign for a tax referendum ... will succeed."
I'd call this flier a lie. It works hard to mislead voters.
In his own campaign ads, Heller says this: "To know what a person will do, look at what they have done." I think that's an excellent idea. Let's check out the creators of this misleading flier so we will know what they will do.
The flier was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida. It was approved by Heller's Republican opponent, Angelo Cappelli, and two more Republican candidates running in other House districts, Peter Nehr of Tarpon Springs in District 48 and Thomas Piccolo of St. Petersburg in District 53.
How unfortunate that the anti-Heller flier is only one of dozens of misleading, inaccurate, exaggerated or downright scummy political ads filling our mailboxes and polluting the airwaves every few minutes all day long.
On my desk right now is a print ad by the Gus Bilirakis for Congress campaign that attempts to smear his opponent, Democrat Phyllis Busansky, saying she will "bankrupt our values." The ad superimposes a photograph of Busansky beside a photograph of a smiling naked woman. The ad states that Busansky "advocates nudity on public streets."
Really! Busansky wants us all to be able to take off our clothes and run naked in the streets? Funny, I never heard her say that she advocated public nakedness.
She didn't. Wouldn't. But Bilirakis wants us to think she did.
Here's what really happened. In 1991, when Busansky was chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Commission, the commission debated whether to try to ban T-back swimsuits, even in people's back yards. Five members of the commission wanted to consider a ban, despite the county attorney's warnings that it would be tricky to write an ordinance that would pass constitutional muster. Busansky and then-commissioner, now-Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said they were reluctant to try to legislate a public dress code.
That's a long way from "advocates nudity on public streets." But it is one more example of how too many of today's political candidates - and the consultants and direct mail companies they hire - are not interested in informing voters but in misinforming them.
I have a suggestion: Unless you are able to invest time to research the claims and counterclaims, ignore political advertising. You just can't trust it.
Diane Steinle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified October 29, 2006, 07:23:21]
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