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Boxer ad draws ill-advised critique from Sacramento Bee

by Alan Markow, published

If the Boston Red Sox win the World Series, will it lessen their achievement if New York Yankee fans still don’t like them?  That seems to be the convoluted conclusion that the Sacramento Bee reached this week in critiquing an advertisement that touts what Barbara Boxer calls one of her top achievements. 

The subject of the ad is a new veterans’ combat care center that was constructed in California.  “It’s true,” says the Bee article, “that Boxer’s claim on veterans is generally accurate, but the ad doesn’t present the whole picture.”  Bee Washington Bureau reporter Rob Hotakainen then goes on to fill in the missing information: “…over the past decade [Boxer] has received marks of 50 percent or less from groups such as the Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Legion. 

What exactly does Boxer’s rating with two veterans’ group have to do with the accuracy of the ad?  Especially when you consider that the article also states, “Boxer received an A+ from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America,  But Hatakainen wants Yankee fans (veterans’ groups that have never liked Boxer) to cheer for the Red Sox.  The article’s headline is also irrelevant to the accuracy of the ad:  “Some vet groups critical of Boxer.” 

This damning with feint praise approach to reporting is one of the reasons that the public is fast losing its confidence in the mainstream media.  They treat “balance” as important or possibly even more important as accuracy.  In fact, this article goes on to pull the same stunt on another aspect of the Boxer ad.  According to the article, the ad states that Boxer’s “after-school law is keeping a million kids off the street and out of gangs.” 

Hotakainen’s analysis? 

     “It’s true that Boxer teamed up with Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada to get the first major funding. This year, those programs receive more than $1.1 billion, serving 1.7 million children.  But Boxer engages in hyperbole by suggesting that all of those children would be on the streets or joining gangs if not for her efforts.” 

The ad never claims that all of the kids would have chosen the gang alternative without her program, but it does say that a million kids are off the street.  That in itself is a difficult-to-prove claim, albeit not unreasonable given that it’s just a little more than half of the kids receiving the services.  It is actually the Sac Bee that is engaging in hyperbole by trying to find something wrong with a clearly accurate ad by Boxer. 

This kind of press criticism of a positive, accurate ad about an incumbent’s record seems likely to drive the Boxer campaign back into negative advertising.  If the media is going to attack you for the right kind of advertising, you may as well start taking pot shots at your opponent.  You couldn’t be portrayed much worse than you are in this piece of lazy journalism. 

There’s no such thing as a political ad that doesn’t overreach.  But this Boxer ad seems about as accurate as you can get.  It should be praised for its honesty, not criticized for the sake of fairness or for some other, more nefarious motive.

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