Just The Facts: How to Educate Yourself for the 2012 Election

September 2012

You know those ubiquitous Geico ads, the ever-more-annoying and ever-less-clever commercials featuring, among other things, the caveman, the British-accented lizard, and the pig screaming out the window of a moving car? They're all part of the company's schizophrenic branding efforts, and their relentless re-airings have devolved into a scourge on the TV-viewing experience.

I miss them.

This is because, for several weeks now, commercial time in Colorado has featured wall-to-wall political ads, part of what's expected to be record spending on advertising for any presidential campaign. The barrage is so intense, and the ads so simplistically inflammatory, voters can be forgiven if they viscerally careen from one candidate to another every 30 seconds. The trend has even trickled down to state-level elections, most notably with commercials from both sides of the Joe Coors-Ed Perlmutter race for Colorado's 7th Congressional District recently flooding airwaves.

It's all part of residing in a key swing state during what's expected to be an extremely tight election, in a time when any pretense of controlled campaign financing has been abandoned. Although the majority of the spending is expected to tilt toward pro-Republican candidates and causes, Democrats are countering with some of the most aggressive partisan ads we've ever seen.

My advice: Ignore them. Every single one. No matter who's producing them or which side they're supporting, these ads are too full of half-truths, needlessly hostile rhetoric, and occasional outright lies to be even remotely reliable. Instead, voters—particularly those on the fence, who are the ones these ads are hoping to target—should take full advantage of one of the most useful byproducts of our often useless, Internet-driven, 24-hour news cycle: Fact-checkers. Sites such as Factcheck.org or Politifact.com, national newspapers such as the Washington Post, and local sites such as ColoradoPols.com regularly run stories that clarify the noise. These sites have become an essential tool for any voter who wants to be truly informed.

Hopefully, this includes all of us. If you get most or all of your news from left- or right-leaning organizations—say, FoxNews, the Huffington Post, or MSNBC—the next seven weeks would be a good time to step outside the coccoon. (Don't worry, you can climb back in after November 6.) All elections are important, and this one may be even more crucial than usual. But unless, and until, the American citizenry starts insisting on receiving legitimate information from all the candidates on both sides of the aisle, they'll just keep feeding us nonsense. In the marketplace of ideas, information is the most valuable commodity, and misinformation—or our acceptance of it—is what these pap peddlers are counting on. If we can't eliminate them altogether, at least we can force them to change their business model.

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