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Jack Zaleski, Published November 03 2012

Zaleski: Best and worst of political ads on TV

Yeah, we all hate the political advertising that has been insulting voters’ intelligence for the past few months. Hate it we will, but every study and analysis I’ve seen shows the more negative the ads, the more effective. So what does that tell us about ourselves?

In that spirit, I offer an unapologetic personal and subjective judgment about the best and worst of the lot in North Dakota’s U.S. Senate campaign between Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg.

The best, by far, is Berg’s spot featuring the cutest kid on the planet pouring water into a satchel in order to make the point that Heitkamp’s allegations “don’t hold water.” The toddler is adorable. The ad’s theme is perfect. It’s brilliant because even if you are sick to death of political ads on TV, the cute kid draws you in.

Whether politicians should be exploiting children in such a way … well, that’s a discussion for another time.

Among the best is Heitkamp’s latest in which she walks near the worn wooden bleachers of an old ball field (built by her father) in Mantador, her hometown. She looks right into the camera, talks about family and small-town values in a sincere and direct style that shows “the North Dakota way” can be more than a campaign slogan. The ad has nothing negative in it. It’s as honest as it gets in a political campaign in which “honesty” is a relative term.

The worst from the Berg camp (from independent groups aligned with Berg) has to be the discredited claim that Heitkamp is stealing $716 billion from Medicare recipients because Obamacare would shift that amount from payments to insurance companies to another purpose. It’s part of an effort to tie Heitkamp to everything Obama, true or not. Every reliable (that is nonpartisan) fact checker has exposed the Medicare myth, yet TV spots on behalf of Berg continue to pump up the fiction that Medicare recipients would lose benefits. Not true. Curiously, Berg’s people don’t mention that the Paul Ryan budget shifts the same amount of money within the Medicare budget.

The worst from Heitkamp? The airplane hoax ad in which her campaign tries to make the case Berg jets around the nation in a plush private plane he owns with a cabal of fat cats. It’s nonsense. The airplane in question is an older single-engine, propeller-driven model. Nothing plush or jet about it. It’s a shared business expense, and such arrangements are not at all uncommon among successful business owners and professionals in North Dakota. The plane spot is a plain ol’ lie.

And so it goes. Have your own favorites you love to love or love to hate? Go for it. Do your own best-worst ranking. It’s one way I’ve found to keep from hurling an antique brass bookend at my expensive flat-screen TV.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.