Ad #6: No Surprise
by Ken Salazar for U.S. Senate
here to view the ad.
TRUTH IN POLITICAL ADVERTISING
PROJECT RATING REPORT 03
For Release: Tuesday, October 26, 2004
This is the third analysis of political advertising
in the nationally-watched U.S. Senate race between Republican businessman
Pete Coors and Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar released
by the nonpartisan Truth In Political Advertising Project -- www.TIPAP.org.
The report is part of a series of reports which
are being released on a daily basis during the final days of the
campaign. This report evaluates the accuracy, fairness, and relevance
of the advertisement entitled, "No Surprise." The
advertisement was produced and sponsored by the Salazar For Senate Campaign. The
advertisement, itself, currently is available on the TIPA Web site.
“No Surprise” was the beneficiary
of more interest from Advisory Panel members than any advertisement
to date. Approximately half of the entire Panel rated the ad and
the participation from Panel members categorized as unaffiliated
or independent was higher than any other advertisement rated by the
TIPA to date. Surprisingly, the number of Democratic Advisory Panel
members who responded was identical to the number of Republican who
rated the ad.
“No Surprise” begins with a controversial quote
from Pete Coors in which he states, “I don’t know what
a common man is.” The ad includes video footage of Coors speaking
these exact words. The quote is used twice in the advertisement. This
usage created a two-part controversy.
First, the footage was taken at a League of Women
Voters debate for which the League had prohibited candidates and
others from using the audio and video the League had arranged to
be recorded at the debate. The League’s perspective was this prohibition on the use of its
own taping of the event extended to the candidates and third parties.
In fact, the League notified the TIPA Project and registered a protest
regarding what it felt was the unauthorized use of the event. The League’s
President, Ms. Lorie Young, is a Member of the TIPA Advisory Panel.
The TIPA investigated the claim and concluded
intent definitely was to prohibit the recording of the event and the
subsequent use of such recordings by the candidates. The TIPA also
concluded the League’s motivation for this policy was to ensure
the integrity of its debates and its future invitations by assuring
candidates that League forums would not be used against them.
The TIPA discovered, however, that a number of
other parties – including
members of the Press – recorded the debate and that there was
no enforcement against such third party recordings. There also was
not any evidence of an announcement regarding any agreement to prohibit
all recording outside of that being done by the League, itself.
The problem uncovered by the TIPA was that the
appeared to be limited to how its own recording could be used. It appears
everyone complied with the restrictions placed by the League on its
own recording. Therefore, the Salazar campaign did not violate the
letter of any agreement with the League although the League certainly
felt violated by the campaign’s use of footage even though the
Salazar campaign shot the footage on its own, in a public setting,
along with others who recorded the session.
The second controversy was focused on the advertisement’s use
of the quotation from Coors in which he says, “I don’t
know what a common man is.” The quotation clearly is intended
to posit that multi-millionaire Pete Coors is out of touch with most
Colorado voters and was caught making that admission. The Salazar campaign’s
attempt appears to be to exploit their belief that most Colorado voters
will support Salazar if they see Coors as an out-of-touch, rich, elitist
who does not know or understand most Coloradans. While this exploitation
of class is not laudatory, the real problem is the Coors quote is used
to misstate what the candidate actually was trying to say.
The thesis of the Salazar campaign, which cannot withstand even nominal
scrutiny, is that a wealthy person cannot understand the needs and
desires of people who are financially less fortunate than him- or herself.
There is absolutely no proof that a wealthy person cannot have such
an understanding. Whether or not wealthy people in general are sympathetic
or a specific wealthy person is sympathetic to the plight of the poor
or even the middle class actually is a separate issue from whether
or not wealthy people understand or a specific wealthy person understands
Ironically, the converse is likely to be more
accurate. That is, poor or even middle class Americans are less likely
to be sympathetic to the “plight” or problems of a wealthy
person or of wealthy people in general (i.e., because they rationally
would assume that wealth allows such people to solve problems easily
as compared to those who struggle with financial challenges daily). Hence,
the Salazar campaign has turned reality on its head by making an
argument regarding what different economic strata may understand
about each other – as
opposed to how they might feel, if such a collective sentiment even
At the League of Women Voters’ debate, Coors actually was using
the claim at the beginning of his argument explaining what he believes
a “common man” is. Admittedly, his phrasing was not artful.
Immediately following the quote – which was part of a statement
Coors was making to defend himself against an accusation made by Salazar
at the debate – Coors then goes on to explain what he believes
the definition of a “common man” is and argues that, indeed,
he qualifies as a “common man.”
Again, while Coors’ ultimate conclusion may be a stretch (there
are few Democrats or Republicans whose first words when describing
Pete Coors would be “He’s a common man”), his point
was that he had the experience and sentiments of what he believed a “common
man” actually was. Here is what Coors said.
"I don't know what a common man is," Coors
said. "A common man is somebody
who lives in this country that works hard to provide jobs for
others, who works, either providing for others or working for someone
else. I've done both."
The problem actually was created by Coors when
he began by somewhat misstating his premise. Rather than saying, “I don’t know
what a common man is” to set up his point, he should have said
something such as, “What is a ‘common man?’” His
intent was clear, however, and the Salazar campaign unfairly misused
the quote out of context.
Furthermore, to argue that Coors does not understand
the plight of the “common man” likely is quite specious.
The real issue is, how do the two candidates define that plight,
what are its components, which of the issues are most significant,
and what do each expect to do about that plight and those issues?
The majority of the advertisement’s substantive points almost
got lost in the controversy and these are far less objectionable. The
advertisement starts with the phrase “Pete Coors has a problem.” Then
the key phrase “I don’t know what a common man is” in
the form of what appears to be home video-quality footage is played.
This is followed by statements such as “Coors can’t understand
that middle class families are struggling.” “Coors opposes
letting you buy cheaper drugs from Canada… No surprise… He’s
backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars from the big drug and insurance
The advertisement then switches tracks and talks
about the record of Ken Salazar, as Colorado’s Attorney General, his going after
price-fixing by drug companies, and emphasizes Salazar’s independence
from special interests as well as the argument that he has “experience
money just can’t buy” yet another dig at Coors’ wealth.
The members of the TIPA Advisory Panel had much
to say about the advertisement. Once again, many members of the TIPA
Advisory Panel demonstrated their capacity to be objective about
the advertisements they review, despite their political affiliations – with
Republicans not being in lock-step regarding the ad and Democrats
not automatically arguing it was accurate and fair.
Please note that the TIPA keeps all individual ratings and comments
strictly confidential but publishes overall ratings and uses quotations
from Advisory Panel members in a manner which does not allow them to
be personally identified.
One Democratic panelist questioned the validity
of the numbers. He wrote, “I would like to know if
the League of Women Voters quote was out of context. I would like
to know if the allegation of ‘hundreds
of thousands of dollars’ is at least within some margin of accuracy.” The
dollar figure is in reference to an accusation the advertisement makes
about the financial backers of the Coors campaign.
Another normally highly-partisan Democrat stated, “I
don't know for sure but I am betting that the phrase about the common
man is lifted from context and that Coors was actually trying to
make a statement that was positive towards people by saying that
no one is common.”
A third Democratic opinion was, “Coloradans
are smart enough to recognize that Coors' statement ‘I don't know what
a common man is’ was taken out of context in this ad and then
repeated over and over as if we were too dumb to notice the ad creators'
spin attempt. It's mean-spirited.”
The TIPA uses a "1" to "10" rating
scale for Accuracy (with greater accuracy reflected by a higher rating),
Fairness (with a higher rating indicating a greater degree of fairness),
and Relevancy (with a higher rating meaning the advertisement was
most relevant to the U.S. Senate campaign).
The Rating System is presented in detail on the
TIPA Web site. The analysis for “No Surprise” can
be summarized as follows.
ACCURACY = 5.2 out of 10.0. Partially inaccurate and misleading
but containing a majority of accurate facts.
FAIRNESS = 4.5 out of 10.0. Barely fair;
bordering on unacceptable just based on fairness issues alone.
RELEVANCE = 6.2 out of 10.0 Truly relevant
presentation is marred by the misuse of the opponent’s
ACCURACY RATING DISCUSSION
A 5.0 Accuracy rating is described by the TIPA Rating System as follows: Superficially
accurate (i.e., accurate approximately 70% of the time) with one
or more significant facts intentionally misstated or erroneous;
clearly not meeting any kind of minimal standards for overall accuracy
but appearing to do so as part of an effort to mislead the observer.
The ”No Surprise” advertisement’s
rating of 5.2 was a tiny amount above that relatively low
5.0 standard. It is one of the lowest-rated ads broadcast in the campaign
as far as accuracy is concerned.
The average rating by Democrats was 6.1 (with ratings
ranging from 3 to 10) while the average rating for Republicans was 4.6 (with
ratings ranging from 2 to 7). The gap between how accurate Republicans
and Democrats believed the advertisement was actually covered only
one and a half rating levels and, therefore, was not quite as significant
as what usually would be expected – i.e., a much more highly
differentiated view of the panelists.
The independent or unaffiliated members of the
Advisory Panel rated the advertisement’s accuracy at an average
of 4.6 – identical
to the rating given by Republican members of the Panel. In
fact, as this Report illustrates, the ratings for Accuracy, Fairness,
and Relevance made by Republican members of the Advisory Panel and
by independent or unaffiliated members of the Advisory Panel, each
as a group, are almost identical.
One panelist argued, “The ‘common man’ quote
is strictly accurate, but it is out of context, since Coors went
on to define what he thought a common man was.”
Another Panelist echoed the sentiments of the
independent members when she wrote, “The whole ad is based on an out-of-context
Coors comment. He wasn't saying he doesn't know what a common man is;
he was saying he doesn't know how it ought to be defined when loosely
ACCURACY RATING CONCLUSION. The “No Surprise” advertisement
begins with a misrepresentation intentionally meant to mislead voters
but then goes on to make a series of what could be described – in
comparison -- as accurate statements (although there is a dispute between
the campaigns regarding that accuracy).
FAIRNESS RATING DISCUSSION
A 4.5 Fairness rating lies directly between a 4.0 rating -- described
as follows: Scurrilous personal attack intentionally distorting
the truth to give a false impression of an opponent, yet mixed with
enough relevant or reasonable claims to soften what otherwise would
be a brutal attack – and a 5.0 rating – described
as follows: Contains an unfounded or unjustified personal
attack on a candidate which is patently unfair and which is not fair
This advertisement received a relatively low Fairness rating compared
to many of the others in the campaign. The Republican and the independent
or unaffiliated panelists were uniformly unimpressed with the ad from
a fairness perspective Even the Democrats were unenthusiastic and recognized
the fatal flaw in the ad. One panelist (who is a Democrat) extensively
commented as follows.
Lots of misrepresentations… Likely taking quote "I
don't know what the common man is" way, way out of context.
The Coors’ video is grainy, small, and colorless. This makes
the viewer feel emotionally removed and disconnected from Coors.
The Coors video is put on a gray background to add to that disconnected
feeling. "Pete Coors has a problem" is not a statement
of fact, but an unsupported allegation. The ad leads the viewer
to associate (but does not outright state) a causal effect between
Coors’ stance on drugs from Canada and his taking campaign
contributions from drug companies. The two many not have anything
to do with each other. Moreover, it is likely that Salazar has
taken similar contributions from health care providers. I could
not find reference on the Web to either article they use as evidence
in the ad , so I can't back up the claims. The audience is also
lead to believe that the reference to the Denver Post and the Rocky
Mountain News are news articles, while instead they could just
be letters to the editor or editorials. The Salazar video was shot
in film, not video. This gives it extra
warmth and color. He appears full screen while Coors is in a small
box. Salazar’s section gives glittering
generalities and platitudes that are not substantiated either.
These comments are quite insightful although the reality was the
Salazar campaign only had low-end video footage of the Coors statement
and, therefore, its selection may not have been as intentional as the
Panel member thought. Nevertheless, the contrasts the panelist mentions
are accurate and the primary points should be well-taken.
The average rating by Democrats was 5.0 (with ratings
ranging from 3 to 10) while the average for Republicans was 4.3 (with
ratings ranging from 1 to 7). Independent or unaffiliated Advisory
Panel members came in at 4.2 – once again almost
exactly the same as their Republican counterparts. In all cases, it
obviously was the general consensus the advertisement did not achieve
high standards for fairness.
Another Republican panelist explained his concerns about the basic
arguments made in the advertisement and their relation to the fairness
of the advertisement, as follows.
While it is probably true that Pete
cannot identify with a "common man," I would also be
leery of opening our borders to foreign drug sales because of
some legitimate concerns over safety. This is an issue that needs
to be looked at, but I think the ad is trying to indict Pete
a bit early in the process. I'm not sure how many middle class
Americans are buying foreign drugs (or trying to. I think it
tends to slant the problem to the wrong group. Relevance: Drug
costs are a growing concern amongst our seniors, but I would
guess it is not on the radar screen of the majority of citizens.
Clearly the use of the “common man” quote
was most disturbing. As one Republican panelist explained, “This ad takes
a short quote from an opponent, obviously edits it short, totally out
of context. Disgusting is the best word I can come up with.”
A Democratic member of the panel came to a similar
statement that Coors doesn't know what a ‘common man’ is
was taken out of context and is intentionally misleading. The statement
that he doesn't know the middle class is suffering is supposition
and only serves to make the omission and even greater offense.”
A response from one of the unaffiliated panelist
was thoughtful on the subject of fairness and relevance and explained
how inaccuracy affected both. “An ad focusing on Coors' disconnect
from middle class families could be a fair shot. But building a spot
around a quote taken completely out of context does not pass the fairness
or reasonableness or credibility test.”
FAIRNESS RATING CONCLUSION. “No Surprise” is
not a fair advertisement because its primary premise is based on a
quotation taken completely out-of-context. The Salazar campaign knew
this. The truth Is they could not resist the temptation to use the
quote. The campaign should have exercised some restraint and not cast
the quote in the manner it was used.
RELEVANCE RATING DISCUSSION
A 6.2 Relevance rating is indicative that the general
opinion was the advertisement was somewhat relevant to the U.S. Senate
campaign. A 6.0 Relevance rating is described by the TIPA Rating System
as follows: More relevant than not (i.e., +65%) but containing
a confusing mix of topics, subjects, and themes (in terms of their
relevance) -- some of which apply to the contest at hand and others
which simply do not apply at all (hence the confusion).
One Republican Advisory Panel member was philosophical.” I've
seen much worse. My major reaction is that it's kind of a cheap
shot on Pete, borderline 5/6 on fairness. I chose 6 because, I
repeat, I've seen much worse.”
A different Republican member of the Advisory
Panel simply concluded the advertisement was, “inaccurate and emotional.”
Another panelist rated the relevance as the group’s
average and noted, “Even the League of Women Voters
-- who aren't exactly impartial -- points out (in the newspaper)
that the ‘I
don't know what a common man is...’ is taken way out of context. “ These
distinctions impaired the advertisement’s overall relevance,
especially given that other segments of the ad likely were rated much
higher but impacted in the aggregate.
The average rating by Democrats was 7.6 (with ratings
ranging from 5 to 8) while the average for Republicans was 5.3 (with
ratings ranging from 4 to 7). The independent and unaffiliated members
of the Advisory Panel rated the advertisement’s Relevance at 5.5 – once
again in lockstep with their Republican colleagues (with a
very wide ratings range of 3 to 9). In general, it was felt
a significant degree of relevance was somewhat lacking to a significant
degree in this advertisement.
The Relevance rating was relatively low when compared
to other advertisements but was by far the highest rating of the
three – Accuracy
(5.2), Fairness (4.5), and Relevance (6.2). The TIPA believes
this is due to the issues addressed in the advertisement rather than
how the ad actually deals with those issues.
One Republican gave the following explanation
of his rating as follows. “It's
true Coors has received support from drug and insurance companies.
It's true Coors opposes drug re-importation. It's not clear in
the ad though that Salazar does. Cracking down on drug companies
for price-fixing doesn't allow anyone to re-import drugs from Canada
-- faulty logic on that point.” This panelist
believed the faulty logic impaired any argument the advertisement,
itself, was very relevant.
RELEVANCE RATING CONCLUSION. The advertisement
attempts to tackle a number of issues – ranging from Pete Coors’ capacity
for understanding the problems of people less well-positioned than
himself to the financial struggles of middle-class families to pharmaceutical
drug import issues to which special interests support him to Salazar’s
record in office (i.e., being independent, cracking down on price-fixing
by drug companies, and contrasting the fact Salazar has experience
in elected office and Coors does not). Almost all of these issues,
if separated from the misuse of the “common man” quotation,
likely would be considered quite relevant but suffered as a result
of the misleading use of the inappropriately-truncated “common
OVERALL TIPA RATING
The TIPA’s structure for calculating an
overall rating is based on the following distribution:
Accuracy Rating: 45% of the Overall Score.
Fairness Rating: 35% of the Overall Score.
Relevance Rating: 20% of the Overall Score.
“No Surprise” receives
an Overall Rating of 5.2. This is a low rating on a 1to
10 scale. Given the gross misuse of the Coors’ “common man” quotation,
the Salazar campaign should either pull the plug on this advertisement
or, at the minimum, edit out the inappropriate misuse of the subject
quotation. Given the intentional and repeated misuse of the Coors
quote, it’s “no surprise” that “No Surprise” should
For more information, please go to www.TIPAP.org.
(C) Copyright 2004 by the Democracy & Media Education
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Truth In Political Advertising Project”) and the quotation
or reference accurately reflects the contents and conclusions of
this Report. For questions, please call Zachary
Adler at (303) 449-5043 or send an e-mail
to Zachary@TIPAP.org. Thank