Nothing brings out powerful emotions quite like political debate, especially when that debate happens in the form of heavy advertising.
The news department at KUSA-TV believes strongly that political ads airing on the station deserve to be checked for accuracy and context to give voters the most information possible about the claims being made on our airwaves.
These factchecking pieces (which we call "Truth Tests") frequently raise lots of questions from people of all political stripes.
Here are some answers to the most common questions and comments we receive about our Truth Test series:
QUESTION: "If the ad is misleading, why don't you pull it off the air?"
ANSWER: The most important thing to understand is that the news department of KUSA does not oversee advertising on this station. The news and sales departments operate independently of one another.
In the case of candidate ads, stations are prohibited from pulling ads by federal law. The station actually cannot decide to stop airing an ad placed by any candidate, whether federal, state, or local, due to the content of the ad — even if the news department thinks it doesn't pass a Truth Test.
Even in cases where the station is not legally obligated to run the advertisements, ads are seldom pulled because the primary responsibility for the accuracy of claims in any advertisement lies with the advertiser. The station generally does not act as the arbiter of "truth" in political speech, and we value our role in providing a platform for vigorous debate about candidates and other election issues. We rely on the marketplace of ideas to work to remedy differences of opinion in the accuracy of political advertisements. Periodically, the station may decide to stop running a particular ad, but our strong preference is to serve our community by preserving the right of freedom of speech in all matters when it comes to political and issue advertising.
Again, the news department has no say in decisions about advertising on the networks of 9NEWS. What the journalists in our newsroom can do is test the ads to help you understand the claims being made in context. We see it as our responsibility to do so.
To help more people find our analyses, we preserve the results of our tests on 9NEWS.com so people can find them even if they happen to miss the newscasts in which our Truth Tests appear.
QUESTION: "This is biased! Why don't you Truth Test the other side of this issue/campaign?"
ANSWER: 9NEWS never begins a Truth Test with the goal of swaying voters for or against any particular issue or candidate. Our only bias in these pieces is to either substantiate or debunk claims being made in the advertisements purchased for political purposes on our station.
For instance, 9NEWS tested many political ads in the 2016 election cycle, debunking claims from both sides of Presidential and Congressional races, sometimes taking on ads from both sides in the same Truth Test segment.
If there are ads from the other side of the issue or campaign at hand, we've likely already tested their claims or are working on a future Truth Test of those ads. If you can't find a Truth Test on 9NEWS.com and think we've missed an ad that deserves to be tested, please email 9NEWS political reporter Marshall Zelinger: firstname.lastname@example.org or 9NEWS political researcher Phillip Maravilla: email@example.com.
QUESTION: "How do you come up with your verdicts?"
ANSWER: First we break down the list of factual claims being made by the ad and then we extensively research them.
Depending on the claim, this can involve analyzing voting records, economic data, and prior public statements. After the research phase, we decide whether the claim is true, false, or something in between.
Most of the claims tend to fall into the latter category because the people who create political ads want to avoid airing things that are patently false. In these cases, 9NEWS looks for a verdict that will best describe what if any factual problems there are with the claim in question.
We cite the sources and often link to more detailed information in the online versions of our Truth Tests so you can see the evidence we've used to yourself.
QUESTION: "I still think you've gotten something wrong. Will you consider my evidence?"
ANSWER: Yes! Above all, 9NEWS wants to clear up confusion, not add to it. If you feel we've missed a piece of evidence that should be considered in relation to a finding in our Truth Test, you should email it to the reporter that presented the Truth Test.
Please make sure the evidence is on point to the claim in the ad and explain why you feel it demonstrates a different finding than was shown in our Truth Test.
9NEWS will hold those who run political ads on our networks accountable for what they say. You can find the entire collection of Truth Tests here: https://www.9news.com/truthtests.