Every so often a beer-drunk fan will run on the field during a baseball game causing a delay while the cops chase him down. Back in the days of streaking, sometimes these fans would run out on the field naked.
You'll never see one of these scenes on TV because there's a rule that the broadcasters are not allowed to follow the drunk baseball fan onto the field. If they were to broadcast the drunk fan, the theory goes, that would just encourage more people to do it, meaning more delayed games, annoyed players, offended fans and busted streakers. It seems to me this very simple rule should be adopted by news networks when it comes to the most hideous attack ads.
Example. The North Carolina Republican Party has yet to spend a dime running a racist attack ad against Obama, one that McCain and the national party swear they don't want them to run. But millions of TV viewers have seen the ad, repeatedly, run for free on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc. This seems grossly unfair, and how does it not count as a campaign contribution?
We've seen this before, Bush swore that the swiftboat ads that questioned John Kerry's honor and patriotism were unfair and he didn't want them run, but they helped him anyway, and somehow I doubt his sincerity as I doubt McCain's. But you can't really blame them, in this age many candidates believe they must do whatever they have to do, no matter how immoral or unethical, to get elected. In the analogy, they'll always run onto the field, naked if they have to, to get past the competition.
But why should we tolerate the news organizations giving free air time to the campaigns? Aren't they making an illegal campaign contribution when they run a Republican attack ad without giving equal time to Democratic attack ads?
Maybe they could invoke their integrity (as they so often do when it suits them) for the good of the electoral process and force the attackers to pay for the air time? And maybe if they weren't granted so much free air time, seemingly in proportion to their ugliness, perhaps fewer of them would even be produced.