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Warning! The 2020 TV ad wars are starting

Sort fact from fiction with these resources

  • Russ Walker
The opening title to a 1952 television ad from presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower.


The opening title to a 1952 television ad from presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Whenever I go to New York City, I always pick up copies of the tabloids — the scrappy New York Daily News and New York Post. They are fun to read, filled with screaming headlines and stories about the gritty side of our greatest city. Yesterday came news that Pete Hamill, the Brooklyn-born, ink-stained wretch who wrote for both papers, passed away at 85. I was vaguely aware of Hamill, but only came to know more about him after watching the 2018 HBO documentary, Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists. For Christmas, my wife gifted me a copy of Hamill’s memoir, A Drinking Life, a work that’s both funny, endearing and painful to read. Here are the obits from the Daily NewsPost and Times. Pete, you will be missed. For now, – 30 –
Russ Walker, PA Post editor


The opening title to a 1952 television ad from presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Get ready. Donald Trump and Joe Biden are planning to visit you A LOT between now and Nov. 3. The two men’s presidential campaigns are rolling out huge advertising campaigns for the fall election season — spending hundreds of millions to inundate the airwaves in the battleground states.

Pennsylvania (and its 20 Electoral Votes), you already know, is one of the top prizes again this year.

TV ads are cleverly designed to play on viewers’ emotions. The truth of a candidate’s claims are often inflated or shaded, depending on the issue at hand. And the ad makers are always looking to make an impression, to leave you thinking about what you heard.

As you watch campaign ads this fall, know that there are plenty of resources online to help you understand what’s true or false in them. A growing network of fact checkers has emerged over the past two decades, and by and large they are committed to a shared ethical vision of nonpartisan, fact-based analysis.

In Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Inquirer is teamed with PolitiFact to produce regular fact checks, most of which are written by reporter Jessica Calefati. The PolitiFact site is easy to search; here are all the fact checks of President Trump and Joe Biden.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania runs the widely respected website. They have a whole section just on TV ads.

Other resources include:

A bigger concern is what’s being said in the “hidden campaign” — the word-of-mouth, social-media-driven campaigning that isn’t visible in the same way that a TV ad aired during a popular TV show or sporting event is.

Tomorrow’s Context will dive a bit more into that topic. But with the links above, you have a jumping off point to truth test the claims made in the traditional TV-focused campaigning.

Related stories:

Best of the rest

  • Drink up, Pennsylvanians. We’ve got a lot of work to do. The York Daily Record looks at the state of the craft beer industry five months into the coronavirus crisis. Reporter Neil Strebig writes, “For breweries like Collusion, one of five breweries in downtown York, keg sales to local restaurants are a large part of the business plan. Without them, the brewery has been leaning on to-go sales with a recent pop in restaurant sales as the county moved into the yellow and green re-opening phases. Barnes isn’t alone in his struggle. For breweries statewide, with limited distribution channels that lean on their taprooms for business, the pandemic has been devastating.”

  • “The integrity of our democracy is at stake in this issue.” U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D) said those words Wednesday as he and fellow Philly-area lawmakers gathered to warn that postal service delivery delays could undermine vote-by-mail this fall. More here from The Philadelphia Inquirer.

  • WHYY’s Katie Meyer takes a deep look into the Judicial Watch lawsuit over how some Pennsylvania counties update and maintain their voter rolls. Is the fight over ensuring the accuracy of our elections? Or is it a cynical partisan effort to depress votes in reliably Democratic counties? Read Katie’s story.

  • U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D) will serve as a vice chairman of the Democratic National Convention this year. The convention was scheduled to take place in Milwaukee later this month, but news came yesterday that nominee Joe Biden and other party VIPs won’t be traveling there due to the coronavirus. On the GOP side, President Trump suggested Wednesday that he may deliver his acceptance speech from the White House instead of traveling to Charlotte, N.C.

  • The Pittsburgh City Paper looks at the pattern of arrests tied to Black Lives Matter protests in the city this summer, finding that the city’s police department is undertaking “a fairly large effort to arrest and charge seemingly as many people as possible who allegedly committed crimes during the city’s ongoing BLM demonstrations. Initially, police arrested many people on the same days of the region’s two largest protests: May 30 in Downtown and June 1 in East Liberty. But they have also followed up and filed or sought charges days, and sometimes several weeks later, against several additional protesters, some charged for throwing water bottles. They even filed several felony charges against well-known organizers and march leaders.”

  • A smile for Thursday: Meet Shelby Lawson, a Lehigh Valley designer who is sewing special face masks for deaf people. WLVR has her story.

  • Bonus smile: Meet Anthony Wiles, a high school student from Allegheny County who was just named one of 5 National Student Poets. The 11th grader who attends the Sewickley Academy in Ross, Pa., was recognized for his poem, “Know Not I, But of Appalachia.” Congrats!

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