Pants on fire.

Friday, October 9th, 1998

I stand before you today an optimistic man. Optimistic that if things go far enough there will, eventually, somewhere way down the ladder of messed-up-ness, be a point where people say "Enough." "We’re sick of this." Or at least, "This isn’t working, let’s try something else."

That’s kind of an all-purpose lead-in to a media column in the 90s, but what triggers my basement-level optimism today is the (gosh, isn’t it exciting) state political campaign, especially as it plays out on Atlanta television screens.

It goes something like this:

"What Guy Millner says about Roy Barnes is just plain wrong."

"Roy Barnes says this about Guy Millner, but he’s a liar."

"When Paul Coverdell says this about Michael Coles, he’s distorting the facts."

"Michael Coles is lying about what Paul Coverdell has done."

"Guy Millner’s commercial about Roy Barnes’s lying is, in itself, a lie."

"Roy Barnes is lying about Guy Millner’s commercial accusing Barnes of lying about Millner’s commercial."

Okay, okay. What have we learned from these carefully-produced messages? We’ve learned that candidates are willing to spend millions of dollars of what are, after all contributions-other people’s money-to call each other a liar over, over, and over again. That’s it. End of content. Oh there’s a few sideswipes, like "he’s more liberal," and "no, I’m not liberal, he’s the real liberal," but those are really just variations on a theme.

All these guys are saying is: "the other guy lies." (Aren’t you glad I used my years of media experience to decipher this for you?) And we’ve been hearing this for months, crammed in to almost any local spot availability on any Atlanta station that has an audience worth annoying.

In the age of the remote control, I can’t understand why they thing these things have any impact at all. After seeing them once, anyone’s remote finger is sensitive enough to yank the viewer away from the spots, to the relative safety of an episode of Friends (especially since WATL and WXIA, as a public service, make sure that an episode of Friends is airing somewhere in town, 24 hours a day.) We’re gone at the first sight of the fake Georgia geezer lady with a bar of soap. When a really unflattering image of Michael Coles hits the screen, we’re elsewhere in a 30th of a second.

So they spend this money-big chunks on producing the ads, huge chunks on paying stations to air the ads-and we don’t watch. But the same sweaty advisors who tell them to make the ads parse the polls and tell the candidates that yes, the numbers are moving in response to the ads. They really are. It’s because of the ads, I tell you, so let’s make some more.

That’s why I say this has to be close to rock-bottom, the nadir of political advertising on television, doesn’t it? Won’t we wake up early next year and say "What have we done?" and completely overhaul the way people who run for office tell us about their issues and ideas?

I mean, what other choice is there? Uh…don’t answer that.