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by Nancy Francis

Posted on September 30, 2007 at 10:09 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:33 PM

One of my favorite nightly rituals is reading before I go to sleep. I prefer fiction at bedtime, an escape from obligatory news and information that I digest during the rest of my day. It seems I don't get around to reading the books "everyone's" talking about until two to five years after they've been anointed with zeitgeist status. Too late to impress anyone with literary hipness, but soon enough to finish the book before the movie comes out. And just in time to find a copy at the library.

I recently finished " Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer, published in 2005.

The book has been alternatively praised and scorned for its unique (some say annoying and gimmicky) style and its plot line, which involves the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. The narrator of the novel is a precociously intelligent 9-year-old boy (Oskar) whose father was killed in the World Trade Center.

I personally found the character heartbreakingly endearing, especially his practice of imagining "inventions" as a way of coping with his sorrow and fear. They included:

“a special drain that would be underneath every pillow in New York, and would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go to the same place, and in the morning the weatherman could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down….”


''What about frozen planes,'' Oskar proposes in a typical moment, ''which could be safe from heat-seeking missiles?
''What about subway turnstiles that were also radiation detectors?

''What about incredibly long ambulances that connected every building to a hospital?''

So....where am I going with this?

Every political season, as I see and hear the ads for/against candidates or ballot measures, I think: Wouldn't it be great if someone invented an automatic lie detector in the airwaves, a little beep or light, that would go off every time something untrue was said or implied in a political advertisement?

Not gonna happen. And even if it did, who would buy ads anymore? And, let's be honest, no one at KGW or any commercial media outlet would ever get a paycheck if it wasn't for advertising. I've got bills to pay, kids to feed and send to college.

What's a news person to do?

Here at KGW, we do this thing called Ad Watch. It works like this: We choose an issue or candidate, take two broadcast ads (in favor/against) and have an educated, objective third party analyze the message the ad attempts to send vis a` vis what is true.

The idea is that we, as a news organization, have an obligation to help voters make educated choices.

Last week, I was assigned to do an Ad Watch about two current ads about Measure 49.

Watch KGW Report

I'm not interested in sharing or pushing my political views in the course of doing my job. That's not what Ad Watch is about. Our pieces are meant to analyze and critique the ads, not the measures themselves.

And I have to say I find one of those ads hilarious in its theatricality. I realize that political ads often exploit people's fears, but this one seems over the top to me, regardless of the ballot measure.

Just for discussion's sake, let's pretend we don't even know what the ad is about. There's something so Halloweenish , so 'you've-got-to-be-kidding 'about it, I can't help but smile. How can anyone take it seriously?

The ad starts with a big dark door that looks like something you'd see on a haunted house. Cue the horror movie soundtrack. A Casper-white hand slithers out from inside. Later, a photo of a house flies off the screen as though a poltergeist is stealing it away.(subliminal message: Your very own home could be snatched from you, just like that!) Cue sound effects: "moo-ha-ha" monster-style laughter and a howling wolf.

Watch it here:
Who thinks of this stuff? I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the conference room at the ad agency when someone said, "Yeah, and let's make sure the hand is white like a ghost's!"

How many viewers take these productions at face value? Are ads their primary source of information as they make their voting decisions? Are they literally frightened into voting a certain way, regardless of what is true?

The mischievous part of me wishes the ad for "the other side" wasn't so bland ... because then I could have just as much fun writing about both ads and wouldn't set myself up for being accused of having an agenda about the ballot measure. I don't. My guess is that there are even some Measure 49 opponents who would agree that the "spooky" ad is silly in its tone.
I'm alternately entertained and alarmed by some of the political ads that air. The fact that ads are some voters' primary source of election information is what's really scary.

Happy Halloween.

PS- Here is a link to a page that will lead you to the actual text of the ballot measures appearing on Oregon's ballot in November: