Carl Luna, Political Science Professor and a member of the Campaign Civility Project.
Related Story: Grading San Diego Mayoral Ads On Civility
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Did you see the San Diego political mailer that used the word BS? How about the ones that use the terms like bully and liar? More importantly, what about the ones that aren't telling the truth? Is anyone monitoring the things these candidates say about each other? Earlier this year, we told you about the first annual conference to restore civility in civic dialogue held at the university of San Diego. Now, out of that conference comes the campaign civility project. An effort to rate political ads on accuracy and fairness. I'd like to welcome my guest, Carl Luna, political science professor at Mesa†College, who is involved with the campaign civility project what. Is your title?
LUNA: I'm one of the participants and an organizer. We haven't gotten to that stage yet.
CAVANAUGH: You're not president yet! Now, tell us about the best, the worst, or the funniest ad you've seen in San Diego. Isn't politics though, Carl, by its very nature rather uncivil?
LUNA: If can be. It doesn't have to be. Politics is about bringing the poly, the many together in the community. At the end of the day, we have to be able to work together. The more we divide ourselves to get to the point of picking up our leaders, the harder it is to reunite after the election.
CAVANAUGH: Was there ever a time when politicians didn't attack each other?
LUNA: No, no. There's always been attack, and by today's standards, some of today's ads are relatively mild. The things that were said about Lincoln, about Thomas Jefferson. But today, we've got the echo chamber of the media, are the 24 hour news cycle, twittering, webs, stuff getting hammered into the mind like never before. Of it's better when you have a bullhorn to pay attention to what you're saying.
CAVANAUGH: What makes a political ad civil as opposed to uncivil?
LUNA: Tom Sheppard, laid out three roles. Is it fair, is it relevant, is it truthful? So we developed a point system based on those, working with our group, so we could be a little bit more objective when we looked at ads. And we call that the shepherd's rule, we've got a scale that takes you from A-F, and we look at 1†ad, we banner around the table, put down our scoring, kind of like American Idol for ads. We don't have a viewer call-in yet.
CAVANAUGH: Maybe we'll be able to expand it now if our listeners would like to call in and weigh in on the civility or incivility of the ads you've been saying. Let's listen to an ad that the campaign civility project gave grade for civility. This is an ad paid for by Fletcher for mayor. The voices are Brett and Kelly king, parents of murdered San Diego teenager Chelsea king. &%F0
LUNA: We experienced every parent's worst nightmare. When we sought to protect other children, we were told it would be impossible to get done in Sacramento.
LEF3: Too partisan, too many games.
LUNA: But Nathan Fletcher worked nonstop to get it done.
LEF3: He didn't see credit. He did the right thing.
>> Imagine what we can do for San Diego as your mayor.
CAVANAUGH: That's an ad paid for by Nathan Fletcher. This did receive some criticism. Some thought it exploited the king tragedy. But your panel gave it an A.
LUNA: When we looked at it being truthful, what it reported was truthful, what he did in Sacramento. Bills he pushed through had been in the works for a while, but he actually spear headed one. It was fair, it was not attacking anybody. It relied a bit more on emotion than you might think in a normal ad, but it wassa I fair use of emotion. These constituents who on their own went to the Fletcher campaign and said they wanted to do this for them. I was the only one on the panel to ding them on relevance. Because this is something that you did in Sacramento, but on an issue like this, you may not pick up as pair. But that was a very solid ad, and a very effective adof the
CAVANAUGH: This is an ad against another candidate.
(Audio Recording Played)
LUNA: San Diego needs real reform. But Bob Filner is an I'm Democrat. He vetted with Democrats 90%.
LUNA: Thank you for your leadership.
LUNA: We need a mayor with a local agenda. Not an Obama democratic agenda.
CAVANAUGH: That's a campaign ad called Obama Democrat by the Carl DeMaio campaign. Why does this ad get an A too?
LUNA: You can be negative and civil. What DeMaio's people were doing is showing this is who Bob Filner is, and nothing they said was incorrect. He is an Obama Democrat. Now, the part we had a part time playing around with is this ad was trying to be manipulative, and we don't have our rating system to evaluate that well. This ad was put out to get Democrats who would vote for Bob Filner to vote for DeMaio. But the content of the ad, it was fair what was said, relevant to the events, it shows you can be negative and civil, you can be positive and civil, you can be negative and uncivil. You're across the board depending on how you're addressing these things.
CAVANAUGH: Who did you determine would be on this panel? The civility panel.
LUNA: We pulled a group together that came out of our organization for the civility conference. We would have had on our panel the reverend George Smith, who was the head of the catfish club, but he's been ill lately. It was myself, former political reporter, John Bibi. Assemblyman Jeff Marston, and Steve Peace. So we have Republican, independent, democratic, academic, journalist, and everything. What we'd like to do is expand our people, bring in more people.
CAVANAUGH: Marlena is on the line from Mission Hills. And welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: I was surprised to hear the Chelsea king's parents ad. I fast forward through these ads on television anyway, but I've seen them. And I feel that from the very beginning that Nathan Fletcher was exploiting that situation to get his name before the public, and that's precisely what he did. And I feel the Fletchers have moved out of state, they only come back to --
CAVANAUGH: Right, and it's about the ad, we're talking about specifically. Thank you for that. And that was -- do you think that is a reaction that shows if someone has a sort of negative feeling toward a politician that even if they come out with a fair ad, that someone is going to take if as a bad thing?
LUNA: Studies are showing repeatedly that for a lot of people who have a fixed political belief, no matter what you tell them, they're going to dislike or like according to that. So people filter these things through. One of our attempts was to be a bipartisan panel to be more octive about this. But even then, we have our own personal views.
CAVANAUGH: If someone saw that ad, and the first thing they got was a negative reaction, they would have to go back in their own minds and find to figure out whether they just had a negative reaction to that particular candidate?
LUNA: That's it. I was hearing an interest study to revert that effect, you have people sit down, and say I'm a good person, I feel good about myself. And once they do that, they clear the deck of their personal emotional feeling. Before you watch an ad, say I'm a good person, I feel good about myself, and now I will look at this ad, and give if a fair judgment.
CAVANAUGH: And so if you feel good about yourself afterward!
LUNA: And I agree with the caller, I like to Tivo through these things.
CAVANAUGH: Was there a particular ad the group didn't agree on?
LUNA: The Carl DeMaio doesn't get it ad, we had a dispute about that one.
CAVANAUGH: This is by the San Diego police officer's association.
NEW SPEAKER: My name is Michelle Bennett. My husband Terry was a San Diego police officer killed in the line of duty. Our family made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our city safe. Carl DeMaio voted against healthcare benefits for widows and children of fallen officers. He put a cheap political stunt ahead of our welfare. Carl DeMaio does not deserve our city's highest office.
CAVANAUGH: That is from the Carl DeMaio doesn't get it ad, by the San Diego police officer's association. What did your panel think of that?
LUNA: Well, now, our scale is from 12, very civil, to minus 12, terribly uncivil. And our range was minus 2-4, but some of us felt that ad was a little bit truthful, but it pushed the line a little bit. What Carl DeMaio did was vote in something that had a package of bills with it, and it was hard to see exactly where that one line item was. It had some loaded language in it, talking about how he was so negative about police families, doesn't like widows and children, basically. And probably kicks puppies out of the way when he walks down the sidewalk. So it lost a few points for that, and it came out about a C-plus.
CAVANAUGH: DeMaio sent out a letter threatening to sue stations who play this ad, because it creates a false impression. Does that kind of a thing help candidates or does it just put more focus on the particular ad?
LUNA: There's an old line that you don't argue with somebody who buys ink by the barrel, and I would imagine that, broadcasts by the minute. So probably it would have been better to let that one go. It probably got more air preair time by news stations covering it.
CAVANAUGH: Dave is calling us from San Diego. Welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: Thanks a lot. I appreciate the topic today. So I like the trying to make things a little more quantitative to get a sense of fairness and political ethics maybe. Something that strikes me is I'm trying to keep track -- I don't watch a whole lot of television. So most of the ads that I'm seeing are mailers, and there have been quite a few recently. And I'm just curious. It seems like certain candidate, all I'm seeing from them are negative ads against their opponents. And then others it's just more positive ads about themselves. And so for instance it seems like from DeMaio all I'm seeing are negative ads against his opponents. I don't think I've seen one positive mailer just about himself versus Bob Filner seems like a lot of just positive about himself and Nathan is somewhere in the middle. But that might be something interesting to start totally too --
CAVANAUGH: How many there are.
NEW SPEAKER: The number of negative ads a campaign puts out against their competition -- just pure positive ads.
CAVANAUGH: Dave, thank you for that. Let me get a response to that. Is that purely a political decision that candidates make? Whether to saturate with negative or go positive?
LUNA: Well, they try to do a little bit of both. On their websites, candidates tend to be very positive, social media you tend to be more positive. When you're sending something to somebody's house, are in the came it takes them to walk a mailer from the mail back to the trash, you can get a negative message through quicker. And later in the campaign, if you feel that your opponent is catching up, it's easier to throw dirt in their face to try to reestablish yourself as a cabbedidate. And the caller has an excellent point. There's more than just TV. So we would like to look at other things in the future, and try to get an aggregate about it, and see if the candidate who runs the most uncivil campaign going to win? Negative doesn't always work. And it can have blowback on you.
CAVANAUGH: This is a question I hear a lot from people. Is it anyone's job to vet these ads for accuracy?
LUNA: Is it anyone's job to vet what we see for a cat food commercial? You have the FCC, and FDA. There is nothing equivalent in politics because politics is covered by freedom of speech. And one of my bits of freedom of speech is my freedom to be untruthful, to lie. If you do it to an individual, it's a liable suit. In a political campaign, it's basic politics. What we'd like to see is if that catches up with you at some point, negativity will only take you so far.
CAVANAUGH: KPBS, you have the civility campaign project now, KPBS has tried to verify some of the claims in these local political ads. Voice of San Diego has a fact check on statements that the politicians make, but overall, it's pretty much buyer beware is what you're saying.
LUNA: Very much. In our process to avoid spending hours to try and figure out exact truth, we made our criteria, can a reasonable personal fairly easily verify the information? If it's something you can't easily verify, the difference between that and an outright lie begins to blur.
CAVANAUGH: One of the ads you rated got an F. It was called Carl DeMaio is dangerous.
LUNA: It was a web ad that we came across as we were compiling our ads. Of and we could not quite track down who put it on the web. And it was just negative across the board. It made unfounded accusations about DeMaio, it was not relevant from many of the things it said. This is one thing independent political groups put out to ding the other guy. That's the sort of ad, when you know it's false, and you don't upon who's doing it, that's an F.
CAVANAUGH: Mel Shapiro, welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: I have a cure for all these negative ads. It's called the mute button on your remote.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CAVANAUGH: Problem solved! Thank you for that. And what about these ads that you get these robo calls?
LUNA: I listen to them long enough to hang up on them. We haven't evaluated those within this. There are now so many media platforms to launch these ads, it becomes overwhelming even to keep track of everything. And there's the old story that a lie left unaddressed for 24 hours becomes the truth. That's why we're doing some project, there needs to be a firewall between our city, truth, and unburnished incivility.
CAVANAUGH: I'm going to thank you, Carl, but I'm also going to ask you to stay put, because we're going to come back to you.