Bill Moyers on Political Ads


This article originally appeared in Issue# 44

I don't buy the argument that political spots undermine democracy. In a way they serve democracy by reaching more people in a single instant than a whistlestop campaign ever could or a speech or a stump. When William Jennings Bryan was running for president, his speeches sometimes lasted three hours. Imagine him trying that on a television audience that's come to expect fast, fast, fast relief.

One thing to be said for political spots is that they enable political candidates to choose their message on their terms. The politician is not left to the mercy of newspaper editors or television producers, looking for that ten second excerpt that fits the reporter's script. The fact is, candidates can say a lot in thirty seconds that a voter should know about them or their opponent. And I'm not worried that they'll carry the day. No spot has the last word. We have news reports, the opposition's campaign, other publications, and our own common sense against which to measure its claims.

— Bill Moyers