Although governments are generally made up of a mix of representatives from different parties, government organizations usually aim for neutrality. This gets a bit strained when you have public mass transit services that display ads on buses and in metro stations and people want to display political ads.
A Fox News Affiliate in Denver recently did an investigation into RTD Denver and discovered that it accepted an ad from a pro-Palestinian group accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing with no questions but denied an essentially unobjectionable ad about adopting puppies. PETA also ran into issues with the RTD ad approval department as did the Boulder County Republicans.
Although many would call the ad bought by the Palestinian group baseless propaganda, RTD ran it anyway. I’m actually fine with that and their stated reason for okaying the ad:
RTD took the money then went on the defensive putting out a press release saying in part “political type-ads” are a “public forum” which there are “very limited controls.”
For me, the problem starts when RTD turns around and say that they will fact check ads. For example, an ad that appeared around Christmas was initially disapproved because RTD said the wording of the ad, which urged people to adopt rather than buy a dog from a pet store or online, indicated that all pet stores ran puppy mills. That seems to be splitting a pretty thin hair.
Okay, maybe RTD just has a hands-off approach to political ads. Perhaps they really scrutinize ads that don’t fall into a political or opinion based category. However, the fact checkers were out in force again when local Republicans wanted to run an ad showing a crying baby with the notation that the child’s burden of the national debt amounted to $150,000.
RTD’s fact checkers determined that that babies don’t pay taxes (correct, but seriously?!) and eventually approved an ad indicating that the average per person debt was $55,206. Where exactly were these accuracy mongering fact checkers when a Palestinian group was advertising that Israel was guilty of war crimes. RTD is deeply concerned that people don’t get the idea that a toddler has to fork over money to the IRS each year but is okay with ads calling a US ally war criminals. You can pick one, but not both.
The reality is that it’s possible that RTD would normally have been as anal-retentive about the anti-Israel ad had it come from another source. The D.C. Metro completely stopped showing all political ads after Pamela Gellar, the head of a group targeted by a terrorist group for showing cartoons of Muhammad, wanted to create ads displaying a drawing of Muhammad and display them on buses and at metro stations.
Around the time that this occurred, I remember people stating that the people running the D.C. Metro were being cowards. I can see the argument, but if I’m a D.C. resident just trying to get to work, the last thing I want to worry about is if what’s on the side of the bus I’m riding is going to get me killed.
At least the D.C. Metro decided that they couldn’t treat all political ads the same, so they stopped showing them. I’m not saying that all government agencies should stop running political ads, but it’s better than being inconsistent.