Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 10, 2012

The 2012 Fact Check Awards for ads


---- — An Election-Day sampler of funny, scary and just plain bizarre campaign ads, by


It's that special time of year again when campaigning is over (finally!). On Election Day we can stop being so serious about fact-checking false or deceptive claims and have some fun handing out imaginary hardware to those political ads that caught our eyes for other reasons.

We've mentioned before that the 2012 campaign has been nasty, brutish and long. But there have been moments that have been humorous, too — sometimes intentionally. And others that have been just strange or ridiculous.

We've seen a furry animal used for skeet-shooting, inappropriate public behavior involving electricity, a talking horse and at least two imitations of zombie movies (one of them intentional, one of them not). We've heard a pretty good country music song trying to sell a pretty bad claim about Medicare, and some clumsy attempts at humor that backfired, and more.

So, here, both for your amusement and our mental health, are our Election Day awards for 2012. Enjoy.

Analysis The Alex Forrest Award for Most Hare-Raising Ad

Winner: Cain Solutions

Anyone who has seen the 1987 thriller "Fatal Attraction" knows the horrible fate of the pet rabbit of Ellen Hamilton Latzen, who plays the young daughter of Michael Douglas and Anne Archer in the film. (Glenn Close, who plays Alex Forrest, is just not going to be ignored.)

But we think that rabbit got off easy compared with our furry friend in this Web ad from Herman Cain's group, Cain Solutions.

A young girl says, "This is small business," referring to the adorable black-and-white rabbit that she is holding in her arms. She then says, "This is small business under the current tax code," while loading the rabbit into a catapult.

The rabbit — at this point animated, of course — is launched into the air and meets its end after a man blows it to bits with a shotgun.

The young girl then asks, "Any questions?" Well, a few, but we'll wait until the man puts the gun down.

The ad, harkening back to the "this is your brain on drugs" advertising campaign of the 1980s and 1990s, was a promotion for the website, which Cain created after his run for the Republican presidential nomination ended.

The poor goldfish featured in another stimulus-bashing ad from Cain's group didn't fare too well either.

We understand that critics of the stimulus wanted to kill the bill's pet projects — but isn't this going too far?

The Not Forever Young Award

Winner: Scott Howell, candidate for U.S. Senate in Utah

How's this for a campaign slogan: "Vote for me because the other guy might die soon"?

That's pretty much the message that Scott Howell used in a fundraising e-mail promoting his candidacy.

The e-mail warns voters of the danger of re-electing Utah's longtime senator, Orrin Hatch.

"Look, Orrin Hatch is not a bad guy. But he is an old guy, and he's a life politician," the e-mail reads.

It continues: "It's time to stand up and get me elected. We cannot risk the possibility of an 80-year-old man taking office, only to retire or die before his term is through."

Hatch's campaign manager called the email "offensive." But Hatch took the high road, saying of Howell: "He's a nice man, but he is doing whatever he can to get publicity." How mature of him.

For the record, Hatch, who already has served six terms (36 years) in the Senate, is 78 years old.

He'll turn 79 in March.

Howell, on the other hand, is currently 58 years old, though you wouldn't know that based on some of his pictures. (We're just sayin'.)

But, hey, anything goes in politics when you trail your opponent by a wider margin than your age difference.

The Archie Bunker Award for Racial Insensitivity

Winner: Pete Hoekstra, candidate for U.S. Senate in Michigan

There must have been a better way for former Rep. Pete Hoekstra to make his point about the country's current financial problems than this TV ad, which mocks Sen. Debbie Stabenow — or Debbie "Spend-it-now" as she's referred to in the ad — for too much government spending.

Instead, Hoekstra went with this TV spot featuring a young Asian woman thanking Stabenow for contributing to China's economic growth by spending so much American money and borrowing even more. But it's how she does it — in broken English — that had us picking our jaws up off the floor.

"Thank you, Michigan Senator Debbie Spend-it-now," the young woman starts. "Debbie spend so much American money, you borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs," she continues. And, no, those aren't typos. She thanks "Debbie Spend-it-now" one more time before Hoekstra takes the screen to give the ad his approval. Seriously.

The Hoekstra campaign reportedly tried to explain that the ad was an attempt at satire, and meant to show how competitive China's education system has become. Uh, sure, if you say so.

But to make matters worse, the Hoekstra camp chose to debut the racially stereotypical ad in Michigan during the National Football League's Super Bowl of all things, one of the most watched events in the U.S. each year.

The actress in the ad, 21-year-old Lisa Chan of San Francisco, issued a public apology. "I feel horrible about my participation, and I am determined to resolve my actions," she said on her Facebook page. Hoekstra, on the other hand, said he wouldn't be apologizing, saying, "The only stereotyping is of liberal Democrats and their spending policies." Stabenow was holding on to a pretty comfortable lead heading into the homestretch of this Senate race.

The George A. Romero Zombie-Movie Award

Winner: John Dennis, candidate for U.S. House in California

Honorable Mention: Pat Boone, spokesman for '60 Plus'

We've named this one for the director of the 1968 horror movie "Night of the Living Dead," the original zombie movie, which has spawned far too many imitators, including a cable-TV series. Among the weirdest zombie knock-offs is this Web video produced by Republican John Dennis, who was running against Rep. Nancy Pelosi for a second time.

Dennis' bizarre zombie ad was an attempt to get some free publicity. (As of Oct. 17, his campaign had raised just under $101,000 against the nearly $2.2 million raised by Pelosi, the former speaker of the House.) And the sacrificial lamb featured in the ad invites comparison to Dennis himself, who manged to get only 15 percent of the vote when he ran against Pelosi in 2010.

Dennis named his video "Night of the Living Pelosi," and it's an intentional homage to Romero's original. Not so for our accidental mentionee, Pat Boone.

Blame it on bad makeup, bad lighting or too little sunblock — for whatever reason Boone ends up looking here less like the pop singer he was in the 1950s and '60s and more like something that you might see Sunday nights on AMC.

Boone is the national spokesman for the conservative, Republican-leaning seniors group 60 Plus. In this 30-second spot he repeats the much-written-about GOP claim that the president "took $700 billion from Medicare to pay for his health care law." We're not even going there again. There's no need. Who would believe a flesh-eating zombie?

By by D'Angelo Gore, Eugene Kiely, Robert Farley and Brooks Jackson for