My blog friend Moe got me to thinking about the dismal performance of the media when it comes to political and policy coverage. It seems that most media outlets are capable of little more than trying to predict the score — how many Republicans, how many Democrats. Finding thoughtful, well-reasoned, and, particularly, objective analysis of this nation’s needs, and how the policy ideas of the different parties might address those needs is hard to come by. TV and other outlets are filled with opinionators, not reporters, and certainly not analysts. Well, other than keeping my subscription to the New Yorker up to date, I don’t have any good answers for that.

But I do have an idea on how the media companies can atone for their lack of useful information. They could take a stand against the other great corrupter of our political processes, distortions in campaign and advocacy advertising. Here is my idea. Suppose a media company establishes a baseline fee structure for political advertisements that is, say, three times the usual rate. However, political advertisers could qualify for lower rates by having their ads rated by politifact.com or factcheck.org. The better the rating, the lower the price — all the way back down to the normal rate for an ad that rates completely true.

Sure, there would be lots of details to work through. Obviously such an idea would work much better if all the media in a given market adopted the same policy. Otherwise, a candidate could just forego paying $2000 to run a distorted spot on Channel 2, and run it for $800 on Channel 5 instead. There would have to be some worries that, once they had such power over elections, Politifact and FactCheck might lose their bearings. It happens. But hey, I’m just the big picture guy here. I’m sure there are media-savvy types who could figure out something.

What’s appealing about this is that it puts a price on political distortion. Sure, you can still run your ad that implies your opponent once voted to permit snipers to shoot disabled widows on sight — but it will cost you. And that’s what we do not have now. Currently, gross distortion in political advertising brings only benefits, but no costs. I heard recently that of the first 58 ads analyzed by Politifact, only two got their best rating. This multi-tiered pricing idea imposes a cost on distortion. Distort all you want, but your budget won’t stretch nearly so far. And no one’s free speech rights are compromised.

I doubt the various Executive Vice Presidents of Finance for the media companies will rush to embrace my idea. They will worry that this will just cost the company revenue. Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe the compulsion to advertise — and even to distort — is so strong that actually the media companies will generate more revenue. And you know what? If some campaign or some advocacy group decides not to use a media outlet adopting this policy, then the media company should ask itself what it was doing permitting itself to participate in the crass corruption of democracy in the first place. Honor still counts. Or should.

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