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Trust but verify?

So here's a philosophical question for you: if an advocacy group tries to mislead us, should we be more insulted if it hides its dishonesty, or if it actually has the audacity to provide citations which prove its dishonesty, hoping we won't check?

The left-wing advocacy group MoveOn, a group which ironically never takes its own advice, has been whining lately about "censorship" because CBS has rejected an ad MoveOn wanted to run during the Super Bowl. (It isn't, of course; a private organization making an editorial decision isn't "censoring" anybody when it chooses not to publish a particular message.) MoveOn is trying to claim that CBS's decision is politically motivated:

CBS will also claim that this decision isn't an indication of political bias. But given the facts, that's hard to believe. CBS overwhelmingly favored Republicans in its political giving, and the company spent millions courting the White House to stop FCC reform.(6)
And when you go to that footnote?
6. OpenSecrets.org: "CBS Television Network Soft Money Donations"
Okay, the logic is that CBS "overwhelmingly" favors Republicans, so it must be biased in favor of them. So let's check out their source, OpenSecrets.org...

Yes, in fact, it's true: a whopping 98% of CBS's "soft money" contributions went to Republicans in the election cycle cited. Millions of dollars, all to Republicans. Right? Uh, no. In fact, here's what we're talking about:

To Democrats: $250 (2%)
To Republicans: $13,505 (98%)
Total: $13,755
That's right: a grand total of $13,000. Hardly the sort of giant fundraising bonanza MoveOn tries to portray.

But wait, there's more...CBS is no longer an independent entity; in May of 2000, it was purchased by Viacom. Even if one wasn't aware of the relationship between the two companies initially, OpenSecrets.org provides that information on the page linked to by MoveOn. If you click on that link, you see Viacom's contributions. And if you look at that, you see the numbers change substantially:

To Democrats: $24,900 (60%)
To Republicans: $16,505 (40%)
Total: $41,405
Whoops. Suddenly, MoveOn's argument seems a little silly, doesn't it? And it gets worse. If you look at more than just a single election cycle, the contribution gap substantially widens, in favor of Democrats. Viacom and its subsidiaries gave $19,000 to Republicans in 2002... and $1.3 million to Democrats.

Of course, this doesn't prove that the decision to reject MoveOn's ad wasn't partisan -- but it sure as heck refutes the limited evidence (*) provided by MoveOn that it was partisan. MoveOn couldn't have missed this data; as I said, the first set was linked to right on the page MoveOn cited.

(*) MoveOn and its Democratic supporters also claim that CBS's excuse -- that it doesn't accept advocacy ads -- is just a pretext, because it has run antismoking and antidrug ads. Uh, yeah. Whatever. Because a partisan political position ad is clearly equivalent to an antismoking ad. Both are likely to be equally controversial.


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