CBS uses Clinton attack ad to challenge Mike Pence’s facts


When can networks air a candidate’s commercial in their news?

CBS did so Oct. 5 when it showed an advertisement from Hillary Clinton’s campaign that fact-checked what Republican Mike Pence said during the vice presidential debate.

CBS took 20 seconds from Clinton’s nearly 90-second ad, highlighting six times when “Pence tried to rewrite [Donald] Trump’s history.”

Perhaps some campaign ads do warrant news coverage, but some argue CBS crossed the line by giving this one free airtime and a multimillion-member audience.

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at The Washington Post, said she questioned the network’s judgment in this instance.

“CBS seems to be fair-minded and impartial, so this did seem like a departure from that,” she said. “Unless an ad is the topic of a news piece for some reason, I don’t think that using ads as part of news coverage is appropriate.”

The CBS clip showed Pence saying Trump never advocated punishment for women who get abortions. It contradicted that with a previous statement from Trump:


Hillary Clinton’s campaign


Hillary Clinton’s campaign







Pence also said Trump did not support nuclear proliferation in other countries. The clip showed otherwise:

NBC News

NBC News

NBC News

NBC News







NBC did not use Clinton’s advertisement, creating its own package of clips that disprove Pence’s statements.

The network showed Pence saying Vladmir Putin is a stronger leader than President Barack Obama. It also showed clips of Trump’s repeated insults during his campaign. Pence denied both of those accusations in the debate.

Unlike CBS, NBC followed its package with a fact-check on Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

Clinton’s ad was correct to note Trump has made certain policy statements that Pence claimed he did not. But should CBS use Clinton’s ad to show these inaccuracies? Does CBS’s use of Clinton’s ad constitute implicit bias?

Ken Auletta, author and political journalist for The New Yorker, said it was OK for CBS to draw from the ad because it stated the source.

“Unlike print, in a video world the most effective fact checking is to show video clips,” Auletta wrote in an email. “I don’t believe networks must only use material from their own video library.”

CBS also showed this from near the end of the Clinton ad:

Hillary Clinton's campaign

Hillary Clinton’s campaign

Auletta said this editorial decision was not appropriate, and it made CBS appear to support the Clinton campaign.

“Using the Clinton ad tagline as the coda to the report on the VP debate was a mistake,” wrote Auletta. “First, it was not clearly labeled as a Clinton ad tagline. The lower right corner of the CBS screen carried an ABC logo. And to end the report with a Clinton campaign statement suggested that CBS News agreed with the Clinton campaign.”

And according to NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, CBS could have taken extra precautionary measures to minimize the perception of a bias.

“They needed to visually flag more that it was from the Clinton campaign,” Folkenflik said.  “Or, maybe you leave it out, and then do a separate story on the ad … a very valuable response from the Clinton campaign in the days that followed [the debate].”

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