Politics is a Dirty Business

In the 25 August 2002 newsletter, there was a paid ad for an anti-Bush bumper sticker. The ad’s headline: There’s Dirt Under Every Bu$h. That led to (ahem) several reader letters:

I do not want to see your communist propaganda any more. Please stop my subscription immediately. I want no association with you. You are extremely stupid and should I do not want you coming into my house. I hope you have a great time selling your propaganda to little children and fools who would believe your lies. –Mac

Um, huh? That was followed shortly by another:

I was surprised and disappointed to find your remarks about Bu$h. I think he’s doing a good job — but even if I agreed with you I do not think your website need to be used for political statements.” And then a different Ed: “Your Bu$h bumper sticker is so typical of the name-calling and baseless slander that plays like a bass-continuo in the mainstream media today. If you have actual facts to allege about George W. Bush, you should state them. –Ed


I just unsubscribed and wanted you to know that it was because of your comments about ‘BU$H’. I did not expect biased political editorializing in your newsletter. Make fun of what he says or does — but what is this ‘crap’ about dirt? —DeVaux in California

OK, So I See the Pattern

I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I think that anyone who thinks that I agree with everything my advertisers say is stupid.

My communist propaganda”? Communists don’t allow harsh criticism of their leaders. In America, we’re free to disagree, complain, even slander our leaders — and I didn’t even do that.

My remarks about ‘Bu$h'”? No, not mine: someone who paid for the space made those remarks, and I put borders around ads so it’s very clear that they are ads.

My bumper sticker”? Not mine: I didn’t think it up, I didn’t print it, I don’t sell it. Someone else does.

My editorial comments”? I made no comment about the ad; it stood on its own; there was no editorializing, just advertising — and if you don’t know the big difference between the two, shame on you!

Long-Time Ad Policy

If you want to criticize me for accepting the ad, that’s different. But first consider two things:

  1. I already restrict my space from any ads for tobacco products, alcohol, illegal substances, and so-called “adult entertainment” (read: porn, which brings in big money — just ask any newspaper that takes “adult” ads).

I consciously chose not to try to protect the tender sensibilities of the few readers who can’t think for themselves in favor of those who prefer the American Way: open debate of important issues. Taking extreme positions is a cheap but effective way to stimulate debate.

  1. If you think it’s necessary to unsubscribe from a publication you like because it carried one ad that you don’t like, I won’t respect you one bit unless you also refuse to watch any TV network, listen to any radio station, or read any newspaper, magazine, newsletter, or other publication that carries one ad that you don’t like or don’t agree with.

Of Anyone Who Should Know Better

I was especially surprised at the comment from DeVaux, since he’s a former True advertiser! I replied to him: You, of all people ought to understand that I don’t censor ads! I didn’t censor yours. You honestly expect me to leave yours alone and then not offer that to others? Or is someone in the communications business that hypocritical?!

Where are voters “stuck”? Right under both sides’ tails.

He replied: “I am not being hypocritical. Take out the name ‘Bush’ and insert the name ‘Gore’ and I’d still feel that comment does NOT belong in your writings.”

I told him he missed my point entirely. They are not “in my writings.” The advertisement is just that: an ad. I didn’t write it.

DeVaux: “How would YOU feel if your favorite newsletter suddenly started inserting political barbs that had nothing to do with the reason you subscribed?”

Me: That happens every day. I watch TV to be entertained, but I’m bombarded with ads that have nothing to do with my interests, let alone shows that have politically charged satire. I could whine about that and boycott the station — and within two hours, there would be no channels left to watch. No doubt you would be amused, not angry, if people looked at your ad and said “I’m sick and tired of long distance companies trying to get me to switch! I therefore refuse to EVER read this newsletter again!”

You’d think that person is an idiot — and you’d be right!

But now you stamp your feet and demand I treat others differently than I treated you instead of saying “gee, I’m not interested” or “what an idiot advertiser.” Instead, you shoot the messenger and accuse him of saying the words you don’t agree with when you know full well that’s not the case. And run angrily away from your “favorite newsletter”? So you think I shouldn’t laugh at you for this …why?

DeVaux had no response. How could he?

It does amuse me that when anything “conservative” appears in True, I’m suddenly a “right-wing Rush-Limbaughite”; when there’s a “liberal” item I’m suddenly a “left-wing Republic of Boulder Communist.”

Be Objective — It’s Not Hard

If you look at my work as a whole with an open mind, I think you have to admit I don’t take sides politically. Well, I am staunchly for American freedom — with the personal responsibility that goes with it (the part too many forget).

To those who wrote thoughtful letters complaining about the ad, I say this: I’m sorry if you were offended by the ad — you might want to complain to the advertiser about it, or write him to see if he’s interested in debate. (Some of you did, I know, since he told me about a few.)

I don’t particularly want to police the advertising, but I have set some limits, much to my financial detriment; I need to run advertising so that readers can get free subscriptions! If you don’t like an ad, do the worst thing you can to the advertiser: refuse to buy from him. No customers, and he goes out of business. If you do like the ad and the product/service offered, then do buy from them. See how easy that is?

But to boycott all the media you love because you don’t like one ad out of hundreds that are run is just plain stupid. If a 7-line ad tossed into your free entertainment is the worst of your problems in life, you are indeed a very lucky person.

Related: When a later advertiser talked about Bill Clinton, there were complaints again — from the other side. See It’s an Ad, Stupid (continued).

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23 Comments on “Politics is a Dirty Business

  1. I am a hard core Bush supporter and that ad took me back, but I knew it was an ad. Years ago I turned off a radio show I didn’t agree with. I asked myself why I ran from that show and realized I was afraid they would change my mind. Then I realized that if they did change my mind, maybe my view or argument wasn’t right. I have never run from a different point of view since. If they can’t stand an opposing view, maybe their convictions are not as strong as they would like.

  2. It’s ironic that you were accused of being a communist. I realize most folks in the U.S. have no clue what ‘Communism’ is. Even so, to accuse you of being a communist because (A) you accepted a paid advertisement (which is clearly a capitalist thing to do), (B) represent a free press, and (C) didn’t censor a political statement — that’s just breathtakingly moronic.

    I find it more than mildly ironic that, generally, the people who throw ‘communist’ around as an epithet are the same people who currently want to consolidate federal power, limit civil rights, let the government dictate lifestyle and religion, censor the media, and use the military as a police organization. What other nations does that bring to mind? Hmm? Iraq, Iran, the USSR, the People’s Republic of China. Not exactly U.S. Constitution-kinda places.

  3. I thought the ad you ran was tasteful. It initially appealed to me, but not for the reasons the advertiser intended. The advertiser’s web site is also tasteful and well organized. They go to lengths to explain their [anti-death penalty] position and offer what they consider evidence to persuade you to see their side of the issue. I applaud you for accepting an ad from a company that caused me to think and giving me the opportunity to know what they were about and why they were selling a particular item.

    I have my reasons for initially liking their bumper sticker and could not, in good faith, order their bumper stickers to support a cause I cannot side with. My reasons do not matter. What does matter is that I actually took the time to educate myself on what the advertiser was saying and selling. And, in True Randy fashion, intended or not, you accepted an ad that caused people (those that were open minded anyway) to read it, educate themselves, and take responsibility by either supporting or walking away from the advertiser.

  4. I find it quite sad that even an intelligent, thoughtful publication like yours incites the ire of unthinking morons who claim to enjoy what you do without really understanding it.

  5. After reading about the brouhaha about the Bu$h stickers in the latest True, I dug out the old issue and ended up buying a sticker. Maybe you should charge the advertisers extra for printing those emails!

    Actually, Jane, I look at it as encouragement to advertisers to come up with more interesting ads. Today’s is no exception — it was placed after the advertiser saw the ruckus last week! 🙂 -rc

  6. Randy, Randy, Randy! I’m surprised at you. The answer to the ad controversy is simple, yet elegant. You don’t like the ads, BUY A BLOODY PREMIUM SUBSCRIPTION FOR GOODNESS SAKE! People’s reactions to things like this would be amusing, if it didn’t depress me so much. Keep up the OUTSTANDING work.

    You’re not the only one to make the suggestion, but your style was the most amusing! Despite being a capitalist, I don’t want everything to end up being a sales message. That said, I can definitely use your support: see the Premium Upgrade info. -rc

  7. I wonder how much folks would complain if they weren’t afraid that there may be some truth to the slogan?

  8. “I put borders around ads so it’s very clear that they are ads.”

    Aha! NOW I understand. For many years, I couldn’t understand what was wrong with children that they couldn’t “differentiate between cartoons and the commercials urging them to buy products.” I mean, when we were 5 or 6 years old, we had no problem telling the difference between cartoons and reality. NOW I see that it’s the ADULTS who can’t tell the difference between an advertisement and an editorial comment. And they transfer that deficiency onto their children (legitimately or not).

    As kids, we had a joke about the logic of education: The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. The more I don’t know, the dumber I am. Therefore, the more I learn, the dumber I get. Come on, people, it’s a joke. Really, you don’t have to make it a reality.

  9. The more I read of things like this, the more I’m positive that the average IQ is no longer 100, but has dropped significantly. Significantly enough that if someone has a 100 IQ they could be considered a certifiable genius compared to all these MORONS who can’t tell the difference between ads and the actual content of a newsletter! What really surprises me about these people is that they are still capable of feeding and dressing themselves…or are they?

  10. Re Dan in Lansing’s comment on average IQ. I see this everyday in retail, where I work in a grocery store. People look at a jug of milk that says “sell by May 15” and think that there’s only one day to consume the product. Most cases, you have a week. Even “Use by” dates are set early enough to consume the product in time to enjoy it. I see people using bread like punching bags, when all they are doing is ruining the product. Ruined product contributes to higher cost of business, which becomes higher prices.

    There’s a lot of really not very bright people out there, and they make things harder for everyone else. But we can all have a good laugh at some of them, thanks to ThisIsTrue. Thanks Randy.

  11. “The more I read of things like this, the more I’m positive that the average IQ is no longer 100, but has dropped significantly.”

    Mmmmm… IQ ratings are based on an average of all those tested, so the average IQ is always 100. Perhaps you mean, compared to those tested in times past, today’s “average” is “dumber” than earlier ones?

    Personally, I don’t think it is an “IQ” problem, so much as a lack of training in applying what you “know” and how to “see” what you are looking at. Too much emphasis is placed on rote learning and “teaching the tests” to pass to the next grade or get into college, etc., rather than how to figure out solutions. Of course, that takes longer to teach, and is more difficult, and teachers who do try to do so get penalized because their students don’t already know the answers before they get the standardized tests.

    I don’t have any problem skipping ads in the free version (I also get the premium version), but perhaps Randy could put “*advertisement*” in a line before the ad copy? Other newsletters I read do put lines in as breaks between different sections/articles, so they may have some excuse for the confusion. Not sure if those people would “see” that, either, but they would have less “excuse” for considering the ads to be editorial commentary.

    I think the ads are obvious to anyone with a brain, and I’m not going to cheapen my product to pander to those who don’t have one. -rc

  12. This lack of “critical thinking” is further evidenced by the SAT. This previously stood for Scholastic APTITUDE Test but in either 2004 or 2005 the test was significantly changed to be more about “ingest and regurgitate” than thinking. I seem to recall they even changed the name to Scholastic ACHIEVEMENT Test, but I’m not positive about that.

    Actually, the acronym stood for “Scholastic Achievement Test” from the start — in 1901 — and the test was “originally developed as a way to eliminate test bias between people from different socio-economic backgrounds” (source). It was renamed the “Scholastic Aptitude Test” in 1941, then “Scholastic Assessment Test” in 1990, then simply “SAT” in 1994. So you can truly say the SAT now stands for nothing. -rc

  13. My initial reaction to this discussion was wondering what I’d missed to see such vehement responses to what seems to be a no-brainer. I subscribe to True because it’s a well balanced forum, not a propaganda tool for any particular ideological point of view, and I’m trying to figure out why this particular issue turned into a flash point. Why do people polarize to such extreme positions in discussions, and then feel a difference of opinion amounts to a profound personal insult?

    This is a process I’ve observed for years in public discourse, but with media reaching further and further into the population for interviews and responses, it’s definitely going downhill. Kinda like the revelations seen on the Jerry Springer Show, people seem to think they have to take an extreme and mutually exclusive position on either side of an issue or question and be ready to start throwing furniture and duking it out with others who don’t see it exactly the same way.

    I’ve seen a lot of it here in True over the years and I’ve enjoyed observing the back and forth between Randy and Mr or Ms “I’m OUTRAGED! Cancel my subscription IMMEDIATELY!” and then the comments of other readers. What intrigues me is that very often someone takes a stand on a subject based on a misunderstanding of the topic. It’s pretty much a formula and an interesting one at that. I still don’t quite understand why people go ballistic over the various issues, but it keeps me interested. Makes for thoughtful reading and a few laughs.

    Advertising is incredibly sophisticated these days and I ignore it for the most part, kinda like junk mail – it ain’t going away so ignore it. After thinking about the huffy response regarding Bu$h advertising I get the impression someone found him/herself responding personally to an effective ad campaign and annoyed it managed to fly under his/her radar. I wonder if he/she is ready to run out and buy a box of Pampers after seeing a commercial even though they don’t have a baby? Or are their credit cards maxed out from buying all the junk advertised on TV?

    As for the advertising support, it’s innocuous and it pays the bills, or am I still missing something?

    I don’t think you’re missing a thing. I don’t think there’s any surprise that this is a political fight. Why do people get so polarized? Because that’s the example politicians set. “Issue X? Well, I’m a Republican so I’m against it.” vs “Issue X? Well, I’m a Democrat so I’m for it.” I don’t believe for one minute that ALL Republicans are really anti and ALL Democrats are really pro (or vice versa), no matter what “Issue X” is (abortion, gun control, the war, etc.), but that’s the way most issues seem to come across — there’s no personal thought or conviction involved, just party line. It’s divisive, it’s pedantic, it’s unamerican, and it’s stupid. But sadly, based on the example politicians are setting, “the masses” are starting to see black and white when looking at an ocean of gray. It’s one of the reasons I try to provoke thought with TRUE, since that’s what we need to cut through the partisan garbage. -rc

  14. Given the kneejerk reactions out of so many people, I often wonder if most of America hasn’t become anything more than manipulated amoeba. They do seem so unintelligent that they can’t distinguish an ad from the other content, but I realize they DO have intelligence. For some reason, they’ve simply chosen to bury it and let others do the thinking for them.

    So they’ve become nothing more than a series of Pavlovian responses. See something negative about a Republican? Jump up and start barking. See something negative about a Democrat? Jump up and start snarling. Like chasing cars. They don’t know why; it’s just what they’re “supposed to do” in spite of what else is going on around them.
    Fortunately, and no matter one’s view of Spiro Agnew, there really IS a Silent Majority. “This is True” seems to be the long overdue voice of that majority.

  15. It does seem like the average IQ is dropping, or people are just losing their common sense. Just look at all the ridiculous warnings on products now- on a coffee cup, “Warning: Contents may be hot” or on a rectal suppository, “Do not eat.”

    Granted, manufacturers have to put these warnings on their product to cover their butts so they don’t get sued, but that is only because there are people out there stupid enough to eat a suppository or expect coffee to be anything but hot. It doesn’t surprise me at all that there are people who don’t get the difference between advertisements and editorials. Plus once they get their panties in a bunch they don’t really see anything else after that.

  16. “Don’t buy from him” is not the worst you can do. Click on the ad, let his site load, and then don’t buy from him. If all you do is ignore the ad, you don’t give him a sale. If you click on the ad, you increase his advertising costs, and if you let the site load all the way, you’re adding to his bandwidth charges. Do that and don’t buy, and you will have your revenge.

    But, to go to all that trouble just because someone expresses an opinion that you don’t agree with seems a bit silly. The free press we’re enjoying now is amazingly beyond the wildest hopes of the framers of the Constitution — if you don’t agree with an opinion, state your own! Get it out to the public and see whose theory stands up to debate.

    But leaving a subscribed email due to an ad is just self-defeating. Assuming you like the newsletter in the first place, the simplest way to deal with the problem would be to pay for that advertising spot, and put in something you’d prefer to see instead — links to the family photos, for example. You probably won’t get much return on the ad’s cost, but you won’t have to see the offending bumpersticker any more.

  17. This comment is not to debate the topic. I think others have more eloquently accomplished that than I. Rather I am wondering if those people who made the comments back in 2002 still feel the same way about Bush? Would they be so quick to “unsubscribe” if you ran the same advertisement today?

    Back then, people were still unaware of all the lies, cover-ups, and manipulation on the part of the Bush administration. They were still buying into the propaganda on terrorism and how we must protect our borders. They were fearful and Bush gave them the answer they wanted to hear so no one wanted to hear anything negative about Bush. We had not seen yet the potential, or rather lack there of, of the Bush administration. With a popularity rating nearing the negative numbers, how would people react today to an ad bashing Mr. Bush?

  18. This is an interesting discussion, one that touches me personally because I stopped watching a TV show because of the ads.

    I’m a mathematics teacher for 12- and 13-year-olds in the public schools. I use any tricks I can to get the kids involved in math. One of my favorite tricks used to be recommmending that they watch NUMB3RS on Friday nights, and then discussing the episode in class on Mondays.

    The broadcasting network’s idea of the viewer demographics must not have included teens and preteens, because over time, the commercials tended overwhelmingly towards male impotence drugs, Depends, incontinence drugs, heartburn drugs, and so on — products intended for aging Baby Boomers, not for schoolchildren.

    I couldn’t in good conscience recommend that my kids watch a show interrupted by ads for Cialis and Viagra, so I stopped recommending it. After a while, I got so turned off by the ads that I stopped watching the show. In radio parlance, an objectionable ad or song is called a “tune-out,” an event that causes a listener to change to a different station. The ads on NUMB3RS were a tune-out for me.

    I wrote to the broadcaster and to TI, a major underwriter of the “We All Use Math Everyday” educational outreach program, and told them why I was no longer using the show in my class. I got no response.

    I can understand True’s unsubscribers’ distaste for the BU$H ad. However, I do think it’s totally irrational for one ad in one issue of this newsletter to cause someone to noisily unsubscribe. In the case of NUMB3RS, the objectionable material was in every episode, and nearly every commercial break.

  19. “If you look at my work as a whole with an open mind, I think you have to admit I don’t take sides politically. Well, I am staunchly for American freedom — with the personal responsibility that goes with it (the part too many forget).”

    In contrast to “not taking sides”, your statement expresses a political philosophy known as Libertarianism. has more information.

    I respect the concept of libertarianism (small “L”), but don’t particularly identify with the Libertarian (capital “L”) Party. -rc

  20. In my experience, the less a person understands a position they hold, the more emotionally bonded to it they become. A person who understands the reasoning behind a position can easily discuss it and change their mind when the evidence indicates a change is warranted, but one who takes something on faith never knows when their position is no longer valid. The ironic result is that the more justifiable a position is, the less vehement its supporters, and the less justifiable a position is, the more strenuous its supporters are, leading to violent and extreme reactions in defense of completely unsupportable positions.

    It happens in all fields of study, and all walks of life. I work in software engineering, and even in that field, I’ve found that the engineers who make a major system design decision are the first to admit its defects and entertain alternate possibilities, whereas those who don’t understand the design choices but have accepted it on faith are the first to say it can’t be done any other way.

    So in that context, it is no wonder that defenders of ridiculous positions are the most extreme in their reactions to challenges to their ideas. Their defensiveness reveals they have no idea why they believe what they believe.

    The result is that an ad opposing Bush that happens to be inside your newsletter evokes such visceral, blind, defensiveness that the reaction is a knee-jerk attack on whatever is nearby, in this case your newsletter.

    The sad thing is that given the current world’s state of affairs, where large, powerful organizations and governments are taking indefensible positions, John Q Public is being trained into believing that this kind of behavior is normal and acceptable, rather than something we should strive to rise above.

    Thanks for maintaining a rational stance in the face of lunacy.

  21. Just as the ads you carry don’t necessarily express your opinions, the slogans on bumper stickers don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of the seller. Why does everyone assume that the advertiser is anti-Bush? He may be, but the ad doesn’t imply that; he’s appealing to a market whose opinion he may or may not share. For that matter, buyers may even be attracted by the humor rather than the politics.

    Good point. While I think it this case the advertiser was anti-Bush, I’d bet few of those who unsubscribed or wrote in anger actually went to the site to find out. Instead, they just reacted. Either way, it’s sad to see people that closed-minded. -rc

  22. I was led down a rabbit trail by the comment that IQ tests were so structured that the “average” is always 100. I’m not very well versed on the mathematics of this kind of thing. Does that imply that the tests and rankings are not able to offer any clue over time whether people are getting smarter or dumber (as measured by the tests, of course, and limited by the self-selection of participants)? Or does it mean they can’t tell us much of anything?

    Think of the classic bell curve: everyone lands somewhere on that curve. The middle peak is defined as 100, one end (extreme intelligence) is defined as 200, one end (complete inability to think, e.g., “brain dead”) is defined as 0, and everyone else is scattered about. But the large majority is in the middle, at 100ish. -rc

  23. Really enjoyed your “Stuck in the middle” graphic. That so perfectly describes my political leanings.

    There are more of US (45%) than there are Republicans (27%) or Democrats (25%); the rest “other”. Something is wrong with the resulting picture. (Source: Gallup) -rc


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