The Lauer Decree

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

At a women’s conference, NBC’s Matt Lauer pressed California’s gubernatorial candidates to take down their negative ads. Jerry Brown said that he would if Whitman would. The Los Angeles Times reports what happened next.

Whitman said she would continue to air ads that show where Brown stands on the issues.

“I will take down any ads that can be construed as a negative attack. But I don’t think we can take down the ads that talk about where Gov. Brown is on the issues,” Whitman said.

The raucous crowd at the Long Beach Convention Center roared its disapproval at Whitman’s equivocation.

A few questions come to mind.

First, why is a reporter telling candidates what they should or should not talk about? Second, would compliance with the Lauer Decree have changed anything? After all, many of the attack ads against Whitman have come from the unions, not the Brown campaign itself. Third, what’s wrong with critical ads in the first place? As political scientist John Geer has demonstrated, negative spots tend to be more substantive and informative than positive ones.

John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.

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