The two political conventions ended this week and now the carpet-bombing of American voters begins.
The coming weeks will mark the beginning of the first presidential race when anyone or anything can spend as much as they wish, and say whatever they want. This will be something to behold, and certainly entertaining. New York Magazine recently dubbed this race as the "coming tsunami of slime."
What's changed is that the US Supreme Court's landmark decision in January 2010 ruled that government cannot restrict political expenditures.
Worse yet, is the failure by the media and advertising world to police itself or lobby for "truth in advertising" restrictions as exist when it comes to ads and commercials promoting dog food or deodorant.
This lapse is because the media and advertising industries will feast in coming weeks off the biggest ad buy in history. This hypocrisy was noted in a cheeky website called "Mad Dog Weekly" out of San Francisco:
"If you run ads saying your detergent cleans better than the competitor, you have to prove it. If you say the herbs you grow in the back yard cure cancer, hemorrhoids, bad breath, and melamine poisoning, you have to prove it. If you claim your airline is always on time you have to wait until everyone stops laughing, then prove it. If you don't prove these things you can be fined, thrown into jail, and forced to stop running the ads. So how come the same Truth in Advertising laws don't apply to politicians?"
In other words, the media and advertising are willing accomplices in corrupting the democratic process. Fortunately, people are already very skeptical and cynical towards advertising, politics and the media itself.
Even so, the greater danger is to journalism. On one hand, the billions to be spent on ads and commercials, now and in future on politics, will help postpone the irreversible implosion of newspapers and networks.
But, on the other, this "tsunami" will drive more readers and viewers toward new media outlets, and these gigantic campaign "buys" have warped and influenced editorial coverage profoundly and subtly. Journalists and their proprietors clearly have muted their criticism and investigation when it comes to the dishonesty of politicians and messages.
In fact, the consensus is the era of "post truth politics" has arrived. This has driven responsible media outlets into realizing that the only integrity their coverage can have, in absence of truth-in-advertising requirements, is to provide a "fact checking" service too.
CNN, the New York Times and others have begun to "fact check" because the political industry is allowed to spread whoppers through their trusted media brands.
But coverage has been warped. Pursuit of this advertising gold rush is why 15,000 journalists covered the conventions, making politicians famous and buying drinks for delegates, despite the dramatic downsizing of the sector. In fact, this small city of journalists, anchors and their assistants, are an embarrassing display of extravagance at a time when major media corporations have closed investigative and foreign bureaus.
Journalism shamelessly promotes and profits from celebrity politics. They scramble for scoops, sound bytes and vitriol and, by so doing, contribute toward the declines they suffer in their ratings, readerships and reputations. This perversity is because the public is wise to the game. As evidence of this, audiences are miniscule for overall coverage, but soar only to watch the unvarnished, unfiltered keynotes delivered by the actual protagonists.
The presence of 15,000 journalists in Tampa and Charlotte was ridiculous but even wackier is the size of "Nation PR." Likely bigger than Newark or its governor, this is an industry of propagandists, bloggers, twitterers, scandal-mongers, pundits, spin doctors, pollsters, journalist-partisans who pen biased op-eds and columns, campaign operatives and dewy-eyed "Monicas" who will do anything for the boss.
Nation PR never sleeps and now the fun, for the rest of us, begins as they launch their saturation bombing campaign on US voters to capture victory in November.
The "tsunami of slime" has already begun for those voter victims living in the so-called 12 "purple" or swing states where elections are fought.
On a recent trip to one of these unfortunate jurisdictions, I witnessed an unrelenting stream of political commercials, canvassers and billboards. I learned that one Democrat moved from Kansas City in Missouri to a nearby suburb in Kansas State, partly to escape bombardment in a swing state. She preferred to live in quiet Kansas, home of the Tea Party Koch brothers in Wichita, so robustly Republican that campaign spending is negligible and tolerable.
Turns out she may have moved prematurely. Thomas Frank, author of 2004's What's the Matter with Kansas, recently wrote about local media in Missouri decrying the fact that the state might be considered a reliably Republican citadel instead of a switch state:
"What was actually being mourned that day in the Kansas City Star was a possible loss of advertising revenue by the state's TV stations. If Missouri was no longer a battleground state, then the two parties and their various backers would no longer fight their expensive electronic war over the airwaves between St. Louie and St. Joe, and `spending on TV ads in the state [would] plummet.'"
Nationally, the scale of the "slime" is estimated to total $9.8 billion for this election. That's lots of money to struggling media outlets, but is what Americans spent last year buying potato chips and dip.
The amount isn't the problem, but the contamination of media coverage, secrecy surrounding Super PAC donors and the perpetuation of inaccuracies, character assassinations and other libels are the issues. As for the effects on the democracy itself, they will be minimal. After all, Americans can simply tune out until the debates, and they already are.
*This article previously appeared in the Financial Post
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