Elections

Save Idaho Horse Racing pulls ad that featured edited KTVB clip

Historical horse racing machines are demonstrated at Les Bois Park in December 2014. The machines later went dark after Idaho lawmakers reversed a vote legalizing their use, concerned they too closely resembled slot machines. The matter is now up for a public vote on the November 2018 ballot.
Historical horse racing machines are demonstrated at Les Bois Park in December 2014. The machines later went dark after Idaho lawmakers reversed a vote legalizing their use, concerned they too closely resembled slot machines. The matter is now up for a public vote on the November 2018 ballot. Idaho Statesman file

Save Idaho Horse Racing pulled one of its TV advertisements Friday after KTVB reported the group modified a clip of anchor Mark Johnson, removing a word and changing the meaning of one of Johnson’s sentences.

Campaign spokesman Todd Dvorak said Monday the edit was the result of misunderstanding what Johnson said, and not meant to intentionally misconstrue his words.

The horse racing group is the impetus behind this fall’s statewide vote on whether “historical horse racing” gambling machines should be legal.

Save Idaho Horse Racing and an opposing group, Idaho United Against Prop 1, have aired competing television commercials on the measure this fall. KTVB’s “Verify” segment has fact-checked each as they’ve run.

The edited clip came from one such segment Sept. 9, reporter Joe Parris said in a followup Thursday. He compared Johnson’s original words — “Our Joe Parris verifies if those claims are accurate” — and Save Idaho Horse Racing’s edit — “verifies those claims are accurate.”

Parris noted the Sept. 9 fact-check later upheld key parts of Save Idaho Horse Racing’s ad as truthful. But “the ad very subtly edited out the word ‘if,’ “ Parris said, “and in doing so, they changed the meaning of the sentence.”

Dvorak’s Monday comments came after the Statesman asked Friday for an explanation of the change.

“In no way did we intend to mislead; the original KTVB report did indeed verify that all our ad’s claims were true and that was the point we were making,” Dvorak said. “If you listen to the story, the original audio is ambiguous; we heard the anchor say ‘that those claims are accurate.’ Due to this misunderstanding, the campaign withdrew the ad on Friday afternoon (though not all networks were able to pull it before the weekend).”

Lisa Chavez, KTVB director of content, said the station initially accepted the ad because the edited quote wasn’t apparent in previews. She said the advertising agency involved asked KTVB on Friday afternoon to switch it out with a previous ad, though station staff weren’t sure then if the altered clip was the reason.

“We’ve never come across this before,” she said.

And it’s not a common problem in modern elections, said Stephen Utych, an assistant political science professor at Boise State University. Political advertisers, he said, know their ads will be fact-checked, and an ad that’s upheld as truthful will be even more effective.

“It’s so easy for Channel 7 to actually say, ‘no, that’s not what happened,’ “ Utych said earlier Monday. “The vast majority of the time, it’s kind of an honest mistake rather than something intentional.”

Even that can be damaging without an explanation, he said. “It’s going to hurt. It’s going to make them look dishonest.”

Dvorak said he wasn’t sure how much the pulled ad cost, and declined to name the agency that made it.

Historical horse racing involves betting on previously-run horse races, using machines that replay the old races. The Legislature briefly legalized the devices, but then reversed that vote over concerns they too closely resembled illegal slot machines. The horse racing industry says the devices are a vital income stream, and Save Idaho Horse Racing secured enough signatures to hold a public vote on their legality this November.

The situation is a reminder for Idahoans to approach all political advertising with a skeptical eye, Utych said. “I think they should keep in mind that it’s important when you see an ad, that an ad has goals. ... Take advantage of the information we have at our hands, and look up some independent fact-checkers.”

Nate Poppino is the Statesman’s politics and watchdog editor. Contact him at 377-6481 or on Twitter: @npoppino
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