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Eye On Boise

Melaleuca attack ad targets Olson

Melelauca Inc. yesterday filed independent expenditure reports showing it's dumped $40,000 into an independent TV ad campaign in favor of incumbent GOP school Supt. Tom Luna, and the firm has launched a TV ad in southern Idaho that belittles Luna's Democratic challenger, Stan Olson, with a digitally altered clip from an Idaho Public Television debate in which Olson said he's always struggled with math.

Melaleuca sought permission from IPTV to use the copyright material a week in advance, and was specifically and firmly denied. Frank VanderSloot, Melaleuca chief, said he decided to go ahead with the ad anyway, and has hired copyright attorneys to battle over the issue with the state. "We could have said what he said but then no one would believe it," VanderSloot told Eye on Boise. "We thought it was important to put it up there in his own words." VanderSloot said he also plans more  independent ads in the race; click below for more on this.

Olson and Luna were asked in the debate whether they'd take the ISAT test and have their pay based on the results. Olson said he wouldn't want to take the ISAT or any math test because of his lifelong struggle with math, a point he emphasized at length. But he told Eye on Boise he didn't mean he can't do 10th grade math; Olson holds a doctoral degree in education, successfully completed advanced math courses in statistical analysis and research design for his degree, and oversaw a $200 million budget as superintendent of the Boise School District.

"What I was trying to articulate is that I certainly can do 10th grade math, but math has always challenged me throughout my life, and it's a good thing, because I'm able to have the empathy and appropriate experience necessary to recognize that math is an issue for a lot of kids, and a lot of kids struggle with it," Olson said. "Obviously I did not do a good job" getting that point across, he said. "The answer was meant to describe a need in education that we have to address." Asked what would happen if he took the math portion of the ISAT, Olson said, "I'd probably pass, but that's not the point."

VanderSloot said, "We are trying to make the public aware of what was said in the debate."  The ad says, "Administrators should know and understand what's taught within our schools. ... That may disqualify Stan Olson." Forty-five seconds of the 60-second ad consists of digitally manipulated copyright material from the IPTV debate.

Peter Morrill, IPTV general manager, said, "We are not issuing them a license to utilize footage for their campaign purposes and ... we would ask them to cease and desist." The station will "vigorously" defend its copyright, he said, just as do networks across the country that air televised political debates. Morrill said the digital manipulation of the clip includes putting portions in slow motion, digital zooming-in and a digital insertion of an out-of-date Idaho Public TV logo.

Elinor Chehey, debates coordinator for the League of Women Voters of Idaho, which co-sponsors the Idaho Debates, said, "We do these as part of our voter-education effort, and not to provide fodder for campaigns to do mischief with. ... It's been a safe place for candidates to participate." If debate clips can be used in campaign attack ads, she said, it "just gives more candidates an excuse to stay away."

Morrill said IPTV, which has broadcast the Idaho Debates for the past three decades, has never authorized their content to be used in campaign ads. He said when candidates or organizations have tried to do so "a few times" in the last decade and a half, once contacted about the copyright issue, "the candidates and their campaigns have agreed to pull the ads immediately."

Full disclosure here: As president of the Idaho Press Club, a co-sponsor of the debates, I'm on the committee that helps plan them, and I have often been on the reporter panels questioning candidates in the debates. In the current Melaleuca ad, video of reporter Michelle Edmonds of KIVI-TV is shown without any authorization from her or her employer.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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