Ad #6: No Surprise
by Ken Salazar for U.S. Senate

Click here to view the ad.

For Release: Tuesday, October 26, 2004

This is the third analysis of political advertising in the nationally-watched U.S. Senate race between Republican businessman Pete Coors and Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar released by the nonpartisan Truth In Political Advertising Project --

The report is part of a series of reports which are being released on a daily basis during the final days of the campaign. This report evaluates the accuracy, fairness, and relevance of the advertisement entitled, "No Surprise."  The advertisement was produced and sponsored by the Salazar For Senate Campaign.  The advertisement, itself, currently is available on the TIPA Web site.

No Surprise” was the beneficiary of more interest from Advisory Panel members than any advertisement to date. Approximately half of the entire Panel rated the ad and the participation from Panel members categorized as unaffiliated or independent was higher than any other advertisement rated by the TIPA to date. Surprisingly, the number of Democratic Advisory Panel members who responded was identical to the number of Republican who rated the ad.

No Surprise” begins with a controversial quote from Pete Coors in which he states, “I don’t know what a common man is.” The ad includes video footage of Coors speaking these exact words. The quote is used twice in the advertisement. This usage created a two-part controversy.

First, the footage was taken at a League of Women Voters debate for which the League had prohibited candidates and others from using the audio and video the League had arranged to be recorded at the debate. The League’s perspective was this prohibition on the use of its own taping of the event extended to the candidates and third parties. In fact, the League notified the TIPA Project and registered a protest regarding what it felt was the unauthorized use of the event. The League’s President, Ms. Lorie Young, is a Member of the TIPA Advisory Panel.

The TIPA investigated the claim and concluded the League’s intent definitely was to prohibit the recording of the event and the subsequent use of such recordings by the candidates. The TIPA also concluded the League’s motivation for this policy was to ensure the integrity of its debates and its future invitations by assuring candidates that League forums would not be used against them.

The TIPA discovered, however, that a number of other parties – including members of the Press – recorded the debate and that there was no enforcement against such third party recordings. There also was not any evidence of an announcement regarding any agreement to prohibit all recording outside of that being done by the League, itself.

The problem uncovered by the TIPA was that the League’s prohibition appeared to be limited to how its own recording could be used. It appears everyone complied with the restrictions placed by the League on its own recording. Therefore, the Salazar campaign did not violate the letter of any agreement with the League although the League certainly felt violated by the campaign’s use of footage even though the Salazar campaign shot the footage on its own, in a public setting, along with others who recorded the session.

The second controversy was focused on the advertisement’s use of the quotation from Coors in which he says, “I don’t know what a common man is.” The quotation clearly is intended to posit that multi-millionaire Pete Coors is out of touch with most Colorado voters and was caught making that admission. The Salazar campaign’s attempt appears to be to exploit their belief that most Colorado voters will support Salazar if they see Coors as an out-of-touch, rich, elitist who does not know or understand most Coloradans. While this exploitation of class is not laudatory, the real problem is the Coors quote is used to misstate what the candidate actually was trying to say.

The thesis of the Salazar campaign, which cannot withstand even nominal scrutiny, is that a wealthy person cannot understand the needs and desires of people who are financially less fortunate than him- or herself. There is absolutely no proof that a wealthy person cannot have such an understanding. Whether or not wealthy people in general are sympathetic or a specific wealthy person is sympathetic to the plight of the poor or even the middle class actually is a separate issue from whether or not wealthy people understand or a specific wealthy person understands that plight.

Ironically, the converse is likely to be more accurate. That is, poor or even middle class Americans are less likely to be sympathetic to the “plight” or problems of a wealthy person or of wealthy people in general (i.e., because they rationally would assume that wealth allows such people to solve problems easily as compared to those who struggle with financial challenges daily). Hence, the Salazar campaign has turned reality on its head by making an argument regarding what different economic strata may understand about each other – as opposed to how they might feel, if such a collective sentiment even exists.

At the League of Women Voters’ debate, Coors actually was using the claim at the beginning of his argument explaining what he believes a “common man” is. Admittedly, his phrasing was not artful. Immediately following the quote – which was part of a statement Coors was making to defend himself against an accusation made by Salazar at the debate – Coors then goes on to explain what he believes the definition of a “common man” is and argues that, indeed, he qualifies as a “common man.”

Again, while Coors’ ultimate conclusion may be a stretch (there are few Democrats or Republicans whose first words when describing Pete Coors would be “He’s a common man”), his point was that he had the experience and sentiments of what he believed a “common man” actually was. Here is what Coors said.


"I don't know what a common man is," Coors said. "A common man is somebody who lives in this country that works hard to provide jobs for others, who works, either providing for others or working for someone else. I've done both."

The problem actually was created by Coors when he began by somewhat misstating his premise. Rather than saying, “I don’t know what a common man is” to set up his point, he should have said something such as, “What is a ‘common man?’” His intent was clear, however, and the Salazar campaign unfairly misused the quote out of context.

Furthermore, to argue that Coors does not understand the plight of the “common man” likely is quite specious. The real issue is, how do the two candidates define that plight, what are its components, which of the issues are most significant, and what do each expect to do about that plight and those issues?

The majority of the advertisement’s substantive points almost got lost in the controversy and these are far less objectionable. The advertisement starts with the phrase “Pete Coors has a problem.” Then the key phrase “I don’t know what a common man is” in the form of what appears to be home video-quality footage is played. This is followed by statements such as “Coors can’t understand that middle class families are struggling.” “Coors opposes letting you buy cheaper drugs from Canada… No surprise… He’s backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars from the big drug and insurance companies.”

The advertisement then switches tracks and talks about the record of Ken Salazar, as Colorado’s Attorney General, his going after price-fixing by drug companies, and emphasizes Salazar’s independence from special interests as well as the argument that he has “experience money just can’t buy” yet another dig at Coors’ wealth.

The members of the TIPA Advisory Panel had much to say about the advertisement. Once again, many members of the TIPA Advisory Panel demonstrated their capacity to be objective about the advertisements they review, despite their political affiliations – with Republicans not being in lock-step regarding the ad and Democrats not automatically arguing it was accurate and fair.

Please note that the TIPA keeps all individual ratings and comments strictly confidential but publishes overall ratings and uses quotations from Advisory Panel members in a manner which does not allow them to be personally identified.

One Democratic panelist questioned the validity of the numbers. He wrote, “I would like to know if the League of Women Voters quote was out of context. I would like to know if the allegation of ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ is at least within some margin of accuracy.” The dollar figure is in reference to an accusation the advertisement makes about the financial backers of the Coors campaign.

Another normally highly-partisan Democrat stated, “I don't know for sure but I am betting that the phrase about the common man is lifted from context and that Coors was actually trying to make a statement that was positive towards people by saying that no one is common.

A third Democratic opinion was, “Coloradans are smart enough to recognize that Coors' statement ‘I don't know what a common man is’ was taken out of context in this ad and then repeated over and over as if we were too dumb to notice the ad creators' spin attempt. It's mean-spirited.”


The TIPA uses a "1" to "10" rating scale for Accuracy (with greater accuracy reflected by a higher rating), Fairness (with a higher rating indicating a greater degree of fairness), and Relevancy (with a higher rating meaning the advertisement was most relevant to the U.S. Senate campaign).

The Rating System is presented in detail on the TIPA Web site. The analysis for “No Surprise” can be summarized as follows. 

ACCURACY = 5.2 out of 10.0. Partially inaccurate and misleading but containing a majority of accurate facts.

FAIRNESS = 4.5 out of 10.0. Barely fair; bordering on unacceptable just based on fairness issues alone.

RELEVANCE = 6.2 out of 10.0 Truly relevant subject matter’s presentation is marred by the misuse of the opponent’s quotation.



A 5.0 Accuracy rating is described by the TIPA Rating System as follows: Superficially accurate (i.e., accurate approximately 70% of the time) with one or more significant facts intentionally misstated or erroneous; clearly not meeting any kind of minimal standards for overall accuracy but appearing to do so as part of an effort to mislead the observer.

The ”No Surprise” advertisement’s rating of 5.2 was a tiny amount above that relatively low 5.0 standard. It is one of the lowest-rated ads broadcast in the campaign as far as accuracy is concerned.

The average rating by Democrats was 6.1 (with ratings ranging from 3 to 10) while the average rating for Republicans was 4.6 (with ratings ranging from 2 to 7). The gap between how accurate Republicans and Democrats believed the advertisement was actually covered only one and a half rating levels and, therefore, was not quite as significant as what usually would be expected – i.e., a much more highly differentiated view of the panelists.

The independent or unaffiliated members of the Advisory Panel rated the advertisement’s accuracy at an average of 4.6 – identical to the rating given by Republican members of the Panel. In fact, as this Report illustrates, the ratings for Accuracy, Fairness, and Relevance made by Republican members of the Advisory Panel and by independent or unaffiliated members of the Advisory Panel, each as a group, are almost identical.

One panelist argued, “The ‘common man’ quote is strictly accurate, but it is out of context, since Coors went on to define what he thought a common man was.

Another Panelist echoed the sentiments of the independent members when she wrote, “The whole ad is based on an out-of-context Coors comment. He wasn't saying he doesn't know what a common man is; he was saying he doesn't know how it ought to be defined when loosely used.

ACCURACY RATING CONCLUSION. The “No Surprise” advertisement begins with a misrepresentation intentionally meant to mislead voters but then goes on to make a series of what could be described – in comparison -- as accurate statements (although there is a dispute between the campaigns regarding that accuracy).



A 4.5 Fairness rating lies directly between a 4.0 rating -- described as follows: Scurrilous personal attack intentionally distorting the truth to give a false impression of an opponent, yet mixed with enough relevant or reasonable claims to soften what otherwise would be a brutal attack – and a 5.0 rating – described as follows: Contains an unfounded or unjustified personal attack on a candidate which is patently unfair and which is not fair game.

This advertisement received a relatively low Fairness rating compared to many of the others in the campaign. The Republican and the independent or unaffiliated panelists were uniformly unimpressed with the ad from a fairness perspective Even the Democrats were unenthusiastic and recognized the fatal flaw in the ad. One panelist (who is a Democrat) extensively commented as follows.


Lots of misrepresentations… Likely taking quote "I don't know what the common man is" way, way out of context. The Coors’ video is grainy, small, and colorless. This makes the viewer feel emotionally removed and disconnected from Coors. The Coors video is put on a gray background to add to that disconnected feeling. "Pete Coors has a problem" is not a statement of fact, but an unsupported allegation. The ad leads the viewer to associate (but does not outright state) a causal effect between Coors’ stance on drugs from Canada and his taking campaign contributions from drug companies. The two many not have anything to do with each other. Moreover, it is likely that Salazar has taken similar contributions from health care providers. I could not find reference on the Web to either article they use as evidence in the ad , so I can't back up the claims. The audience is also lead to believe that the reference to the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News are news articles, while instead they could just be letters to the editor or editorials. The Salazar video was shot in film, not video. This gives it extra warmth and color. He appears full screen while Coors is in a small box. Salazar’s section gives glittering generalities and platitudes that are not substantiated either.

These comments are quite insightful although the reality was the Salazar campaign only had low-end video footage of the Coors statement and, therefore, its selection may not have been as intentional as the Panel member thought. Nevertheless, the contrasts the panelist mentions are accurate and the primary points should be well-taken.

The average rating by Democrats was 5.0 (with ratings ranging from 3 to 10) while the average for Republicans was 4.3 (with ratings ranging from 1 to 7). Independent or unaffiliated Advisory Panel members came in at 4.2 – once again almost exactly the same as their Republican counterparts. In all cases, it obviously was the general consensus the advertisement did not achieve high standards for fairness.

Another Republican panelist explained his concerns about the basic arguments made in the advertisement and their relation to the fairness of the advertisement, as follows.


While it is probably true that Pete cannot identify with a "common man," I would also be leery of opening our borders to foreign drug sales because of some legitimate concerns over safety. This is an issue that needs to be looked at, but I think the ad is trying to indict Pete a bit early in the process. I'm not sure how many middle class Americans are buying foreign drugs (or trying to. I think it tends to slant the problem to the wrong group. Relevance: Drug costs are a growing concern amongst our seniors, but I would guess it is not on the radar screen of the majority of citizens.

Clearly the use of the “common man” quote was most disturbing. As one Republican panelist explained, “This ad takes a short quote from an opponent, obviously edits it short, totally out of context. Disgusting is the best word I can come up with.

A Democratic member of the panel came to a similar conclusion. “The statement that Coors doesn't know what a ‘common man’ is was taken out of context and is intentionally misleading. The statement that he doesn't know the middle class is suffering is supposition and only serves to make the omission and even greater offense.

A response from one of the unaffiliated panelist was thoughtful on the subject of fairness and relevance and explained how inaccuracy affected both. “An ad focusing on Coors' disconnect from middle class families could be a fair shot. But building a spot around a quote taken completely out of context does not pass the fairness or reasonableness or credibility test.

FAIRNESS RATING CONCLUSION. “No Surprise” is not a fair advertisement because its primary premise is based on a quotation taken completely out-of-context. The Salazar campaign knew this. The truth Is they could not resist the temptation to use the quote. The campaign should have exercised some restraint and not cast the quote in the manner it was used.



A 6.2 Relevance rating is indicative that the general opinion was the advertisement was somewhat relevant to the U.S. Senate campaign. A 6.0 Relevance rating is described by the TIPA Rating System as follows: More relevant than not (i.e., +65%) but containing a confusing mix of topics, subjects, and themes (in terms of their relevance) -- some of which apply to the contest at hand and others which simply do not apply at all (hence the confusion).

One Republican Advisory Panel member was philosophical.” I've seen much worse. My major reaction is that it's kind of a cheap shot on Pete, borderline 5/6 on fairness. I chose 6 because, I repeat, I've seen much worse.

A different Republican member of the Advisory Panel simply concluded the advertisement was, “inaccurate and emotional.”

Another panelist rated the relevance as the group’s average and noted, “Even the League of Women Voters -- who aren't exactly impartial -- points out (in the newspaper) that the ‘I don't know what a common man is...’ is taken way out of context. “ These distinctions impaired the advertisement’s overall relevance, especially given that other segments of the ad likely were rated much higher but impacted in the aggregate.

The average rating by Democrats was 7.6 (with ratings ranging from 5 to 8) while the average for Republicans was 5.3 (with ratings ranging from 4 to 7). The independent and unaffiliated members of the Advisory Panel rated the advertisement’s Relevance at 5.5 – once again in lockstep with their Republican colleagues (with a very wide ratings range of 3 to 9). In general, it was felt a significant degree of relevance was somewhat lacking to a significant degree in this advertisement.

The Relevance rating was relatively low when compared to other advertisements but was by far the highest rating of the three – Accuracy (5.2), Fairness (4.5), and Relevance (6.2). The TIPA believes this is due to the issues addressed in the advertisement rather than how the ad actually deals with those issues.

One Republican gave the following explanation of his rating as follows. “It's true Coors has received support from drug and insurance companies. It's true Coors opposes drug re-importation. It's not clear in the ad though that Salazar does. Cracking down on drug companies for price-fixing doesn't allow anyone to re-import drugs from Canada -- faulty logic on that point.” This panelist believed the faulty logic impaired any argument the advertisement, itself, was very relevant.

RELEVANCE RATING CONCLUSION. The advertisement attempts to tackle a number of issues – ranging from Pete Coors’ capacity for understanding the problems of people less well-positioned than himself to the financial struggles of middle-class families to pharmaceutical drug import issues to which special interests support him to Salazar’s record in office (i.e., being independent, cracking down on price-fixing by drug companies, and contrasting the fact Salazar has experience in elected office and Coors does not). Almost all of these issues, if separated from the misuse of the “common man” quotation, likely would be considered quite relevant but suffered as a result of the misleading use of the inappropriately-truncated “common man” statement.



The TIPA’s structure for calculating an overall rating is based on the following distribution:

Accuracy Rating: 45% of the Overall Score.

Fairness Rating: 35% of the Overall Score.

Relevance Rating: 20% of the Overall Score.

No Surprise” receives an Overall Rating of 5.2. This is a low rating on a 1to 10 scale. Given the gross misuse of the Coors’ “common man” quotation, the Salazar campaign should either pull the plug on this advertisement or, at the minimum, edit out the inappropriate misuse of the subject quotation. Given the intentional and repeated misuse of the Coors quote, it’s “no surprise” that “No Surprise” should get canned.

For more information, please go to Thank you.

(C) Copyright 2004 by the Democracy & Media Education Foundation. All rights reserved. Reproduction, duplication, transmission, or conveyance of this document – in whole or in part – without the express written consent of the DMEF is strictly prohibited. Bona fide print and electronic Press organizations, however, may quote this Report as long as proper attribution is given (i.e., “The Truth In Political Advertising Project”) and the quotation or reference accurately reflects the contents and conclusions of this Report. For questions, please call Zachary Adler at (303) 449-5043 or send an e-mail to Thank you.

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