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Mike Terry, Deseret News
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon listens while Governor Gary R. Herbert talks at a public debate, Sept., 30, 2010.

SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to the notoriously nasty world of political campaign advertising, is there a line where civil discourse becomes uncivil?

Deseret Media Companies and students at the Hinckley Institute of Politics have teamed up to try and answer that question. Deseret Media Companies is the parent company of the Deseret News and KSL-TV.

"We believe there is a great opportunity to debate and discuss the important political issues and to hear from candidates seeking office, but we believe it can be done in a civil, dignified and respectful manner," says a statement on the KSL website displaying the ads and the ratings.

The students' rating were done on a scale of -3 to +3. Gov. Gary Herbert's six ads ranged from +.26 to +2.38. Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon's two ads ranged from -1.39 to -2.3.

"We listen to them (the ads) and then we rate whether they have a positive or negative tone," said political science student Whitney Benns. "(We look for) whether it furthers civility in politics or hinders it, and then whether our impression of the candidate is positive or negative after watching the ad."

Mike Petroff, vice president of new media sales for Deseret Digital Media, is spearheading the project for DMC. He said the DMC hopes to elevate the political discussion.

"If this process is successful, we won't steer the outcome of a campaign, but we might have some influence on a campaign manager on the types of ads they run," Petroff said.

Regarding Corroon's ads, political science student Neena Pack said "there's really low civility (in the) Corroon ads right now, and Herbert's (ads) seem to have a lot of positive tones in them."

The Corroon ads didn't trouble Benns, who said an underdog challenger will naturally challenge the status quo and raise important differences.

"I do think they're more negative, but I don't think they're super uncivil," Benns said.

Speaking after a debate at Utah Valley University on Wednesday, Herbert said, "I think the public deserves a civil discourse. We don't want to have Chicago-style politics here. … I think we need to have a high level discussion with civility and respect on the issues."

Corroon defended the ads and doesn't think either side has crossed a line.

"We're not bringing in things about each other personally," Corroon said. "I think that's when you cross the line. That hasn't happened in this race. … I'm representing only facts, representing only issues that the media has come out with first."

"There is, at least for voters, a point where you can go too far," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics. If attacks seem uncivil or unfair or untargeted, "you can harm yourself rather than the person you're attacking."

"I think this will help the candidates running realize maybe what's going to help them and what's not," Pack said.

e-mail: jdaley@desnews.com; lisa@desnews.com