Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Political Attack Ads

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

This post could be called “GOP Attack Ads,” but that would be redundant. A handful of good articles on political ads have been making the rounds. The Washington Post’s Michael Grunwald reported on 10/27/06 in “The Year Of Playing Dirtier” (emphasis mine):

The result has been a carnival of ugly, especially on the GOP side, where operatives are trying to counter what polls show is a hostile political environment by casting opponents as fatally flawed characters. The National Republican Campaign Committee is spending more than 90 percent of its advertising budget on negative ads, according to GOP operatives, and the rest of the party seems to be following suit.

Post columnist E.J. Dionne observes how the GOP has shifted completely from hope to fear as a selling point in ”Republicans' Double Negatives” (10/31/06). He also decries false equivalency:

It's common to gather all political attacks under one large rubric called "negative campaigning" and to condemn the lot. But this is misleading.

A conservative who attacks his opponent for wanting to raise taxes and a liberal who accuses an adversary of favoring cuts in Medicare or environmental programs are both being "negative," but legitimately so, presuming that the criticisms are rooted in fact. If candidates can't air their disagreements, what's the point of free elections?

But this year Republican campaigners and their advocates in the conservative media have crossed line after line in sheer meanness, triviality and tastelessness. Conservative optimism and its promise of morning in America have curdled into the gloom of a Halloween midnight horror show.

But Post media columnist Howard Kurtz still manages to manufacture a false equivalency in his 10/26/06 column, ”Down in the Mud”:

Let's review the rather low state of this campaign season:

A GOP ad against Senate candidate Harold Ford -- featuring a white seductress who says she met the black lawmaker at a Playboy party and that he should call her -- is so odious and racially tinged that Ford's Republican opponent, Bob Corker, denounces it.

Republican Wyoming congresswoman Barbara Cubin tells a wheelchair-bound Libertarian candidate after a debate: "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you in the face."

Hillary Clinton's opponent says she used to be ugly -- and why did Bill marry her, anyway? -- but now looks okay thanks to millions in plastic surgery.

Rush Limbaugh says Michael J. Fox is exaggerating his Parkinson's in political ads.

A John Kerry spokesman calls carping liberal bloggers "cowards."

Anybody out there feel like taking a shower?

When I read this column, I was astounded and appalled. It’s blatantly obvious that Kurtz added the Kerry spokesman item to placate his conservative audience and that it has absolutely no relation to the other items. Glenn Greenwald had the same reaction and dissected the column at more length, quipping “As we all learned to inquire from Sesame Street -- which of those examples does not belong on that list?”

Howard Kurtz seemed to come to his senses a week later with his 11/3/06 column ”Nattering Negativity,” if only because he read and quoted Slate’s Jacob Weisberg and his piece, ”Poisoned Politics.” Weisberg’s article possesses the refreshing subtitle, “The ads this year are worse than ever. Both sides aren't to blame.” After surveying several abhorrent Republican ads, Weisberg writes:

The other familiar excuse for negative advertising is that "everybody does it." Newspaper stories about attack commercials usually include a sampling of harsh Democratic spots in an effort to appear evenhanded. But there's really no comparison between what the two parties and their respective surrogates are doing. According to factcheck.org, a respected site that reviews the accuracy of various ads, "the National Republican Campaign Committee's work stands out this year for the sheer volume of assaults on the personal character of Democratic House challengers." Negative Democratic ads tie Republican candidates to President Bush, and to the Iraq war, or accuse them of being in the tank for the oil or pharmaceutical industries. But Democratic ads do not charge that their opponents "prey on our children"—even though one recently resigned following accusations that he did precisely that. One can only imagine the ads Republicans would have made this year if Mark Foley had happened to be a Democrat.

In fact, the form, style, and content of the contemporary attack ad are a specifically conservative contribution to American politics.

It’s a relief to see that many journalists can indeed accurately report the facts rather than succumbing to one side berating them as referee to slant things for them. As for Kurtz, I think he believes he is unbiased, and he occasionally makes good points, but after reading him closely for about three years now, I have to conclude he is more conservative than he thinks he is. (While he does quote liberal and neutral bloggers at times, his column almost always starts and predominates with a conservative blog round-up, and he quotes some really stupid and disingenuous conservatives. It would be more valuable if he challenged their obvious factual inaccuracies and failings of logic more often.)

But enough of such matters! Let’s see some ads and you can judge for yourself!

Exactly how bad are those dastardly Democrats?

They work for the mob!

(More information on this ad here.)

They're gay!

(More information on this ad here.)

The dark-skinned ones have sex with white women!

(Most people have seen the Harold Ford ad above already, but Crooks and Liars has a pretty exhaustive archive of the coverage on this ad, including Ken Mehlman’s craven spin, here.)

Gay illegal immigrants are crossing the border to steal your jobs, prevent prayer in school, and to piss on an upside-down American flag they've set on fire!

(Well, that's exaggerating a bit. But not by much!)

Slate also has a feature called “Damned Spot,” covering and annotating political ads. They now have selected ”The Slimiest Campaign Ads of 2006: Slate crowns this year's worst of the worst.” It’s not surprising that the contenders include at least one of the above candidates! But who will win the title?

See you next time, when a Democrat and his meth-dealing gay lover strangle a puppy!

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