As we watch the Kewl Kidz pat themselves on the backs for rejecting McCain's horrible lies and distortions, we might consider this before we start writing them letters of appreciation:
Campaign ads-that-aren't are "the oldest trick going," says Kenneth Goldstein, a University of Wisconsin political scientist who tracks political advertising. "You call a press conference, announce the ad, then run it once or twice. It's like Lucy pulling the football from Charlie Brown."
This time around, both major-party candidates have been playing the game, reaping a small bonanza of attention from cable and local news stations that have given the ads a free ride. McCain's campaign has been more aggressive and arguably more effective than Obama's, launching spots that have undercut Obama just when he seemed to be on the ascent.
Yesterday, for instance, the McCain campaign released a commercial called "Lipstick," which attacks Obama for allegedly smearing vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by saying "You can't put lipstick on a pig." The ad, however, appears to be more of a video press release than a traditional commercial. McCain hasn't announced any airtime buys for it, and at 35 seconds, its length isn't standard for a TV commercial.
Obama's representatives have repeatedly complained about the content of McCain's vapor ads, as well as about the media's coverage of them. Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro blasted McCain for the strategy, saying in a statement that McCain was using "Bush political tactics" to try to "distract the media."
One ad unveiled by McCain quotes unfavorable comments about Obama made by the Democratic nominee's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, during the primaries; this ad has aired just seven times since it was announced two weeks ago, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), an Arlington-based firm that tracks political advertising. Another McCain spot that claimed -- erroneously -- that Obama "made time to go the gym" instead of visiting wounded troops during his visit to Europe this summer has aired just nine times, appearing in only three cities.
In each case, however, broadcast and print reporters gave McCain's claims wide circulation.
All day long yesterday, as they repeatedly told their audience that this kind of "dirty politics" was no longer viable, they showed that stupid Lipstick ad. Again and again. And again.
I know they're very proud of themselves and all for arguing with Republicans for hours about an ad the McCain campaign sought to circulate on the cheap and create a controversy, but if they really wanted to stop this kind of politics they wouldn't preen for the cameras and tell the audience how much integrity they have because they disagree with the ad. They wouldn't show it.