Friday, November 30, 2007

Media Mudslinging

I just read this AP article entitled Presidential race turns a negative page, which seemed to be an underhanded attempt to tell us about the negative things about Romney and Giuliani. And it did so by telling us about ad campaigns that two groups are about to put out in New Hampshire against Romney and how those criticisms might eventually be used against Giuliani too. And to even further the fun, it gives us an idea of what anonymous "analysts" and "some Republicans" think are valid attacks against these two guys.

And so here we have a supposedly objective news article which makes a national news story about negative political ads which haven't even started running yet, as well as ads which haven't even been created. Something's clearly wrong with our media when you have articles informing readers nationwide about possible negatives highlighted in non-existent ads. What's even the point of making the ads? After all, even the ads that have been created were only going to be run in New Hampshire, while the news story is national.

The whole viewpoint of this article is that it's informing us that the first spate of negative ads is starting to run. And that's fine, I guess. Though I don't really see how even that's a news story. But why the detail on what the ads are saying? Or what potential ads might say about Giuliani? And if they get that far, why only those two candidates? Why don't they just tell us about the other candidates' negatives too? Could they find no anonymous "strategists" to give us dirt on McCain or Thompson; two other Republican candidates who have repeatedly "flip-flopped" on key issues?

Because for as much as the article pretends to be telling us that the negative season is starting, the bulk of the article is telling us about the candidates' negatives. I'm talking about sentences like these:

Analysts say similar negative ads are likely against his chief GOP rival, Rudy Giuliani, whose positions on gun control and immigration are markedly different from those he espoused as New York mayor.


But strategists say they are not surprised to see them first in the Republican race, where front-runners Romney and Giuliani have left a long evidentiary trail of their changed positions on key issues.

And that's how most of the article is. It's not about the ads, but rather citing unnamed analysts and strategists on the real criticisms of Romney and Giuliani. And while I'd be happy to hear that kind of thing in an article that was about their positions, this was supposedly an article about negative ads and their impact on the campaign. It doesn't even give us original research on these negatives, but only furthers the narrative that they exist.

This is in contrast to this NY Times news story on Rudy's trouble with the truth. That's how stories should be. You start with a theme and then use facts to back up that theme. That's how I always learned it was done, anyway.

Going Negative

I'm not even sure how the premise of the article is correct. While it does make the point that no candidate wants to be the first to go negative, that point doesn't apply to the two ads it mentions. Because those are from independent groups which aren't affiliated with any candidate, and it's not like the other independent groups need to wait for another independent group to break the negative barrier. In fact, it's obvious that this first independent group's ad has been greatly amplified due to its status as the first negative ad. They got a major news story highlighting their criticism before the ad even ran.

And even then, the wariness of a candidate to go negative has more to do with media manipulation than voters. It's obvious that negative ads work, and as long as the ad is truthful, there shouldn't be a problem with that. If one of the candidates has done something wrong or is lying, I want to know about it and have no problem if that information comes from his opponent. While the media seems incapable of separating truthful negative ads from mudslinging, the truthful ads are certainly a good thing. Particularly if the media isn't doing their job of informing voters of these negatives.

And really, the primary reason why it's bad to be the first candidate to go negative is simply that that's one of the media's stock stories: Candidate X Goes Negative. And so that candidate will get the blame for introducing negativeness into the election season and all the "mudslinging" will be tied back to that candidate. And that was one of the main strengths of the Bushies: They have such a strong network of "unaffiliated" surrogates that Bush could largely stay positive while his henchmen did all the dirtywork. And the media has no problem with that.

And for as much as voters don't like negative ads, I really think it has more to do with the media telling us that candidates who do this are bad. Having completely reversed the definitions of "subjective" and "objective," they're just looking for an easy news story. Truth and accuracy mean little to them, they just want a story about negative campaigning and the trouble with politics. And if a candidate stays "clean" and won't go negative, that's a story too and he'll get attacked for being too nice. You just can't win with these people, as the "truth" has become little more than a side-issue with them. They just want an easy story.

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