Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Tuesday, June 01, 2004


"Unprecedented Negativity" in Bush Campaign Ads

Since this is a Tuesday-but-Monday-observed, I’ll start with my pick of what you may have missed over the weekend: Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei’s fine article on the “unprecedented negativity” of Bush Campaign ads:

Last Monday in Little Rock, Vice President Cheney said Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry "has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all" and said the senator from Massachusetts "promised to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts within his first 100 days in office."

On Tuesday, President Bush's campaign began airing an ad saying Kerry would scrap wiretaps that are needed to hunt terrorists.

The same day, the Bush campaign charged in a memo sent to reporters and through surrogates that Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents.

On Wednesday and Thursday, as Kerry campaigned in Seattle, he was greeted by another Bush ad alleging that Kerry now opposes education changes that he supported in 2001.

The charges were all tough, serious -- and wrong, or at least highly misleading. Kerry did not question the war on terrorism, has proposed repealing tax cuts only for those earning more than $200,000, supports wiretaps, has not endorsed a 50-cent gasoline tax increase in 10 years, and continues to support the education changes, albeit with modifications.

Clearly part of the reason for this proliferation of misleading ads is that they work, and part of the reason that they work is that the press thus far has largely failed to call the Bush campaign on the ever-growing number of fouls. The news here, in other words, is not that the ads are misleading. If you’ve been attuned to the Blogosphere, and if you even occasionally visit sites such as The Center for American Progress, or Factcheck.org or BushOut.tv, you may well find much of the material familiar.

The news is that it isn’t some relatively obscure website that’s calling these guys on the lies – it’s The Washington Post. And Millbank and VandeHei are not just calling them out – they’re documenting just how much more frequently and extremely the Bush campaign misleads than the other side.
Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total.

Apparently, the Post has figured out that catching Republicans at lies is not “evidence of partisanship”—it’s just journalists doing their job.

Thus far, however, the article has attracted only modest attention – perhaps because most of the country was more focused on beaches and barbecues over the weeked. Atrios didn’t mention it. Josh Marshall gets a nice dig in, but otherwise mentions it only in passing. There was a lengthy but not terribly noteworthy thread over at Kos. Barry Ritholtz, at BOPNews, stood out by having the sense both to note it – and to pose a couple of interesting questions:
Are all these negative and false statements the acts of a desperate and floundering incumbent campaign? Or, is the incumbent in so much political trouble because of the negativity it personifies?

To answer those questions, and put the entire matter into perspective, it helps to refer to a couple of earlier sources. Start with this piece, from the Annenberg Survey, which shows that people do indeed believe the misleading claims -- in spite of that fact the few will admit to getting information from political ads. Then take a look at this piece, by Sidney Blumenthal, which nicely catalogs the stakes for the administration in encouraging mistaken beliefs.

Put the two together, and you have at least one answer to Ritholtz’s questions: the Bush team is relying on misleading ads more than ever (a) because so far at least they've been getting away with it and (b) because they really have no choice.

It does start to look a lot like desperation, however -- since as the lies unravel, they seem to just be lying harder and harder just to slow their erosion.

For the Bushies, it's a classic no-win situation. It's too late to start telling the truth, the ranks of the credulous are diminishing, and the lies -- as lies always do --are getting far too complex to maintain.

[UPDATE: I somehow overlooked Kevin Drum's brief comment on this topic, which nicely summarizes the Post's statistics: "So Bush is three times more negative than Kerry. Just the kind of leader America needs."]

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