By New York Times
STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. — Hundreds of times in the past three weeks, cable television viewers here have been the exclusive audience for two of the roughest advertisements of the political season.
One links Senator Barack Obama to the former mayor of Detroit, Kwame M. Kilpatrick, an African-American whose political career unraveled in scandal. The other features Mr. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A Wright Jr., also black, and his now infamous sermon marked by the words “God damn America.”
The advertisements, from a political action committee that is not connected to Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign, are running only here, in Macomb County, heavily populated by white, unionized auto workers, once considered “Reagan Democrats,” whose votes could largely determine which candidate wins Michigan, a state vital to both sides.
The advertisements point up the unusual nature of this year’s more potentially pernicious political attacks: They are not coming with the loud, nationally recognized cannon blast of the type launched by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against Senator John Kerry in 2004, but, rather, as more stealthy, narrowly aimed rifle shots from smaller groups armed with incendiary material.
Mr. McCain has at times been a target of over-the-top attacks from outside groups, such as a recent advertisement from the liberal group Brave New Pac, based in California, that suggested his time in a Vietnamese prison ill-affected his ability to be president; the Internet was filled with various unsubstantiated and discredited rumors about his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, immediately after he named her last month.
But the more explosive charges from outside groups against Mr. Obama have often drawn closer scrutiny this year for their volume and the cultural and racial sensitivities they tend to touch, and, occasionally, seek to exploit.
In Mr. Obama’s case, the messages have frequently sought to paint him as foreign, like the chain e-mail messages sent for months to Jewish areas of Florida, suburban Philadelphia and other swing states that portray Mr. Obama as Muslim (he is Christian). This week, a hate group calling itself the League of American Patriots distributed fliers to as many as 50 homes in Roxbury, a mostly white town in northern New Jersey, portraying Mr. Obama as Osama Bin Laden and including language that was derisive of black people.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, said the fliers, initially reported by The Star-Ledger in Newark, were the first overtly racist printed tracts of their kind this election season.
The advertisements running here against Mr. Obama come from a group called Freedom’s Defense Fund, a political action committee based in Washington that was formed four years ago and raises money from conservatives around the country. The advertisements have stood out because of the group’s connections — including to its paid consultant, Jerome S. Corsi, the author of the highly negative, largely discredited political biography of Mr. Obama, “Obama Nation” — and what local critics say are their racial overtones.
“That’s all they are — race oriented,” said Ed Bruley, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Macomb. “I think some people will be affected by it, others will see it for what it is.”
It is a view shared by Democratic leaders, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who, in a recent interview with MSNBC, said of the advertising campaign, “The fact that it is being run in a predominantly white suburb tells you that there is an explicit effort to try to divide people by race.”
Todd Zirkle, the executive director of Freedom’s Defense Fund, said race had “zero” to do with the spots. “That’s the standard retort when you want to say ‘Don’t listen to these people,’ ” Mr. Zirkle said.
He said the group’s intention was to show Mr. Obama’s affiliations — although Mr. Obama and Mr. Kilpatrick were never known to be close.
He said coming spots would highlight Mr. Obama’s ties to two white men, the developer Antoin Rezko, a former financial backer of Mr. Obama’s who has been convicted of fraud, and to the Weather Underground founder William Ayers, with whom Mr. Obama worked on an education commission in Illinois and whose past Mr. Obama has repudiated.
Mr. Zirkle said a fifth spot would highlight Mr. Obama’s supposed support for the Kenyan prime minister, the opposition leader Raila Odinga. Mr. Zirkle did not share that script, but Mr. Corsi’s book asserts, without substantiation, that Mr. Obama has been a close supporter of the African leader. Mr. Obama remained neutral in the Kenyan elections.
By Amy Harder at The National Journal
John McCain has had cancer four times and would be the oldest president ever elected, yet, according to two left-leaning groups, the 72-year-old GOP nominee hasn’t been open enough with the public about his medical records.
In a new ad (subscription) scheduled to begin running nationwide Thursday, Democracy for America and Brave New PAC pairs doctors’ grim diagnosis of melanoma patients with unflattering images of McCain’s cancer scars. “The relevance of knowing the details of his course with melanoma are very important,” says Dr. Michael Frakin, a palliative care specialist from Eureka, Calif., in the ad. “Another bout of cancer for John McCain while he is president of the United States would profoundly impact his capacity to lead.” Another doctor outlines the severity of melanoma. “Melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers and the chances of survival, if you have melanoma spread through your body, are very, very slim,” warns Dr. Noah Craft, a melanoma specialist from Los Angeles. The ad concludes with text on screen asking “Why won’t John McCain release his Medical Records?”
According to Democracy for America communications director Daniel Medress, the groups are pushing for McCain to release his medical records more openly and exhaustively than his campaign did in May. Medress reiterated what some in the media complained about at the time — that not enough reporters were given ample time to review the documents. “Because of all the very real medical risks that are present with John McCain, a free vibrant, press needs to be able to report these matters,” Medress said.
The McCain campaign has a policy of not commenting on third-party ads, and a spokesperson from the Republican National Committee could not be reached for comment.
The ad’s release comes fresh on the heels of a new poll that suggests McCain’s age, more so than Barack Obama’s race or Sarah Palin’s gender, could be a factor with voters. Thirty-six percent of respondents to a Harris poll released today said it would be a bad thing if someone older than 70 years were elected president — three times the number who said the same of a qualified black or female candidate.
Along with the ad, the groups have circulated a letter that more than 2,300 doctors from around the country have signed, urging McCain to offer “full, public disclosure of all his medical records.” None of the doctors have specifically examined McCain as a patient, but according to Medress, that, in “many ways, is the point.”
“This is an incredibly important issue that’s not being discussed,” Medress said. “The folks who are featured in the ad and signed on to the letter are experts in this. This is not some sort of partisan hitch-job.”
Any suggestion that it’s morbid to talk about John McCain’s mortality was mooted by the candidate himself the moment he chose an obviously unqualified running mate. So let’s talk.
McCain “released” his medical records earlier this year. He made 1,000 pages available, which sounds like a lot. But they were released only to a select group of reporters under very specific rules. They had to sit in a room to review them. No electronic devices allowed, so the reporters couldn’t email or call medical sources in real time. Making copies to take with them was also verboten.
The intrepid documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald has put together this video:
Yes, he keeps a demanding schedule and all that, but that tells us nothing about what could happen to him two or four years from now. His melanoma diagnosis dates to late 1999 or early 2000. One of the doctors in this piece states that the recurrence rate of McCain’s type of melanoma is 66% within 10 years, and it’s been eight. Another says that the kind of treatment that would be necessary to deal with a reoccurrence would incapacitate a person for a period of time.
By Manu Raju at The Hill
A 70-year-old man who was imprisoned with John McCain during the Vietnam War says the Arizona senator lacks the temperament to be president.
Phillip Butler says in a new attack ad that McCain’s prisoner-of-war status is not a qualification for the presidency and McCain is not somebody he wants to see “with his finger near the red button.”
“He was well known as a very volatile guy and he would blow up and go off like a roman candle,” Butler says in the ad, which was produced by Brave New PAC, a political action committee associated with the liberal film company Brave New Films.
Leighton Woodhouse, a spokesman for the company, said that the 30-second ad will air on CNN, MSNBC and ESPN from Thursday through this weekend.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his Democratic surrogates have repeatedly raised questions about McCain’s temperament, but they have praised his war record. Brave New Films has no affiliation with the Obama campaign.
“If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next commander-in-chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have,” Obama said last week in his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president.
Meanwhile, Republicans are highlighting McCain’s P.O.W. status to highlight his service to the country. And former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) spoke in detail in a primetime address at the Republican Convention Tuesday about the torture McCain suffered in 1967 at the hands of the North Vietnamese.
”They took him to the Hanoi Hilton, where he lapsed in and out of consciousness for days,” Thompson said. “He was offered medical care for his injuries if he would give up military information in return. John McCain said, ‘No.’”
The advertisment on McCain’s service will almost certainly be compared to the so-called Swift Boat attacks on 2004, when conservative groups questioned Democrat John Kerry’s war record.
But Woodhouse says that such comparisons are “totally irresponsible,” saying they are “completely different situations.”
A McCain campaign spokesman could not be reached for comment.
By Los Angeles Times
In a dim Culver City editing room, two video snippets of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain fill the monitors. In the first, he says same-sex marriage should be allowed. In the second, he says it should be illegal.
The clips are part of the payoff of a weeks-long hunt by filmmaker Robert Greenwald and his production team for damaging Internet video of the Arizona senator.
Greenwald, the producerdirector of scathing documentaries about Fox News and Wal-Mart, hopes to shatter McCain’s image as a straight-talking maverick. But instead of creating a full-length film, he is assembling clips of McCain for a series of two-minute Web videos. The idea is to turn McCain’s own words against him, spreading the videos through e-mail, blogs and websites.
“The effectiveness is hearing and seeing him say stuff,” Greenwald said in the editing bay. The videos “go right to the character issue — who he is.”
The first whack at McCain, now on the video-sharing site YouTube, joins a rapidly growing collection of Web videos posted by critics of leading contenders in the 2008 presidential race. Targets so far include Barack Obama, Rudolph W. Giuliani, John Edwards, Mitt Romney and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The explosion of video-sharing on the Web poses major risks for presidential candidates: Gaffes and inconsistent statements witnessed by dozens can be e-mailed instantly to millions.
The White House ambitions of Republican George Allen of Virginia were dashed in no small part by a Web video that showed him, at a campaign event, calling an Indian American “macaca.” Allen also lost his November bid for reelection to the Senate.
And Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was hit this month with an anonymously posted YouTube video made of footage from a 1994 debate in which he took liberal stands on abortion and other matters. Romney, who has staked out more conservative positions in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, posted his own video to explain the shift.
“I was wrong on some issues back then,” he told viewers. “I’m not embarrassed to admit that.”
For the candidates, as well as their detractors, the chief attribute of Web video is its broad reach, accomplished at little or no expense.
“You can grab it, send it, link it, and at zero cost,” said Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. “Two hundred thousand people could see it in 24 hours.”
Several White House contenders have already made promotional Web videos a central part of their communications strategy, using them to reach supporters directly, without a media filter. Democrats Clinton, Edwards, Obama and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson each made Web video statements for their campaign launches.
Clinton has been especially aggressive. The New York senator and presumed party front-runner took questions from supporters on three evenings last week in half-hour Web chats. As part of a broader effort to warm up voters (a fireplace crackled in the background when she appeared Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show), Clinton pivoted from Iraq and healthcare to the delights of gardening, dog-walking, movie watching, swimming and even closet cleaning.
McCain is planning his own Web version of reality TV. He has hired a videographer to record behind-the-scenes campaign moments of the senator in relaxed settings.
“What the campaign can do in a Web video is show a more personal side of the candidate,” said Spencer Whelan, who works on McCain’s online communications team.
But the same technology allows others to broadcast — often anonymously — videos utterly outside the campaigns’ control. Already, attack videos range from the caustic to the ridiculous.
McCain’s comic potential is on display in a YouTube video featuring the melodically impaired senator singing lines from “The Way We Were” and other Barbra Streisand tunes in a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
Another video on the site shows Giuliani dressed in drag, with Donald Trump nestling his face in the former New York City mayor’s fake breasts — a gag from a long-ago press dinner that struck many New Yorkers as funny, but might puzzle some Republican primary voters in, say, South Carolina.
Edwards, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president, is the subject of a popular prank video that uses humor to skewer the former North Carolina senator. Mocked by critics as “the Breck girl” in 2004, the telegenic candidate is shown fussing with his hair for a full two minutes in preparation for a TV interview, as Julie Andrews sings “I Feel Pretty.” YouTube visitors have viewed it more than 27,000 times.
Among the Clinton material posted on the site is a home-video excerpt, first broadcast by ABC News, that shows her confiding to someone at a campaign fundraiser that she avoided e-mail because of constant investigations of the White House during her husband’s presidency.
Obama, a newcomer to presidential politics, is just starting to draw the sort of negative attention that the Clintons have long attracted. Last week, Chicago-area political consultant Joe Novak posted several Web videos taking aim at the Illinois senator’s wife, Michelle, for her healthcare business dealings.
“I’ve gotten very angry over the fawning cheerleading that’s going on in this city by so-called reporters,” Novak said.
Obama campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said Novak’s videos show that the Web “is rapidly becoming the place to put video that is too inaccurate and too scurrilous to put on television.”
By Simon Owens at Bloggasm
On Monday, the New York Times published a story detailing a multi-million dollar ad campaign launched by Starbucks in which the company put up advertising posters in six major cities and attempted to “harness the power of online social networking sites by challenging people to hunt for the posters on Tuesday and be the first to post a photo of one using Twitter.” Those who posted the pictures to the microblogging site were to use predetermined hashtags that were listed in the contest rules.
Unfortunately for Starbucks, liberal activist and filmmaker Robert Greenwald, founder of Brave New Films, came across that Times article early Tuesday morning. Greenwald, who has directed films for major studios and launched Brave New Films a few years ago, had been working for months on shooting an anti-Starbucks video that debuted on YouTube that very day. The mini-documentary features interviews with several former and current Starbucks employees and makes the argument that the company — despite popular perception that it treats its employees well — has unfair labor practices and has aggressively fought off union organizing.
“Tuesday morning was when we launched the video,” Greenwald told me in a phone interview. “I’m a very early riser, I get up at 6 o’clock here, and I look at the New York Times and there’s a story about this contest that Starbucks is having on Twitter. And I was like, ‘ah, what timing!’ So I sent an email around to several of my colleagues and we immediately jumped on it … When we saw that they had a contest, we immediately decided that we should enter the contest, which we did in very short order. And I don’t know if it’s connected or not, but a few hours later after we sent in pictures of people with suggestions for [Starbucks CEO] Howard Schultz to be more fair to his workers, I think the rules were changed and at least that phase of the contest was ended.”
On a blog post published at the anti-Starbucks website Brave New Films created, people were encouraged to take pictures of themselves in front of Starbucks stores holding signs targeted at the company’s “anti-labor practices.” These users are then told to upload these photos onto Twitpic and tweet them out to their followers using the hashtags #top3percent and #starbucks. According to the post, these are the official hashtags that were designated by Starbucks itself for those who wanted to enter its contest. Within hours, several people had followed these guidelines and there were dozens of Twitpics in front of stores across the country.
As of this writing, the anti-Starbucks YouTube video has amassed over 30,000 views and was featured on the front page of social news site Digg. Greenwald said that Brave New Films is not done with its offensive against the coffee company, but he was hesitant to reveal his next steps.
Given that the the filmmaker was able to take Starbucks’ own Twitter marketing campaign and turn it against it, I asked Greenwald what this means for corporations dipping their toes in social media marketing.
“Well it says that democracy is a wonderful thing, and that we should be very happy with it,” he replied. ” …I think that the corporations will learn very quickly that if they want to function in a social marketing arena, then they’re going to have to change some of their practices or else they’ll have to get out.”
By Sarah Lai Stirland at Wired
Welcome to the 2008 general election, YouTube style.
No sooner had the polls closed at the end of Super Tuesday, when a video popped up on YouTube attacking newly christened GOP front-runner John McCain where he’s most vulnerable: his support for the Iraq war.
The 83-second advertisement shows a consumer gamely struggling on the phone with a friendly but unhelpful service representative. It turns out to be the United States government on the line, which informs the befuddled citizen that she has no choice but to pay a hefty monthly recurring charge for the war.
“In the past couple of weeks, when it seemed like McCain may in fact be the nominee, we thought that the message should be that the deaths in Iraq may not be on the front page anymore, but the money is still coming out of your pocket,” says the spot’s creator, Robert Greenwald, a progressive activist and documentary filmmaker in Los Angeles. “I felt strongly that it was a story that wasn’t being told, and a story that couldn’t be argued against.”
Decisive moments in primaries have always triggered torrents of fresh money into campaign coffers, which eventually translate into television ads. But in this most wired of campaign seasons, a new type of Web 2.0-enhanced nonprofit advocacy group is streamlining the process like never before, producing and distributing slick, effective videos in internet time.
Thanks to converging developments in campaign finance law, the improving technology of digital cameras and the rise of online social networking, voters’ inboxes this election season will be filled at strategic moments with forwarded web addresses for issue-oriented ads like Less Jobs, More War from Greenwald’s Brave New Films.
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald and his company Brave New Films on Monday launched a website featuring a series of videos that detail the hardships of Southern California grocery store workers. The launch of Supermarketswindle.com comes just as grocery worker union members in the region are considering a strike after cuts in pay and benefits.
“There is a David-versus-Goliath battle going on right now between the hard-working grocery store employees and the supermarket CEOs Jeffrey Noddle, David Dillon and Stephen Burd, who each make over $7 million a year,” Greenwald said in a Monday statement. “This is a story that needs to be told now.”
Interviews with three workers from Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons are the first in a series of worker testimonials Greenwald will post on the site. His efforts are part of a partnership with the Los Angeles Alliance, a pro-worker nonprofit group.