Learn more. Subscribe today!


Doctors Petition for McCain Health Records

By St. Petersburg Times

Sen. John McCain sat in a stately looking office, addressing a national TV audience.

“Good evening, my fellow Americans,” he said. “I ask you: What should we be looking for in our next president? Certainly, someone who is very, very, very old.”

It was all a joke, played on Saturday Night Live. Yet despite self-deprecating attempts to disarm questions about his age, the Republican presidential nominee faces ongoing scrutiny.

The latest sign: More than 90 doctors in Florida have signed a national petition calling on McCain to fully release his medical records, suggesting that more about his bouts with skin cancer needs to be disclosed.

“If you still want to vote for the guy, that’s fine. But you should know about it,” said Dr. Max B. Rubin, a dermatologist in Delray Beach.

“I don’t want to look to see if he’s taking Viagra,” said Tallahassee orthopedic surgeon Ray Bellamy. “I want to see if there’s strong evidence he’s in good health or not.”

McCain, 72, would be the oldest president to take office if elected in November. His campaign dismissed the petition (which has nearly 2,900 signatures) as a stunt and noted it’s driven by a group with ties to the liberal Moveon.org.

Health questions in campaigns are nothing new. In 1995, Republican nominee Bob Dole pre-empted questions by releasing records showing him in fine shape. It was the 73-year-old Dole who was pressuring a younger and less willing President Bill Clinton to do the same.

The Florida doctors — many who acknowledge they favor Democrat Barack Obama — say they are raising concerns because if something were to happen to McCain, Sarah Palin would take over.

Read more

Campaign Ad-War Heats Up Ohio TV


Not so long ago, those breaks during TV shows used to try to get you to buy things like cars and mattresses. These days it feels like the only thing for sale is your vote.

Studies show most people don’t believe what they see and hear in political ads; journalists and others constantly undermine them with truth-squadding analysis…and yet…

TRACEY: It’s still the weapon of choice for political campaigns.

Evan Tracey runs the Virginia-based Campaign Media Analysis Group. That means he spends a lot of time tracking = political ads around the country, and he says Ohio is a cash cow political ad-makers this year. These days, the McCain campaign is dropping about $150,000 a day in the state. The Obama campaign—not bound by public financing—is laying out more than twice that amount. And, Tracey says it’s only going up.

TRACEY: I think you’re going to see a steady ascent on spending. If you look at Obama’s spending patterns over the last four weeks, they’ve risen over 20% a week.

So, what are they spending all their money on? Obama’s ads here are hammering home his health care plan—and what he thinks is wrong with McCain’s.

OBAMA AD: On health care, John McCain promises a tax credit, but here’s what he won’t tell you. McCain would impose a new tax on health benefits, taxing your health care for the first time ever.

Meanwhile, McCain’s ads are spending a lot time asking this question:

McCAIN AD: Who is Barack Obama?
McCAIN AD: Who is Barack Obama? Senator Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes. 94 times!

And for all people say they’re tired of campaign ads and negative attacks, Oberlin College Professor Michael Parkin says there’s a simple reason the campaigns still blanket the airwaves.

PARKIN: Just the repetition of these ads..over and over and over again. Sooner or later, that message is going to get into your psyche. And, of course, you can counter-argue these ads, which is often done by people who have already made up their minds. But for undecided voters, the repetition of these ads and particularly some of these negative accusations, they tend to stick fairly well.

So, the idea is if you repeat something often enough, people start to believe it, even if they didn’t at first. That’s the strategy behind many ads produced and paid for by independent groups. These so-called 527 groups—named after the portion of the tax code they operate under—are happy to tread into territory the candidates’ campaigns won’t.

A group called Brave New PAC—run by liberal film-maker Robert Greenwald—is running this spot.

BRAVE NEW PAC AD: Another bout of cancer for John McCain, while he’s president of the United States, would profoundly impact his ability to lead.

And this from a conservative group calling itself The American Issues Project.

AMERICAN ISSUES PROJECT AD: Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?

Ad analyst Evan Tracey says the American Issues Project group has spent about $800,000 running that one-minute ad—the Obama campaign, meanwhile, has spent nearly as much responding to those ads.

The McCain campaign declined to comment for this story on their ad or counter-ad strategy.

Michael Parkin of Oberlin College says the attacks from outside groups on both sides could be a lot harsher closer to Election Day.

PARKIN: They may be waiting right until the last minute to kind of generate some October surprise where they bring out some new information, or at least make some claims that resonate with people.

Negative ads may not carry their usual punch, with the public so focused on the teetering economy.

Read more

In TV Ads, Third-Party Liberal Groups Attack McCain’s Health, Temperament

By Jake Tapper at ABC’s Political Punch

Two third-party liberal groups have teamed up to run this TV ad  seeming to imply that  Sen. John McCain , R-Ariz., will die in office.

Showing pictures of McCain’s cancer scar, the script is as follows:

Text on screen: John McCain is 72 years old and had cancer 4 times .

Dr. Michael Frakin: The relevance of knowing the details of his course with melanoma are very important.   Another bout of cancer for John McCain while he is president of the United States would profoundly impact his capacity to lead.

Noah Craft, Ph.D.: Melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers and the chances of survival, if you have melanoma spread through your body, are very, very slim.

Text on screen: Why won’t John McCain release his Medical Records?

Announcer: Brave New PAC and Democracy For America are responsible for the content of this advertising.

Another Brave New PAC TV ad features former POW Phillip Butler saying of McCain, “he would blow up and go off like a Roman candle. John McCain is not somebody that I would like to see with his finger near the red button,”

These ads are more what is called “flares” — with little-to-no presence on TV, but a big internet presence that the groups are trying to use to get free media attention.

Republicans are insinuating that the Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign has something to do with them. Obama told Democratic contributors to refrain from contributing to these independent groups, but The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder reported this month that “after a year of telling donors not to contribute to 527 groups, of encouraging strategists not to form them and of suggesting that outside messaging efforts would not be welcome in Obama’s Democratic Party, Obama’s strategists have changed their approach. An Obama adviser privy to the campaign’s internal thinking on the matter says that, with less than two months before the election and with the realization that Republicans have achieved financial parity with Democrats, they hope that Democratic allies — what another campaign aide termed ‘the cavalry’ — will come to Obama’s aid.”

Read more

Liberal PACs Ready Attack Ad on McCain’s Health

By Jim Rutenberg at The New York Times

Two liberal groups – one of them directed by a brother of the Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean – will begin running a graphic attack advertisement Thursday morning raising questions about Senator John McCain’s health. Showing vivid and unflattering images of the fresh scar that appeared on Senator McCain’s face immediately after his last operation for melanoma skin cancer eight years ago, the commercial ends with a screen headline that reads, “Why won’t John McCain release his medical records?” (Mr. McCain, 72, did invite a limited group of reporters to inspect more than 1,100 pages of his medical records in May, though he gave them only a three-hour window in which to review the documents.)

The commercial is among the harshest to run against Mr. McCain yet, seeking to exploit the sensitive issues of health and age. Officials with the groups running the ad, Brave New PAC and Democracy for America, said they were only showing the spot initially on MSNBC over the next few days, a limited run intended to draw news media attention on a network that has increasingly catered to liberal tastes.

Officials at the groups, both of which are political action committees that rely on individual donors, said they hoped to show the spot on stations in battleground states in the coming weeks as well. But it is unclear if individual stations will accept the spot: Leighton Akio Woodhouse, a spokesman for Brave New PAC, said late Wednesday that CNN declined to accept the commercial after reviewing its contents this week.

The ad comes from the same two groups that recently released an advertisement questioning whether Mr. McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam adversely affected his ability to lead.

Democracy for America has as its chairman Howard Dean’s brother, James H. Dean. Federal rules prohibit coordination between outside groups and campaigns or parties.

Daniel Medress, a spokesman for Democracy for America, said James Dean has not spoken with his brother about his activities at the group, which Howard Dean started in 2004. “We don’t coordinate with them,’’ Mr. Medress said of the Democratic National Committee, adding that at family dinners the Dean brothers, “sit there and make small talk, because they can’t talk about their jobs.”

Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said Howard Dean carefully follows all rules and regulations.

Brave New PAC is affiliated with California-based filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who runs several entities out of his “Brave New” office complex in Culver City; one of them, Brave New Foundation, a non-profit group that runs social issues campaigns, has as the chairman of its board Lawrence Lessig, a prominent Stanford Law School professor who has served as an informal adviser to Mr. Obama on technology policy issues.

Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, said the campaign had nothing to do with the spots and that Mr. Lessig had only advised Mr. Obama during the primaries, not in the general election. Mr. Woodhouse, the spokesman for Brave New PAC, said that Mr. Lessig is only affiliated with the Brave New Foundation, which operates in isolation from the political action committee. “There’s a fire wall there,’’ he said. “He has no relation to any of the projects we’re doing through the PAC.”

Danny Diaz, a Republican National Committee spokesman, said, “The fact that Howard Dean’s brother and an adviser to the Obama campaign are behind despicable and cheap smear ads against Senator McCain is deeply disappointing, but in no way surprising. Barack Obama has promised Americans an elevated debate offering nothing but gutter, Chicago-style politics.”

The spot opens with a photograph of Mr. McCain sporting a band aid over the scar on the left side of his face that caused by his surgery to remove the skin cancer in 2000, and the words, “John McCain is 72 and had cancer four times.”

Read more

Pinpoint Attacks Focus on Obama

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.

Read more

Doctors Demand Release Of McCain Medical Records

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.”

Read more

McCain’s Medical Records

By Michael Tomasky at The Guardian

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.

Read more

Attack Ad Targets McCain’s POW Status

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.

Read more

A Brave New Worldwide Web

By Sarfraz Manzoor at The Guardian

When the furore about the Rev Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama was at its height a few months ago, one of the biggest hits on YouTube revealed that the Republican contender John McCain had his own pastor problem.

Sandwiched between the kind of comic clips for which the site is best known, the video produced by Brave New Films showed the Rev Rod Parsley, a spiritual adviser to John McCain, making incendiary comments about Islam. When the mainstream media ran the story, McCain was eventually forced to distance himself from the church leader.

The success of the video and the sequel – The Real McCain 2, which documented several policy flip-flops on issues such as Iraq and the US economy, and was viewed more than 500,000 times within the first 24 hours of being released on to YouTube – justified the decision by Robert Greenwald, Brave New Films’ founder, to move from feature films into an online career.

Kitsch classic

Greenwald, 62, began his career in television before directing movies, including the kitsch classic Xanadu, starring Olivia Newton-John. The death of his father and the 9/11 attacks convinced him to switch to doing more socially worthwhile work. He began making feature-length documentaries, tackling such targets as Fox News – in 2004’s Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism – and the world’s biggest retailer in Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.

The films were critically praised and reached a large audience, but Greenwald decided to abandon long documentaries and move into producing fast turnaround online videos 16 months ago.

Calling it “an interesting transition”, Greenwald recalls being in the same editing room a few months ago in which he once edited a six-hour mini-series. “Back then I was trying to lose 20 minutes from an edit – now the finished film I am making may only be four minutes long and the job is to lose 20 seconds.”

He decided to make short pieces because he “wanted to make content that was quicker, shorter and more immediate in the news cycle.

“You could spend 12 months making a documentary and releasing it, and having your moment in the sun about something that may no longer be in the news cycle any more. Or you can spend 24 hours to put together a short viral video which can actually make a difference.”

Brave New Films has an email database of about 450,000 people, who have in the past purchased DVDs or signed up for updates; each new video is emailed to this core constituency who are then urged to send it on.

The company has also developed contacts with key bloggers and social networking sites to ensure that it doesn’t just preach to the converted.

The films have affected the campaigning of both presidential candidates. Greenwald cites the example of a video series that highlighted the huge increase in the wages of corporate executives. Within a month of the videos being released, Barack Obama had incorporated the theme of executive pay into his speeches.

Footage of McCain praising his spiritual adviser as “a moral compass” was combined with clips of Parsley railing against Islam and saying “America was founded in part with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed”.

In the past it might have been left to paid party operatives and professional political spin doctors to launch the kind of attacks that Brave New Films has directed towards John McCain. Greenwald says he has no ties to the Democratic party or to Obama’s campaign and calls himself a full-time volunteer.

“There are issues that need to be addressed regardless of the candidates,” he says. “People who run for election have the job of getting elected, but our job is to create the passion to force whoever is in charge to do the right thing.”

Brave New Films is registered with the IRS as a “social welfare” organisation. Such groups are allowed to engage in political campaigning, but aren’t supposed to make campaigning their primary activity.

Its offices are in a former Los Angeles motel that, I am told, was once used by film executives to entertain their mistresses. I am shown around by Eddie Kurtz, one of the company’s 35 employees and, like most of the others, still in his 20s.

“This isn’t some bedroom operation,” he tells me as we walk past rooms filled with humming hard drives and flickering monitors. One room is devoted to rapid response, trying to combat stories that may have arisen in that morning’s press – for example, the “Obama is a Muslim” rumours – while in another, a team are working on more long-term projects.

In an adjoining building, a newly constructed studio is nearing completion that will mark the next stage of Brave New Films’ evolution: online broadcasting.

“The plan is to have live studio webcasts,” says Kurtz,”anything up to 20 programmes – everything from Meet the Bloggers to uninterrupted election coverage to progressive cooking shows, and it will be completely interactive.”

Read more

Political Freelancers Use Web to Join the Attack

By New York Times

CULVER CITY, Calif. — The video blasted across the Internet, drawing political blood from Senator John McCain within a matter of days.

Produced here in a cluttered former motel behind the Sony Pictures lot, it juxtaposed harsh statements about Islam made by the Rev. Rod Parsley with statements from Mr. McCain praising Mr. Parsley, a conservative evangelical leader. The montage won notice on network newscasts this spring and ultimately helped lead Mr. McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, to reject Mr. Parsley’s earlier endorsement.

In previous elections, an attack like that would have come from party operatives, campaign researchers or the professional political hit men who orbit around them.

But in the 2008 race, the first in which campaigns are feeling the full force of the changes wrought by the Web, the most attention-grabbing attacks are increasingly coming from people outside the political world. In some cases they are amateurs operating with nothing but passion, a computer and a YouTube account, in other cases sophisticated media types with more elaborate resources but no campaign experience.

So it was with the Parsley video, which was the work of a 64-year-old film director, Robert Greenwald, and his small band of 20-something assistants. Once best known for films like “Xanadu” (with Olivia Newton-John) and the television movie “The Burning Bed” (with Farrah Fawcett), Mr. Greenwald shows how technology has dispersed the power to shape campaign narratives, potentially upending the way American presidential campaigns are fought.

Mr. Greenwald’s McCain videos, most of which portray the senator as contradicting himself in different settings, have been viewed more than five million times — more than Mr. McCain’s own campaign videos have been downloaded on YouTube.

“If you had told me we would have hit one million, I would have told you you were crazy,” said Mr. Greenwald, who said he had no ties to the Democratic Party or Senator Barack Obama’s campaign.

Four years ago, the Internet was a Wild West that caused the occasional headache for the campaigns but for the most part remained segregated from them. This year, the development of cheap new editing programs and fast video distribution through sites like YouTube has broken down the barriers, empowering a new generation of largely unregulated political warriors who can affect the campaign dialogue faster and with more impact than the traditional opposition research shops.

Already there are signs that these less formal and more individual efforts are filling a vacuum created by a decline in activity among the independent advocacy groups — so-called 527s and similar operations — that have played a large role in negative politics in the last several election cycles. Especially on the conservative side, independent groups have reported trouble raising money, and some of the biggest players from 2004 have signaled that they will sit it out this time around.

The shift has by no means gone unnoticed by the campaigns. And while strategists in both parties suspect that traditional political operatives affiliated with the campaigns or parties frequently pose as independent grassroots participants by hiding behind anonymous Web identities, few have been caught this year.

The change has added to the frenetic pace of the campaign this year. “It’s politics at the speed of Internet,” said Dan Carol, a strategist for Mr. Obama who was one of the young bulls on Bill Clinton’s vaunted rapid response team in 1992. “There’s just a lot of people who at a very low cost can do this stuff and don’t need a memo from HQ.”

That would seem to apply to people like Robert Anderson, a professor at Elon University in North Carolina whose modest YouTube site features videos flattering to Mr. Obama and unflattering to Mr. McCain, or Paul Villarreal, who from his apartment in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., has produced a harsh series of spots that attack Mr. Obama and make some claims that have been widely debunked.

Counting the audience for such videos can be tricky, as sites like YouTube list only the number of times they have been viewed, not the number of people who view them. That said, according to YouTube, Mr. Villarreal’s video was viewed about 50,000 times. And it cost him just $100 to produce, for software, he said. He said he had no connection to the Republican Party or the McCain campaign, though he said he had reached out to them and not heard back.

The better-circulated political videos have generally come from people with some production experience. One of the most widely seen anti-Obama videos was created by Jason Mitchell, who produces evangelical Christian programming in Durham, N.C.

A conservative-leaning version of YouTube called Eyeblast.tv has recorded millions of hits on the video. But as is often the case with such videos, how many of the viewers come to sneer rather than applaud is hard to tell.

“Four years ago I would just be a ‘political activist,’ ” Mr. Mitchell said. “Now, they call me a ‘communications political strategist,’ and that’s only because of the Internet.”


Read more