Is This Ad For A GOP Senate Candidate The Worst Political Ad This Year?

The 2014 election cycle has produced some pretty horrific advertisements including Iowa Republican Joni Ernst’s tales of castrating hogs, the Club for Growth’s anti-Pryor (D-AR) ad featuring a pooping parrot, and even a Republican primary opponent of John Boehenr who crafted an “electile dysfunction” themed ad that said “If you have a Boehner lasting more than 21 years, seek immediate medical attention.” That one was actually pretty funny.

Now we have New Mexico Republican Allen Weh’s ad against incumbent Democratic senator Tom Udall (video below). Weh, the former chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, has the distinction of being the first candidate grotesque enough to feature the ISIS executioner of American journalist Jim Foley in a campaign ad. However, sitting through the whole ad will reveal that Weh also includes a second shot of another execution before arriving at what must be his campaign theme: associating Sen. Udall himself with ISIS.

Allen Weh / Tom Udall

The visual message of compositing Udall’s face with an ISIS flag is a not-so-subtle implication that Udall is aligned with America’s enemies. And this is no accident. These ads are edited second-by-second to pack the entirety of the message into short clips. Weh’s operatives knew exactly what they were doing.

The audio on the ad is comprised almost entirely of a snippet from an Obama interview conducted before he was a candidate for president, and another repeated snippet of Udall saying “I know, as far as I feel, this diplomatic path that we’re on right now is a good one.” Udall’s comment was not sourced, but it turns it that it came from an interview on September 11, 2013 on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper. It was also not place in context.

Weh’s ad sought to associate Udall with both ISIS and Obama, creating an ancillary connection between ISIS and Obama as well. However, Udall was responding to Tapper’s question about the speech Obama gave on September 10, 2013 regarding Syria’s chemical weapons. The President spoke about his determination to force Syria to abandon their chemical arsenal, his initial intention to seek authorization from Congress, and his ultimate decision to let the diplomatic efforts run their course.

“Over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs. In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.

“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies. I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.”

In context, Udall’s comments were in support of a process that eventually succeeded in collecting and neutralizing Syria’s chemical warfare capability that was already responsible for killing thousands of Syrians, including hundreds of children.

So Weh’s ad completely misrepresented Udall’s words, but the worst part was its blatant and nauseating exploitation of Foley, a victim of terrorist brutality less than a week ago. And compounding that repulsiveness, Weh plastered the flag of Foley’s murderers on Udall’s face. If there is an award for reprehensible defamation in political advertising, Weh is currently the runaway winner this year – so far.

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Government Bailouts: The Media Is In It For Themselves

In the past few weeks there has been a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill to dump truckloads of cash on ailing industries. Insurance companies, banks and financial services, mortgage lenders, and auto makers are all heading for Washington with their hands out.

But who is the real beneficiary? Keep this in mind when you see news reports in the media discussing the benefits of multi-billion dollar taxpayer funded disbursements to the nation’s biggest corporations:

2007 Advertising Expenditures By Bailout Targets
Company Amount (000’s)
General Motors 3,010
Ford 2,525
Toyota 1,758
Chrysler 1,739
Bank of America 1,491
Nissan Motor 1,407
Honda 1,326
Citigroup 1,135
JPMorgan Chase 1,074
American Express 1,050
Capital One 757
Hyundai 651
Visa 581
Allstate 537
Fidelity 499
MasterCard 489
Progressive 460
Washington Mutual 445
State Farm Mutual 431
Wells Fargo 356
Total: 21,751

That’s right. That’s almost $22 Billion in advertising that would be at risk if these companies were to fail. And this is only from the list of the top 100 advertisers. All told, the total would come to more than $36 billion. That does not include ancillary businesses like home furnishings, hardware, gas and oil, auto parts, accounting services, etc., all of whom are significant advertisers.

Do you think that the media might be somewhat concerned about losing these sources of revenue? Do you think that they might adjust their coverage to make the bailouts more palatable to the public to insure their passage? Do you think the businesses might pressure the media to put on a positive spin under the threat of cutting back on ad budgets?

When you consider how much of the money doled out to the banks, automakers, etc., would eventually end up in the pockets of Big Media, you would think that someone would question whether or not they can fairly present coverage of these issues. At the very least, they ought to disclose their interest so that news consumers can factor that into their conclusions.

The media also has its tentacles around the legislators in Congress who are debating and deciding these matters. So our representatives in Washington are susceptible to pressure from the media if they want to continue to receive favorable coverage. No congressman wants the press battering them every day about how they are responsible for this economic debacle.

Because of the ascendancy of multi-national media monopolies, whose only allegiance is to their bottom line, it is almost impossible to separate the interests of media companies from the corporate culture they promote and the public discourse they control. And they can hardly be depended on to represent the interests of their readers and viewers. Certainly not at the expense of their own interests. So when an issue of public concern is raised, the public has to very careful about who to trust.

Once again, the irrepressible anthem of conspiracy theorists everywhere is the key to assessing these mysteries. Cui Bono – Who Benefits. In this case, clearly the media will enjoy a windfall if American taxpayers bailout our failing industries. That doesn’t mean that the bailouts are bad policy. It just means that if we get our information about this from Big Media, we may not have all the facts with which to make the right call. And if we ever hope to have confidence in what we learn from the press, these media conglomerates will have to be broken up and regulated to insure independence and diversity.

Free For All: The Media’s Gift To Political Advertisers

In the days leading up to the March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island, millions of residents of those states (and of America) saw a now infamous advertisement from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

However, the “Red Phone/3 am” ad was mostly seen by viewers of news programs that broadcast the commercial for free. In effect, the media is providing millions of dollars worth of in-kind contributions to candidates in the name of reporting on the content of their ads.

It didn’t begin with Clinton.

The most famous example of a “free media” bonanza is the Daisy Girl ad for Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign. Today it is one of the most notorious political advertisements in history despite the fact that it actually aired only once in paid media.
During the 2004 Democratic primary, a group called Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values produced an ad showing Osama bin Laden and accusing Howard Dean of not having the experience needed to fight terrorism. They spent only $14,000 to run the ad just 16 times in two small markets. However, it generated four days of attention from national news outlets.
Also in 2004, the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, a front group with funding from Republican partisans, spent less than a half-million dollars to run an ad for one week, in only three states, slandering Democrat John Kerry’s war record. The uproar resulted in more than three weeks of nationally televised rebroadcast and debate.
More recently, Gov. Mike Huckabee orchestrated a press conference where he showed an ad attacking Mitt Romney. He then announced that he had no intention of paying to air the ad. The event was merely a brazen attempt to garner some publicity for a spot without having to actually spend anything on airtime.

These tactics are now a routine part of campaign strategy. Politicians and interest groups know that they can manipulate news providers to do their work for them. Television, in particular, is susceptible due to its ravenous appetite for pre-produced video programming.

So what should be done about it? It would be unwise to implement some sort of legal mandate to regulate how news media cover campaign advertising. It is entirely legitimate to report on the content of political ads, their veracity, and their strategic goals. However, it wouldn’t hurt to apply some journalistic ethics to the editorial judgment. That means assessing the newsworthiness of any piece that includes such ads. Also, there is no need to broadcast them repeatedly to make a point. They know that the campaigns are manipulating them. Why do they let them get away with it?

Here are a couple of other measures editors ought to consider when confronted with this.

  • Don’t bother to report on any ad that has not exceeded a defined threshold of paid impressions. In other words, if the campaign doesn’t make a significant purchase of air time for their own ad, it isn’t news.
  • If the ad is shown it should be confined to a small percentage of the screen with a video watermark over the whole piece labeling it is a campaign ad. This would serve to blunt the promotional value of the airing and focus on the news value.

Implemented voluntarily, this would not infringe on journalistic freedom or civil liberties. Journalists should not allow themselves to be exploited by campaigns or interest groups. They have no obligation to assist in promotional activities. They need only to report what is actually newsworthy. By maintaining a professional detachment they will produce a better product and provide a better service to the public.