This week, the North Carolina Republican Party posted a controversial ad on its website that linked the state's two Democratic gubernatorial candidates with Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama. Both North Carolina Democrats have endorsed Obama, but the ad extended their connections to Obama's controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, has asked the North Carolina Republican Party not to run the ad, but it has thus far refused. Of course, they didn't need to pay to air it: The ad aired almost nonstop nationwide on the cable news networks late in the week. It was viewed online by almost 100,000 people as of late Thursday.
Should the cable networks have aired the ad at all? Methinks not. These are hardly new tactics and the networks should be hip to them by now.
The tactics used to generate publicity for the new North Carolina ad and the now-infamous 1988 presidential campaign Willie Horton ad against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis are quite similar. Producers of both ads held news conferences to "release" them to the media or posted them online before actually paying to run them as commercials. Once released to the media, the producers get much more attention for the ads on news programs than they would if they were aired as paid commercial announcements.
More recently, Brown is promoting a website called exposeobama.com and a new video he says he plans to air in North Carolina and E-mail to millions of conservative voters. The video raises questions about Obama's vote to oppose the death penalty for gang members while he served as an Illinois state senator.
"Starting Tuesday," Time reported, "a group of conservative activists led by Floyd Brown, author of the famous Willie Horton ad used so effectively against Michael Dukakis in 1988, will begin a campaign to tar Obama as weak on crime and terrorism, a strategy that aims to upend Obama's relatively strong reputation among Republican voters."
I spoke with North Carolina GOP Communications Director Brent Woodcox to find out if Floyd Brown was involved in the production of the North Carolina ad. Woodcox told me it was an "in-house ad produced so far as I know by in-house staffers." But he could not categorically deny involvement by outsiders.
In an earlier campaign, Democratic strategist James Carville once said of another Republican political operative, David Bossie, "He made collective fools out of about 80 percent of the national press corps."
Are Brown and the North Carolina GOP using TV and youtube to do the same thing? To run the ad over and over is tantamount to giving free air time to smear machines who may never even have to pay to run the ad. Why haven't the media yet figured this out? And when, if ever, will they?
By Bonnie Erbe