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Old 06-30-2008, 12:26 AM   #1
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Political freelancers use Web to join the attack
Outsiders' Internet campaigns are hard to control — or respond to

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....

Cheap software, fast distribution

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....

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.”

Attacks from both wings

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.

Cost to make and send: $50

Mr. Mitchell, 29, said his cash expenses to make and distribute the segment were about $50, a fraction of the roughly $100,000 that it would cost to broadcast a 30-second spot on a television news program with an audience of a few million, like “Meet the Press.” “That’s dirt cheap for an ad,” Mr. Mitchell said.

Mr. Mitchell said he was motivated by what he said were deep-rooted misgivings about Mr. Obama on social issues, his level of experience and background. But it is unlikely any television station would have accepted the video if he had tried to run it.

The segment’s announcer notes that Mr. Obama’s father was Muslim, asserts that the candidate attended a Muslim grammar school in Indonesia for two years, and asks, “When we are at war with Islamic terrorism, can Americans elect a man with not one, not two, but three Islamic names?” One onscreen image shows Mr. Obama’s face morphed with that of Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Mitchell says he sticks close to the factual record, but the video has been widely criticized as over the line. Mr. Obama is a Christian. The school he attended in Indonesia was secular....

Responding to negative attacks

With Web-based attacks proliferating, campaigns are leaving behind the assumption that to respond to highly negative or false accusations is to needlessly publicize them. “It poses a more complicated version of the age-old dilemma that campaigns always find themselves in,” said Phil Singer, who was the press secretary for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign. “Do you address something head on and risk making it a mainstream phenomenon? Or ignore it and risk allowing it to take on a life of its own?”....


For the most part, this isn't about independent thinkers out there with a need to educate the masses, just more agendas/distortions to throw in the 'stew'.

Ridiculous & just more food for the lemmings of the world...

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