RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Cox writes: "This yet-to-be-named, somewhat-regular look at new political ads began with the premise that this election cycle, post Citizens United, promises to be one of the ugliest yet. The idea was to look at the worst of the worst attack ads."

Not just a blimp on the horizon: A Greenpeace ad attacking rightwing industrialists and Super-PAC funders David and Charles Koch. (photo: Gus Ruelas/Greenpeace)
Not just a blimp on the horizon: A Greenpeace ad attacking rightwing industrialists and Super-PAC funders David and Charles Koch. (photo: Gus Ruelas/Greenpeace)

Attack Ads of the Giant Billionaires

By Ana Marie Cox, Guardian UK

14 May 12


The new trope in the 2012 election's negative campaigning is to criticise the other side's shadowy big donors. Plenty of material.

his yet-to-be-named, somewhat-regular look at new political ads began with the premise that this election cycle, post Citizens United, promises to be one of the ugliest yet. The idea was to look at the worst of the worst attack ads. Left unspoken was my assumption that there was a genre of ads that would not require examination.

As we get into the general election season, and politicians can dispense even a dash of leavening intra-party politeness, I wonder if this cycle will see a statistically significant portion of ads that aren't attacks. There are clips that are the equivalent of authorized biographies. There are spots that focus on the solutions to an issue. Or at least, I think there are – please let me know if you find one.

But for the most part, we're stuck in the mud. (Shall we call this series "Stuck in the Mud"? I will consult with the editor.)

Political scientists are divided about the effectiveness of negative ads. Conventional wisdom used to be that voters were turned off by negative campaigning (primarily because they perceive it as dishonest). Then, pundits pointed out that analytic studies of voter attitudes didn't matter as much as who wins – and in recent years, negative campaigns proved to be winning campaigns.

So, maybe, voters only tell pollsters they dislike attack ads, but the ads are effective, nonetheless. One academic researcher has gone so far as to argue that attack ads are a positive contribution to the process, as they are more likely to raise relevant issues (rather than, I suppose, speak in general terms about a candidate's awesomeness).

The fraught relationship between negative campaigning and those that campaign has a more lengthy history than most people realize (the race between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams was a Mobius strip of attack and regret), and it produces ads that fall into a tautological cul-de-sac: attack ads that attack ads. The Obama campaign has been unprecendently pro-active in this arena … (see here, here, and here). Though, perhaps, that's understandable. There were some unprecedented aspects to Obama.

We're in uncharted territory again this cycle with the deregulation of independent expenditures (that phrase probably deserves scare quotes, at least around the word "independent") allowing individual candidates to escape the boomerang of negativity that used to make attack ads risky. We are also kidding ourselves if we think that Super Pacs exist for any other reason besides funding attack ads (and attack mailings and attack spokespeople and, just maybe, attack dogs).

How do you defend against such an attack? Well, we have a new stop in that circular logic: an attack ad that attacks independent attack ads. Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce you to the new villain of the 2012 race: the Shadowy Billionaires (would be a great band name).

Thus far, Obama and Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill have put up ads that directly engage with the Shadowy Billionaires (see here and here). In the wake of Occupy Wall Street and lasting public bitterness about income inequality, it would seem that the only the Democratic party is well poised to use these anonymous antagonists.

We'll see. I suspect that the GOP will point out that the Democrats are stuffing some strawmen with dollars, as well. Republicans will warn us about the Celebrity Billionaires, the We-can't-call-them-gay Billionaires, the New York Elite Billionaires.

And here's the thing: all those guys exist. They do have names and agendas we don't know and they all will trade on the connections they make in donating to Super Pacs. But their emergence as the protagonists of the fall, ironically, could be the most straightforward thing about this entire campaign: it is a race of billionaires v billionaires, and they're all ready to attack us. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+3 # luvdoc 2012-05-14 23:30
The assumption is that the 4 to 5 hrs per day of tube time Mr & Mrs Average "watch' will tweak their minds and block anything resembling critical thinking on the issues.

What if, yes, what if...a few see beyond the media cesspool and discover that the putrid mess the corporatocracy and the congress they own.....stinks? luvdoc
+6 # giraffee2012 2012-05-15 00:58
1. Keep religion out of my government. Your religion is not in the Constitution and is not mine.

Gay is a not to be voted on just as black or Hungarian or Jewish cannot be voted on. IT IS. We don't vote on rights - no matter what YOUR religion tells you in YOUR bible. We are not "one nation under Christianity" and my g-d doesn't give a darn who marries whom --

Stand your ground is now clearly made for "some" white males.

NO matter what Rumney says - he knows zero about foreign anything. His statements about "I believe marriage is for a man and a woman is a big laugh since his religion allows men to have more than ONE WIFE - and the other wives are on welfare collecting food stamps" --- and so are the children of the other wives.

I'm so angry at the GOP/TP that I could write on and on about these issues when I and several of my white collar relatives are still looking for jobs while the government allows H1B visas in to TAKE our jobs from us -- Thanks Bill Gates for lobbying for MORE H1B visas to be issues by Congress (65,000 more / year than the current hundreds of thousands already allowed here while we, the educated in USA, cannot even get an interview -- but if we sign in with an H1B recruiting Web site we can get dozens of interviews -- but when we show up with a US Citizenship ID but no H1B visa - we're denied employment) ---

+2 # humactdoc 2012-05-15 08:20
Then take into account the intended audience, i.e. low information voters who let others think for them.
Also, look at how corporate media entertains the masses which does influence their world view. They have successfully sold and addicted people with a glut of TV programming that concentrates on negativity in our society, specifically crime/legal programs and reality show displays of petty interpersonal conflict.
+2 # Abigail 2012-05-15 08:37
We seem to be losing sight of the reason for the need for obscene amounts of money in elections. The real culprit is the cost of TV advertising. I propose that Congress pass a law that states: All candidates for national office must receive a pre-established amount of TV time from the TV networks. If any candidate(or supporter) buys more time,then an equal amount of time must be given free to all the opposing candidates. By taking the need for obscene amounts of money out of the picture, we have a chance of retaining our democracy.
0 # hkatzman 2012-05-15 10:48
Money does not trump the vote. A corporation does not get a vote (at least not yet). The only way that money trumps a vote is if the voter is influenced by it. What does this say about the American voter?

Today, if you wish to buy a new car, you go to the internet, try to find the model that suits your needs, listen to what the manufacturer says, check the reviews from other buyers, look for a good price, and buy it.

If the American voter uses this same reasoning in our voting, then large sums of money producing attack ads will only influence the media companies that get paid for them. It should be irrelevant to us voters.

Maybe our focus should be on voter education to teach Americans how to analyze the issues and vote accordingly?
+1 # byard pidgeon 2012-05-15 15:05
I think you're being naive about consumer behavior in regard to both cars and candidates.
People go to the web to do research, but I've been told by people who sell cars for a living that for most people, the research is a distant second to the often minor features of the car, such as cup holders.
The Republican primaries demonstrate the same behaviors in voters as in car buyers. It's all about the lizard brain's response to the product.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.