Web whacker alert: As the Ebert & Roeper of the still-emerging fine art of online political attack videos, Calbuzz believes that the pallid gnomes laboring away in the campaign media shops of eMeg and The Commish are having entirely too much fun.
The latest You Tube exchange between GOP don’t-invite-ems Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner features nice examples of two very different, but equally effective, dirt-dishing genres: Team Whitman’s offering is a high-concept, full-length (1:28) narrative rip job that bashes the Insurance Commissioner for junketeering to Las Vegas and making exaggerated claims about his record, accompanied by The Who doing “Who Are You?” and highlighted by grainy images of Poizner amusingly framed by yellow crime scene tape.
Stevie Wonder’s posse by contrast checks in with a spare, minimalist (0:28) design noir approach that uses as its central image a blurry video of a Y2K-era Billy Bass singing fish – neo-post ironic cultural iconic chic! – belting out “I Will Survive” in front of headlines that proclaim eMeg’s enduring love affair with the Delta smelt.
We love the smell of napalm in the morning.
The truth about bullshit: It goes without saying, of course, that the audience for these things is small – if select and influential (we name no names). But web whackers nonetheless are significant, both as off-Broadway sneak peaks of themes that may be later recycled in actual, obscenely expensive TV campaigns, and as hints to the level of credibility the candidates believe it’s necessary to meet in their abiding efforts to kneecap the other guy.
Production values aside, what we find praiseworthy about these new web ads is that the Whitman and Poizner camps both e-blasted memos citing the third-party sources that support their attacks. Because your Calbuzzards were pioneers (We walked to school – uphill – through six feet of snow – barefoot!) of what has come to be called “the truth box,” the standing feature graphic by which the MSM deconstructs and factually checks claims made in campaign ads, we applaud these responsible exercises in assertion attribution.
Given that, the latest round of online fusillades raises several key points:
1-Memo to flacks: In the future please include in your fact sheets the title, artist and recording date of all music used in ads. We’re old, have two good ears between us and don’t have time to hang out on Lime Wire.
2-The meat of the toughest claims in both ads is drawn from the reporting of Ken McLaughlin of the Murky News, who appears to be the only guy in California doing any useful work. In several pieces packed with Actual Reporting, McLaughlin has not only revealed the squishy, tree hugging beneficiaries that Smokestack Meg selected for the largesse of her charitable foundation, but also bitch slapped Poizner for inflating and enlarging his record and role in delivering savings to consumers and taxpayers. Hello? Is anyone else playing the game or are you gonna let Ken just keep running round and round the track by himself?
3-Whitman’s web hit includes a number of faux headlines, most of them quoting language lifted directly from the Merc story. However, the toughest punch is a hed that screams “Steve Poizner Caught Lying” which is from a different source altogether.
And that one raises some interesting questions.
Whom do you trust? In Whitman’s ad, the “lying” headline is attributed on screen to “California Political Blog.” That phrase is written in bold-faced letters over a smaller, plain type face underline that reads “Orange Juice Blog 11/15/09.”
Orange Juice Blog is a venerable (2003) site that promotes itself as “Orange County’s top political blog.” It’s run by a fellow named Art Pedroza who’s been in and around the OC’s Beirut-style politics for years, variously as an advocate, candidate, consultant, public official and Republican operative.
A stroll through the site shows a strong, hyper-local focus on Orange County – “Al Amezcua and Dennis DeSnoo joined forces to oust AUHSD Trustee Harald Martin” – in-your-face heds – “Republican Ed Perez incoherently babbles about Lorri Galloway” – plus funny photos of political enemies pictured with cat whiskers or above captions that say things like “Colonic extraction was deemed necessary to save the patient.”
There’s also evidence of feuds with other conservative bloggers and blogs, like Flashreport and Red State, as well as utter disdain for Steve Poizner:
Poizner is the Republican Party’s Phil Angelides. A rich, funny-looking guy with an odd last name. He may prevail in the primary – but he will be toast in the general election.
In other words, it’s your run-of-the-mill, highly-opinionated, irreverent, score-settling, rip-your-face-off, stick-it-in-and-twist-it political web site with agendas that may or may not be completely transparent. Fair enough, but one thing Orange Juice is not is a take-it-to-the-bank source of journalistically-based information about the California governor’s race.
As noted above, Whitman in her ad attributes the “Steve Poizner Caught Lying” headline to Orange Juice Blog only as a secondary source, underneath a cite line that reads “California Political Blog.” On the Orange Juice site, the original hed (“GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner caught lying”) was splashed atop a brief anti-Poizner rant that introduced excerpts from McLaughlin’s carefully written and balanced piece (which the blog attributed to “The San Jose Mercury Bee”).
While the OJ post falls obviously and fully within the bounds of fair comment on the story, it raises an intriguing question for the truth box patrols: Who validates third-party validators?
Questions without answers: Put another way, does the “lying” headline meet the basic standard and level of credibility worthy of use by a major candidate campaigning for the highest office in California? In other words, does the singular fact that something is published on a web site, any web site, qualify that information to be employed by a serious contender leveling a serious charge in a big statewide race?
If it is, what is to prevent candidates from using campaign cut-outs, perhaps clad in pajamas and tin foil hats, from posting all manner of web-based vitriol beneath all manner of screamer headlines, and then featuring those posts in TV attack ads as evidence that neutral parties think ill thoughts about their rival?
Is it acceptable political practice to use some neutral, official sounding name, like “California Political Blog,” as a beard for partisan sources? How will truth-box referees analyze the quality of the information behind such allegations, or determine the motives and agendas of the allegators? At what point do we throw a penalty flag when the original source of charges is something like the Breitbart/Newsmax/Drudge re-validation crapchurn loop? Where, exactly, is the line to be drawn? Or is the very notion of a line self-incriminating evidence of discredited MSM-style thinking?
As Roseanne Roseannadanna famously said, “You sure do ask a lot of stupid questions.”
In fact, reflecting on these matters gave Calbuzz a major headache (which didn’t get better when we asked the Whitman campaign about the issue, and the volcanic Sarah Pompei offered this lavamoric answer: “We might even consider using Calbuzz.” Walked right into that one).
At first we thought, well, third party validators should only be considered credible if they have some proven form of journalistic cred. And then we thought, oh no, Calbuzz, that can’t be right: as hip, black jeans-wearing New Media guys, we fiercely oppose all forms of institutionally credentialed gatekeeper journalism.
Which left us with three basic conclusions:
1-The whole concept of third-party journalistic validation is being rapidly devalued by the unlicensed, uncredentialed, unapproved, unruly Internets.
3-Never forget the ABC Rule: Always Believe Calbuzz.