After issuing our report yesterday on campaign advertising by special interest groups in this spring's elections, we got a fair amount of feedback from people who took sharp exception to our headline characterizing the sponsors of the ads as "smear groups." The report focused primarily on two left-leaning organizations – Greater Wisconsin Committee and Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union.
A smear is obviously in the eye of the beholder, and those on the right rip us every time we use disparaging language to describe attack ads done by right-wing groups and people on the left rip us when we condemn attacks by left-wing groups. People see these ads through their own ideological lens.
I look at WEAC's TV ad in the school superintendent race, for example, and can't help but see it as self-serving, misleading and sleazy. The union even photoshopped a picture of candidate Rose Fernandez to take the smile off her face. Seriously. Watch the ad and compare it to the photo that accompanies this story about the race. It's obviously the same photo but it's been retouched to give Fernandez a dour, rather gruesome expression. To me, that's sleazy.
As for the content of the ad, it says the report cards are in and Tony Evers gets all "A's" while Fernandez gets an incomplete and a couple of "F's." No real evidence is offered to support the conclusion that Evers deserves such grades, and likewise there is the flimsiest justification for the failing marks given to Fernandez.
Sorry, but I think it's neither a stretch nor unfair to label an ad a smear when it makes unsubstantiated claims adulating one candidate and demonizing another, and then stoops to doctoring a picture to make its point.
We stand by our characterization.