Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Smear By Any Other Name

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.


Anonymous said...

To point out the obvious, you are just one person. So when you say "we stand by our characterization", it behooves you to tell us on what basis you pluralize your statement. Was there a meeting, or is this a dictatorial thing? I have no knowledge of the process of you determining your method of communicating your thought. Ergo, I am entitled to charcterize you as sleazy. And by I, I mean we.

Mike McCabe said...

I was speaking for all of the members of our staff who had a hand in monitoring the interest group activity and publishing our findings. As we worked closely with each other for a long period of time on this undertaking, I can assure you they agree with my statement that "we stand by our characterization."

This is the Democracy Campaign's blog, not my own personal one. As director, I am expected to speak on behalf of the group, and do so frequently. Consequently I post much, though not all, of what you see on this blog.

Anonymous said...

great job Mike, it is hard for a reformer to fight w/ fellow progressives, keep up the great job!

we can only CHANGE America if all sides follow fair rules...

Dave Devereaux-Weber said...

So you know where I'm coming from, I am a WDC supporter, a WEAC supporter, and voted for Evers. I agree with Mike and the WDC staff - I think it is sleazy to Photoshop an opponent's picture and to use vague criticisms.