I am sure that you have already heard about the despicable TV ad that Elizabeth Dole aired against Kay Hagan. You probably heard about it online, perhaps on Twitter or FriendFeed or blogs. Here’s a quick selection:
My godless money. Take it or leave it.
The Worst Insult of All?
Thou shalt not bear false witness
NC: Hagan responds to ‘Godless’ ad; Dole’s immigrant bashing
Elizabeth Dole ad falsely suggests opponent Kay Hagan is ‘Godless.’
North Carolina Senate Race Degenerates Into Shouting Match About Atheists
Sen. Liddy Dole (R-NC) attacks Sunday school teacher: ‘There is no God’
Sen. Dole vs. the atheists
With friends like these…
Also, we aren’t tax exempt, so: Vote Obama
You Know Your Senator Is Getting Desparate When…
North Carolina Watch
Don’t you call me an atheist, you
There is No God!
Is Elizabeth Dole Godless?
Elizabeth Dole accuses her opponent of atheism!
Will Elizabeth Dole Ad Have A Subliminal Effect On Young Viewers
Liddy Dole is an asshole
Calling someone an atheist is apparently slander
A pox on them all
Liddy Dole’s Desperate Bigotry
Godless isn’t immoral (a letter to Raleigh News & Observer)
….and many more….
But, if this happened four years ago, you would not have heard about it in the mainstream media. This year, you do:
What changed in four years?
Ari Melber thinks it’s the Web: blogs, social networks, YouTube:
Everyone can hear it now. This Internet-driven, hyperactive presidential race is forcing accountability on two of the oldest tricks in politics: dog whistles and secret smears.
Partisan and muckraking bloggers now fight political operatives’ efforts to keep unseemly attacks below the radar. Take automated “robo” phone calls, which often deploy the sharp attacks that campaigns don’t want exposed in the mass media. Previously, the calls were obscure, rarely drawing major media coverage, let alone sustained criticism. Now they can be recorded, uploaded and dissected in a single news cycle. Sites like TalkingPointsMemo and Daily Kos use crowd-sourcing by readers to track the attacks and pin them squarely on John McCain. Insider political sites, like Ben Smith’s Politico blog, also disseminate the audio recordings to media and political elites, converting a “targeted” message into a mass broadcast. And organized campaigns like the National Political Do Not Call Registry use the web, Twitter and e-mail to track and map every call.
Once exposed, McCain’s robocalls were unpalatable even to his allies in the party and the media, adding another “Hey, Rube” squabble to his already contentious campaign. Republican senators condemned the calls. Fox News’s Chris Wallace pressed McCain on the issue, reminding the senator that he once denounced such tactics. Even Sarah Palin felt compelled to respond to criticism of the campaign’s robocalls, telling reporters that while she did not renounce them, she would prefer to do personal and retail campaigning instead.
All this online activity has been amplified by the rapidly shifting landscape of political television. The increasingly opinionated cable news programs, always in search of conflict and fresh content, now treat debates over these tactics as a major campaign issue. This emphasis is bleeding into the broader campaign discourse, which includes minute dissection of attacks that were once considered unmentionable. A whole range of smears against Obama, for example, have been exposed under the glare of nationally televised debates. Sometimes that process has angered his supporters–as when the ABC News primary debate focused on smears regarding “patriotism” and Islam. In one of the general election debates, CBS moderator Bob Scheiffer was credited for playing a corrective role when he pressed both candidates to answer for attacks from their supporters. That is a stark contrast to the previous two presidential races, when even the most incendiary attacks drew scant calls for accountability at the candidate level.
“Thanks to YouTube–and blogging and instant fact-checking and viral emails– it is getting harder and harder to get away with repeating brazen lies without paying a price, or to run under-the-radar smear campaigns without being exposed,” contends Arianna Huffington, whose website pulses with a constant, two-way debate of news and opinion. “The McCain campaign hasn’t gotten the message,” she added, “hence the blizzard of racist, alarmist, xenophobic, innuendo-laden accusations being splattered at Obama.”
This new media environment undermines political attacks that turn on coded meanings and hidden messages, because now anything can be exposed and cheaply disseminated. Observers used to worry that the web would fragment our media consumption into private little silos–that famous “Daily Me.” Yet in presidential politics, an inverse dynamic is emerging. Small groups of people are using the web to expose the targeted appeals of the analog world, and then injecting them into the mass media for the whole nation to assess. And many voters do not like what they see.
Perhaps Liddy Dole, by airing this TV ad, provoked exactly the kind of storm that, amplified through both the New and Old Media, will lead to a public shift in perception of atheists. If everyone and their grandmother starts talking about it and seeing this ad as despicable – not for tainting Hagan but for denigrating atheists (sorta like what Colin Powell did to the idea that calling someone a Muslim is a smear) – then we as a society have just made another step in the right direction.