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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Campaign Killers: Why Do Negative Ads Work?
Aired November 28, 2007 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, HOST (voice-over): This is a political attack in the making. Guerrilla warriors on a changing battlefield. They use weapons like ridicule.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I invaded two countries, broke the Geneva Convention.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For racial quotas, Harvey Gantt.
BROWN: And fear.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence operations.
BROWN: It doesn't matter if it's deceptive. What matters is that it works.
BROWN: Remember that infamous Willie Horton ad or how about the controversial daisy ad against Barry Goldwater? I'm Campbell Brown. Those ads and others like them can sink a campaign and some argue turn American voters off the political process altogether.
But if you think you're going to get a free pass from all the negativity this primary season, well, forget it. We live in what some political observers call the golden age of mudslinging. We've got two front-runners, Hillary and Rudy, who are especially divisive figures. So get ready. The mud bath is about to begin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I served with John Kerry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I served with John Kerry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.
BROWN (voice-over): It was a minor ad buy in just seven inexpensive media markets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Swift boat. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Swift boat.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That swift boat...
BROWN: But it became the dominant news story of the 2004 campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry lied.
BROWN: The attack didn't come from a campaign but rather a group of Vietnam vets attacking the candidate who had billed himself as a war hero.
STEPHANIE CUTTER, KERRY '04 COMMUNICATIONS DIR.: When I first saw the ads, I thought, this is crazy. There's no way that these accusations are going to hold up.
BROWN: Stephanie Cutter was John Kerry's communications director.
CUTTER: The old rule of crisis communications is that you don't respond to an attack, otherwise you elevate it.
BROWN: It took two weeks for Kerry to speak out.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), 2004 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're not telling the truth. They're a front for a Bush campaign.
BROWN: But by then the damage was done. CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: People figured, well, if he's not answering the ads, the charges, they must be true.
BROWN: What was especially troubling to some was that Naval records and eyewitness accounts by other sailors contradicted just about every claim the swift boat vets made. But it didn't seem to matter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ad was misleading.
BROWN: John Gere (ph) is a political scientist from Vanderbilt University.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real problem with the swift boat ad isn't the content of the ad, per se, it's the fact -- the attention the news media gave it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They served their country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It actually got more attention than the Iraq War. That strikes me as a problem because the Iraq War was the big issue in 2004. Swift boat wasn't.
BROWN: Yet the swift boat ad may well have been the lethal blow to Kerry's campaign. The attack has even added a new term to the political lexicon, swift-boating a candidate. It also demonstrated the power of independent groups, the damage they can do while allowing the candidate they support to claim innocence.
KEN MEHLMAN, BUSH '04 CAMPAIGN DIR.: There is absolutely no connection between the Bush campaign and this organization.
BROWN: President Bush has had his own taste of the power of independent organizations. When he was governor, the NAACP ran this ad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On June 7th, 1998, in Texas, my father was killed.
BROWN: The daughter of murder victim James Byrd lashes out at Bush for his opposition to hate crimes legislation. Byrd, an African- American, was chained to a truck and dragged to his death.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.
BROWN: To many, it was race-baiting, a shocking ad that crossed a line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again.
BROWN: Well, where is the line today, and does it even exist? It sure doesn't seem like it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, sexy.
BROWN: Just take a look at this attack against Michael Arcuri, running for congress from New York.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A phone number to an adult fantasy hotline appeared on Michael Arcuri's New York City hotel room bill while he was there on official business, and the called was charged to Oneida County taxpayers.
BROWN: It is a total extortion. What really happened, one of the candidate's colleagues had tried to call the state criminal justice division which had a number almost identical to a porn line, a misdial. It cost the taxpayers $1.25.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I met Harold at the Playboy party.
BROWN: So why doesn't someone stand up and say, enough? Well, for one thing, a good negative ad gets a lot of attention.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You may go with a negative ad simply because you know the news media may cover it and give you extra pop, so to speak, in your advertising dollar because all of the sudden it gets communicated to a lot more homes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does he not want you to know? BROWN: And negative ads work.
MARK MCKINNON, FMR. MEDIA ADVISER, GEORGE W. BUSH: They work all the time. They've worked in the beginning. They've worked in the middle. And they've worked in the end. And they're going to continue to work.
BROWN: Mark McKinnon ran George Bush's ad campaign in 2004 and is working now with Republican John McCain.
(on camera): In every poll, whenever you ask people, they say, we hate negative ads, but they're effective. Like how do you explain that discrepancy?
MCKINNON: You know, Campbell, I hear that every cycle, you know, that people are fed up with negative advertising. But the fact is that while they say that, it motivates them, it moves them, it persuades them, it compels them.
BROWN (voice-over): And that's why the first swift-boating attempt of 2008 has already been launched.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's running on his 9/11 leadership, and it was lacking, and there was none.
BROWN: The firefighters union is going after "America's mayor," Rudy Giuliani, on his supposed strength. Their video, called "Urban Legend," was launched on YouTube. It blames Giuliani for defective radios some firefighters had at Ground Zero.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A 1994 report confirmed the radios didn't work, and Mayor Giuliani knew it.
JIM RICHES, DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF, FDNY: People saw him on TV and projected him as a hero, and he's not a hero. I mean, what did he do? He politicized 9/11. He has profited off 9/11 to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
BROWN: Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches' son, Jimmy, also a firefighter, died on 9/11. Riches believes many of the firefighters died needlessly that day.
(on camera): Is it fair to place blame for that solely on the mayor?
RICHES: Sure, the mayor's job was to get us proper equipment.
BROWN (voice-over): The ad monitor, factcheck.org, calls the firemen's DVD misleading, pointing to the 9/11 Commission which found the failure of radios was a contributing factor but not the primary cause of the many firefighter fatalities.
Unlike John Kerry, Giuliani struck back immediately.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People know what I did on September 11th. They can judge it for themselves. I was there. I led from the front, not from the back.
BROWN: Jimmy Riches doesn't buy it.
GIULIANI: We're going that way?
RICHES: We're going to go around. We're going to do town hall meetings throughout New Hampshire, Iowa, and we're going to follow Rudy Giuliani around and we're going to let the word out because New York knows what Rudy is like.
BROWN: A battle-scarred veteran of the real swift boat attack says if Giuliani thinks he has got nothing to worry about, think again.
CUTTER: I guarantee you that it's going to come back in the general election and that destroys the entire narrative of why he's running for president. So I guarantee you we're going to see more of that.
BROWN: When we come back, they are only one of the guerrilla groups out there ready for battle. The liberal moveon.org.
BROWN (voice-over): General David Petraeus made his reputation taking on insurgents in Iraq. But when he came to Capitol Hill in September, he was confronted by American insurgents, a liberal anti- war group called moveon.org. MoveOn bought this full-page ad in The New York Times. It accused Petraeus of betraying us by cooking the books on progress in Iraq.
MoveOn's executive director, Eli Pariser.
ELI PARISER, EXECUTIVE DIR., MOVEON.ORG: The goal was not to necessarily persuade, you know, lots of voters, it was to get the ad talked about and get that critique of what the general was saying, talked about.
BROWN: But what the general said on Iraq was overshadowed by what MoveOn said about the general.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought the ad was disgusting.
BROWN: The ad became a huge news story because it questioned the loyalty of a wartime commander, implying he was a traitor.
BUSH: I felt like the ad was an attack not only on General Petraeus, but on the U.S. military.
BROWN: Many Democrats, too, were embarrassed by the ad and distanced themselves from MoveOn, the left wing of their own party. SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: I hope we all condemn the ad in The New York Times.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: An unwarranted personal attack on General Petraeus.
LEVIN: I thought it was a disgraceful ad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not OK.
BROWN: But as congressional Republicans engineered landslide votes to condemn MoveOn, the organization says its anti-war membership was sending in cash, $1.5 million.
MoveOn made no apologies.
PARISER: Sometimes you have to just lay the issues out in very clear, stark terms and fight the fight.
BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will answer each question as accurately and fully as I can.
BROWN: Moveon.org got its start in 1998 when President Clinton was facing impeachment for lying under oath about Monica Lewinsky. With the goal of defending Clinton, two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs harnessed the power of the Internet.
PARISER: They put up a little petition on their Web site that said "censure and move on." And never anticipated it being an organization that would stick around, but, you know, here we are.
BROWN: With 3.3 million members, you might think MoveOn would have better digs. But this is headquarters, Pariser's Brooklyn apartment.
(on camera): You're 26 years old, and there are people who would argue you are one of the most powerful people in Democratic politics right now.
Come on. You've got to have some sort of reaction to that.
PARISER: Well, you know, I mean, for me, it's not about this role, and it's not about me. It's about our members.
BROWN (voice-over): And no office space necessary because members join online stay in touch online and contribute online. An average of $47 per member, money that funds hard-hitting, often controversial attacks.
MCKINNON: One of the best things the Republicans have going for them.
BROWN: Republicans are gleeful over what they see as MoveOn's extremism.
MCKINNON: We're all for moveon.org, God bless you. God bless you. Bring it on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What it has turned into is an organization that's run by the people in the choir.
BROWN: Even liberals like political consultant Bill Hillsman (ph) worry that MoveOn can alienate swing voters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I have told my candidates is that MoveOn can be as much of a harm as do you good.
BROWN: For example, when President Bush ran for re-election in 2004, MoveOn organized a contest called "Bush in 30 seconds." Members would submit their own ads...
PARISER: And we'll run the one that wins.
BROWN: Two of the 1,500 ads compared Bush to Hitler. It was way below the belt. And Republicans went ballistic.
ED GILLESPIE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN: It's not appropriate political discourse. Every one of the Democratic candidates running for president today should repudiate this.
BROWN: MoveOn apologized, and it was score one for the Republicans. As the contest continued, an ad called "Child's Pay" was voted number one. It depicted a future generation working to pay off what the ad called Bush's deficit. But when MoveOn tried to buy time for the ad during the Super Bowl, CBS pointed to its policy against advocacy ads and said no.
(on camera): But it became a huge news story.
PARISER: It was a huge story.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: CBS is refusing to air an ad during the Super Bowl.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In that situation what happens is everybody wants to see that commercial then.
BEGALA: The ad shows children working manual labor as a way of paying off President Bush's trillion dollar debt.
BROWN (voice-over): This time, score one for moveon.org.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman Chocola has been caught red- handed protecting oil company profits.
BROWN: Two years later in the 2006 midterm election, MoveOn spent $27 million.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Caught red-handed again.
BROWN: And attacked Republicans by trying to link them to the left's favorite villains.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, Jack Abramoff, and now Nancy Johnson, another Republican caught red-handed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MoveOn was very insightful and strategic in picking districts.
BROWN: Political consultant John Lap (ph) also worked that year to elect House Democrats. Lap says he's the new breed of Democratic consultant.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Simmons has taken nearly $200,000 from the pharmaceutical industry.
BROWN: Like MoveOn, he favors hitting hard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to use every single weapon I have in my quiver.
BROWN: Lap likes to compare himself to "The Untouchables" taking down Al Capone.
SEAN CONNERY, ACTOR: He pulls a knife, you pull a gun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You send one of ours to the hospital, I send one of yours to the morgue.
CONNERY: That's the Chicago way.
BROWN: It seemed to help in 2006 when the Democrats took control of Congress. But in 2008, the stakes are higher, and MoveOn says it will spend as much as $45 million to put a Democrat in the White House.
MCKINNON: I remember the same feeling among Republicans in the late '90s. They've been in the desert for a long time. You get thirsty. You know? And that's what's happening on the Democratic side. They've been in the desert, and they want water.
BROWN: When we come back, campaign killers on the right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I'm really excited about the Hillary show.
JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Joe Johns. "BROKEN GOVERNMENT: Campaign Killers" continues in a moment. First, what's "Now in the News."
The talks are over, now it's time for action. The Mideast summit ended today. Appearing with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, President Bush called the two-day conference a hopeful beginning. Both sides say they'll try to reach a peace deal by the end of next year.
Out of Florida tonight, new details in the murder of Sean Taylor. The star NFL player was shot to death during what authorities now call a random burglary. While they say they are pursuing several leads, police are asking the public for help.
In Las Vegas, a big court day for O.J. Simpson. He pleaded not guilty to charges connected to the alleged armed robbery at a hotel in September. Simpson and two others are accused of holding up two memorabilia dealers. The trial begins in April.
Back to "BROKEN GOVERNMENT: Campaign Killers" in just a minute.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We started off with all these possibilities.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole idea is to get the audience engaged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because to me the key is...
BROWN (voice-over): In Houston, Texas, far from any campaign headquarters...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Challenge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Challenged and you're up.
BROWN: ... a small group is plotting...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, we could come up with whatever we wanted.
BROWN: ... arming themselves for a big war of words...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you get after you whack the guy?
BROWN: ... using an unconventional weapon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary Clinton! Yeaaagh!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our message of humor and satire will be much more important than having to buy some negative ad.
BROWN: Richard Collins (ph) is a Texan, a Republican and a millionaire who has found his calling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not being balanced.
BROWN: Collins says he spent half a million dollars. His goal is to raise $3 million more in 2008 he hopes from the same people who funded the swift boat attacks. All of that money supporting his pet project, Stop Her Now, a Web-based weekly cartoon and blog that lambastes and lampoons the Democratic front-runner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Her name is Hill, she fills her till with dirty bills.
BROWN: Without the membership or the money of moveon.org, on the right, it's smaller fringe groups like this one that are forming the ranks of Hillary-hunters.
(on camera): This can't be cheap to do.
(voice-over): We went behind the scenes as they drew up their latest battle plan.
(on camera): So are you kind of always on the lookout, I guess, for ideas?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we've got about eight or nine guys that are on the lookout for ideas. And recently a story went out that, you know, when Hillary was at the AFL-CIO convention...
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So if you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I'm your girl.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got a cartoon out about 48 hours where Hillary said, in front of the audience, that I'm your girl. And out front we have Bill with his arm around a babe, and he says, "honey, will you be my girl?"
BROWN: With the exception of Chelsea Clinton, there's very little off limits.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've had enough of you.
BROWN (on camera): "We've blogged about her. Even a cursory review of her time in the White House reinforces the truth that not only is Hillary a big-government liberal but an arrogant and a vicious one." That's pretty mean-spirited. You're calling her vicious.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, she's a very tough woman.
BROWN: So how can you argue that it's all good sort of fun and satire?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the site has several features to it. But, you know, politics is a tough business. We try not to do it in a mean-spirited way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our next guest is loved by millions.
BROWN (voice-over): Collins believes humor can be an effective tool, and history shows he might be right. Just ask Mark McKinnon...
MCKINNON: It worked because people laughed about it.
BROWN: ... chief media adviser for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In which direction would John Kerry lead? Kerry voted for the Iraq War. Opposed it. MCKINNON: We saw that footage of him windsurfing, and we knew we had something magic. I literally heard "Blue Danube" in my head, da- da-da-da-da-da-da. You know, it just was like, boom, the voters see that and they laugh. And anytime you can get people laughing at your opponent, that's a good thing.
BROWN: Humor was also the weapon of choice for conservative David Bossie (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Priceless.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we didn't use humor and we were just attacking John Kerry on being a rich guy, it doesn't necessarily carry any water.
BROWN: Bossie has been called one of the best dirty tricksters in the business. Many mainstream Republicans have denounced his tactics, but he has drawn blood. For decades, he has had his sights trained squarely on the Clintons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All while Bill Clinton was president.
BROWN: Challenging Bill Clinton's record on terrorism and on Whitewater, he was also the spokesman for a group that released a notorious ad called "Run and Hide." Though Bossie says he had nothing to do with actually creating the ad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: what really happened between Bill Clinton and Gennifer Flowers?
BROWN: It was considered such a low blow that even Clinton's opponent at the time, then-President George H.W. Bush, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 41ST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will do whatever we can to stop any filthy campaign tactics.
BROWN: Today Bossie is once again focused on a Clinton, this time Hillary.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to take a very close look at her.
BROWN: He's now head of Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group with, according to Bossie, half a million members and about $16 million. His first attack will be a documentary called "Hillary: The Movie."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We tell these stories as best we can.
BROWN: His goal is to release the movie before the primaries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My job, I look at it, is to educate the American people about Hillary Clinton.
BROWN: Like his fellow Hillary-hunters at Stop Her Now, Bossie is always on the lookout for that perfect usable moment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that you saw recently, you know, she did a round of interviews on the Sunday shows, and she gave that now famous cackle. People were referring to it as the Howard Dean moment where Howard Dean kind of did that yee-haw!
HOWARD DEAN (D), 2004 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yeaagh!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not presidential, and that's part of what you need to look for.
BROWN: Mainstream Republicans may distance themselves from Bossie and Collins, but they are painfully aware that they don't have a true counter to the powerful moveon.org. So now some of the more traditional faces of the GOP are trying to level the playing field.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We needed a conservative voice, a right of center voice in the war in Iraq and the global war on terror.
BROWN: Brad Blakeman (ph) is a graduate of the Bush White House and runs Freedom's Watch. It has deep pockets, enormous funding from wealthy conservatives, but a relatively small membership. They've already launched ads to try to counter MoveOn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Moveon.org is losing their battle because...
BROWN: And they plan to train their guns on any candidate who gets in their way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not wallflowers, right, and we're going to come out swinging when we have to.
BROWN: It's too early to tell with whether it will be Freedom's Watch or the fringe militias who will score the most direct hits in this campaign season. Bossie and Collins both argue if they take the enemy down, no Republican is going to complain.
(on camera): How far are you willing to take this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're going to take it all the way.
BROWN: Coming up, the ad that brought down a candidate.
MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D), 1988 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The thing that hurt was the Willie Horton stuff.
BROWN: As today's candidates gear up for battle, they are haunted by ghosts from campaigns past. You'll remember them. They were vicious attacks that wounded some candidates so badly they never recovered. We now head down memory lane to take a look at the giants in the art of attack.
BROWN (voice-over): Summer 1988, the end of the Reagan era and the beginning of a war for the presidency. The Democratic candidate, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.
GOV. MICHAEL DUKAKIS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I felt good about my primary victory, that it had been positive, that we hadn't engaged in that kind of stuff. And I made a basic judgment that that's what we were going to do in the final no matter what came at me from the other side.
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Dukakis was 17 points ahead. The Republicans had to do something to bring them down.
FLOYD BROWN, POLITICAL AD PRODUCER: I was hired by a political action committee called Americans for Bush, and they asked me to craft some ads for them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush and Dukakis on crime.
BROWN: Republican Floyd Brown created one of the most devastating attacks of all time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison. One was Willie Horton who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times. Despite a life sentence, Horton received ten weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend.
F. BROWN: We could see, through the nightly tracking poll --
BROWN (on camera): The numbers changed. Just after that ad hit the airwaves?
F. BROWN: Yes.
BROWN: What were you thinking at the time as you were watching that development?
F. BROWN: Yahoo!
DUKAKIS: It was a racist ad, no question about. This image of a black guy going after a white woman. And for George Bush and the people around him to use it I think was pretty outrageous and pretty despicable.
SCHNEIDER: To Democrats, it's a synonym for a scurrilous, reprehensible attack. But for Republicans and for a lot of people, the Willie Horton ad was an effective ad. It worked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush and Dukakis on crime.
BROWN: As soon as the ad aired, the news media picked up the story.
DUKAKIS: And I just made a dumb decision that I wasn't going to respond to the attack campaign. And by the time I realized what was going on, we had essentially lost it.
BROWN: And the Bush camp seized the momentum and went for the kill.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He let convicted first-degree murderers out on weekend passes.
BROWN: They attacked Dukakis on crime.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His revolving door prison policy gave weekend furloughs to first-degree murderers not eligible for parole.
BROWN: On his environmental record.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a candidate, Michael Dukakis called Boston Harbor an open sewer. As governor, he had the opportunity to do something about it, but chose not to.
BROWN: And finally on his ability to lead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Dukakis has opposed virtually every defense system we've developed. And now he wants to be our commander in chief. America can't afford that risk.
DAVID SCHWARTZ, MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE: Outright lies or clever misrepresentations.
BROWN: David Schwartz is chief curator at the Museum of the Moving Image and has studied campaign ads through the years.
SCHWARTZ: Well, the way that they got away with it was because Dukakis didn't respond quickly or aggressively enough, that he thought that the voters would see through this, and they didn't.
BROWN: Experts say Dukakis ignored the basic rules of campaign combat. When attacked, attack back. Don't let them turn a positive, for example, his environmental record, into a negative. And always, always remember any picture can come back to haunt you. Tried and true strategies that have been used for centuries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Thomas Jefferson is elected president, murder, robbery, rape and incest will be openly taught and practiced.
BROWN: These words were taken from campaign handouts used against Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 presidential race. The dramatization is used by Mark McKinnon, formerly President Bush's media adviser, in a class he teaches on the history of ads.
(on camera): And that was the actual language, rape, robbery, murder, incest.
MARK MCKINNON, FMR. BUSH MEDIA ADVISER: That's right. That's right from the actual pamphlets that they produced back then and distributed, and pretty brutal stuff.
BROWN: It was nasty in the good old days. MCKINNON: Nasty, nasty, nasty. Yes, really tough.
BROWN: Of course, Jefferson fought back and won.
BROWN: Everything changed in the 1960s when TV entered the picture and extended the power and the reach of attacks. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson ran this famous ad against Barry Goldwater.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero.
These are the stakes.
MCKINNON: Vote or die.
MCKINNON: Yes. Yes, I mean, he's basically saying, you elect my opponent, he's going to blow up the world.
SCHWARTZ: People were worried about nuclear war, and they just didn't know enough about Goldwater. So the ads raised enough concern.
BROWN: Fast forward now to 2004, when technology once again changed the battlefield.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you have any question about what John Kerry's made of --
BROWN: Swift Boat's power was magnified by the nonstop play it got on the Internet, blogs and 24-hour cable news.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- for that injury.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry lied to get his bronze star. I know. I was there. I saw what happened.
BROWN: There was plenty of evidence to contradict the ad, but it didn't matter. The charges seemed to stick.
MCKINNON: I knew it was going to have a huge impact, and the only surprise was that the Kerry campaign didn't respond quicker.
STEPHANIE CUTTER, KERRY CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: In retrospect, we probably should have had him respond earlier. And there was much debate about that in the campaign.
BROWN: Stephanie Cutter, Kerry's communications director --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Navy documented John Kerry's heroism --
BROWN: Says the campaign did put out a response to the attack.
VANESSA KERRY, KERRY-EDWARDS 2004: Which wound do you want to see? Which scar do you need to see to prove --
BROWN: But that they underestimated the power of the new media environment.
CUTTER: We didn't understand at that point the power of right wing blogs, how that seeps over to Fox News, gets covered by the mainstream media, and seeps out into the general public. By the time you're responding to an attack like that, the damage is already done.
DUKAKIS: When something like that happens, you've got to put responsibility for it squarely in the lap of your opponent.
We go through these cycles over and over again.
BROWN: From the man who made his share of mistakes, some words of advice for surviving the attacks to come.
DUKAKIS: Any candidate who is running for the presidency of the United States, particularly on the Democratic side, has got to expect them. They're going to be coming. They already are.
BROWN: Coming up, the anatomy of an attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tighter you go on someone's face, cropping out the context, slowing down video, usually the more unattractive most of us look.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BILL HILLSMAN, POLITICAL AD PRODUCER: Hey, everybody. I'm in an edit studio.
Maybe. Probably not.
Take number 52.
I like that one.
BROWN: Bill Hillsman is known in political advertising --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Engineer, why is the Big Dig 12 billion dollars over budget?
BROWN: For using a few words --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see --
BROWN: -- to make a big point.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, how did the Big Dig get 12 billion dollars over budget?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simply put --
HILLSMAN: If we were talking about this in marketing terms, we would represent challenger brands.
BROWN: A self-described independent progressive from Minneapolis, Hillsman likes to work for the underdog. He turned former TV wrestler Jesse Ventura -- he's the one with the chair -- into the thinking man's candidate for Minnesota governor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A man who will fight to return Minnesota's budget surplus to the tax payers and who will work to improve public schools by reducing class sizes.
BROWN: Hillsman believes fair-minded attacks -- he calls them contrast ads -- help voters understand the difference between candidates.
HILLSMAN: It might be too subtle.
If it's presenting a fair picture, it's a plus to the political discourse.
BROWN: It's the deceptive slash and burn attacks that he believes are hurting the political system, a time-honored tradition from both parties.
HILLSMAN: As Lyndon Johnson used to famously say, when he was about to make a spurious allegation about an opponent, make the bastard deny it.
BROWN: A vicious attack will start with opposition research, even rumors and gossip. And if there's not enough mud to sling, a political alchemist creates it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 2008.
BROWN: Hillsman showed us how using the presidential front- runners.
HILLSMAN: Look, you can make a poll say anything.
BROWN: For example, in June the "Washington Post" asked likely Republican voters who is the strongest leader? Fifty five percent said Rudy Giuliani, more than John McCain and Mitt Romney combined.
HILLSMAN: If Giuliani is rated 55 percent as the strongest leader, you could say that 45 percent of Americans don't believe Rudy Giuliani is a strong leader. It's taking the data totally out of context.
BROWN: In September, the poll asked likely Democratic voters which candidate best represents the core values of the Democratic party? Fifty percent said Hillary Clinton. HILLSMAN: The truth of this statistic is that Hillary's basically twice as good on this particular measuring stick as any of these other guys. But the way you can take it out of context and twist it is to say only half of Democrats really think Hillary Clinton respects or reflects the values of the Democratic party.
BROWN: By law, TV stations cannot refuse ads from candidates for federal office. So unlike commercial advertising, no one is protecting the public.
SCHNEIDER: In the world of commercial advertising, if you make a false claim, you can be sued. There's something called a Federal Trade Commission that can slap you with a fine for saying something that's false or unprovable. In politics, free speech. You can say anything you want.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes.
BROWN: Broadcasters can reject ads from outside advocacy groups if the claims are not documented. But is that enough of a safe guard?
HILLSMAN: The stations are inundated with this type of advertising. And if they had to devote the resources to checking out every single claim in all of these ads, they'd never get anything done besides this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Hillary Clinton!
BROWN: Political ads that distort the facts use visuals to match. To make your opponent look bad, drain the color. Or better yet, slow motion. It gives a sinister feel.
HILLSMAN: The editor controls everything. Everybody out there, the editor controls everything. The camera angle comes into play here. When you shoot people from a little bit lower, they look more heroic. It's too positive. I think this is actually a very strong photograph of Giuliani for a positive ad.
BROWN: The photo was taken at the funeral of a marine killed in Iraq.
BROWN: If you can put this photo in that context, it's brilliant because he looks angry. He looks determined. And that's exactly what Americans would be looking for.
BROWN: But crop the photo and it changes.
HILLSMAN: The tighter you go on someone's face, usually the more unattractive most of us look.
BROWN: Those who know the game say the really nasty ads will pop up late in the primaries and in the general election. But just remember, what's said in the positive ads isn't necessarily true either.
HILLSMAN: It's all caveat emptor. It's all buyer beware. It's voter beware.
BROWN: When we come back, attacks from cyber-space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: November 2008.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: -- help you and other people who are hardworking like you. And I've really been impressed.
BROWN: It was an attack that sent shock waves through the political world, a slickly produced ad portraying Hillary Clinton as Big Brother. Its ultimate message, Vote Obama.
MCKINNON: That's one of the best ads I've ever seen.
BROWN: But this was a very different kind of attack ad. It was made by someone known only as ParkRidge47, Clinton's hometown and the year she was born. And it was created for and distributed on the Internet.
CLINTON: This is a new era of campaigning.
BROWN: The Clinton campaign shrugged off the anonymous attack. But who was behind it? The Obama campaign said not us.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Given what it looks like, we don't have the technical capacity to create something like that.
BROWN: The hunt was on to see who had created it. Fingers were pointed, including at our expert in Minnesota, Bill Hillsman.
HILLSMAN: I spent, like, 36 hours saying, first of all, what is it; and second of all, no, we didn't do it.
BROWN: Meet ParkRidge47, Phil Devalese (ph).
PHIL DEVALESE, PARKRIDGE47: I was actually kind of bored watching the presidential race from the sidelines. And I was a real supporter and fan of Barack Obama, and I wanted to make a statement.
BROWN: How did you do it physically?
DEVALESE: I did right here on this laptop.
BROWN: I mean, that's all it took, you and your laptop?
DEVALESE: Yes, that's all it took.
BROWN: Devalese posted his video on Youtube and sent out anonymous links to some key political blogs. From there, it took off like a virus from person to person to person.
DEVALESE: Where the first day it maybe got a few thousand views, and tens of thousands, and it went all the way up to a few million.
BROWN: Devalese makes political ads for a living; and he worked for a company that had been hired by the Obama campaign when he made his video. All parties say Devalese acted on his own. But he did leave his job after he revealed his identity and is now with a company working for presidential candidate Bill Richardson. Regardless, the Hillary 1984 ad marked a turning point; the Internet is leveling the political playing field.
CLINTON: Hard working, patriotic --
BROWN: We are sitting in this coffee shop; people have got their laptops out everywhere you look. Anyone in here could be making an ad ultimately that may change the outcome of the presidential campaign.
DEVALESE: I mean, it's fascinating. The barriers to entry are very low right now. Anybody who has a good idea and has some skills can make a great ad.
BROWN: Even the pros agree. Mark McKinnon, a Republican political consultant --
MCKINNON: The impact that it has on us is that we've lost control. It used to be that we could control our message and control the political messages out there. Now it's just out there Wild West.
JEFFREY COLE, CENTER FOR THE DIGITAL FUTURE: The Internet changes the rules of everything.
BROWN: Jeffrey Cole is the director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC.
COLE: The real long-term effect is empowerment. We found, after the 2004 presidential election, 40 percent of Internet users thought they were gaining power online.
BROWN: We've already seen that power in action.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: There is a rising controversy tonight over a comment made by Senator George Allen of Virginia.
BROWN: In 2006, Allen used the controversial word --
FMR. SEN. GEORGE ALLEN, VIRGINIA: Macaca or whatever his name is.
BROWN: -- to describe a person of color working for his opponent. His opponent's campaign taped the even, put it up online and sent out a link to the video. ALLEN: And let's give a welcome to Macaca here.
SCHNEIDER: If something like that happens, sure we're going to cover it because it touches a nerve. People are responding to it. And it becomes an issue in the campaign.
BROWN: Allen lost his re-election bid and a possible presidential run was ended.
COLE: I think but for the Internet and Youtube, George Allen would be sailing to the Republican presidential nomination.
BROWN: With the 2008 presidential election now less than a year away, there are more viral attack videos being uploaded every day. Search Youtube, and you can find Rudy Giuliani dressed in drag and John Edwards combing his hair.
Campaigns, though, are fighting back. For example, Hillary Clinton now has an entire website dedicated to rapid responses to issues and attacks that come out of nowhere.
HILLSMAN: We're in a brave new world right now. We're in the Wild Wild West right now. Anybody can basically do an attack ad. Anybody can do a political commercial and put it up on the web.
BROWN: And that's a big concern that the Internet, a place where there are seemingly no rules and no consequences, could make previous attack ads look like childs play.
MCKINNON: What's changed is accountability. It's like, people knew who was doing what, when and where. We don't know that anymore. We don't know who's doing it. We don't know where they're doing it. And we don't know how they're doing it.
BROWN: No competitive candidate is likely to swear off attack ads any time soon. But, consider this, a recent Gallup poll found the vast majority of American voters, 69 percent, don't believe much that they see in any political ad, negative or positive. The slug fest goes on, though, with today's campaigns caught up in the culture of attack and counterattack, so much so that they might not even notice if the voters just stopped listening.
I'm Campbell Brown, thanks for watching.
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