The Press Tells Us What to Think, But Who’s Buying It?

Much of the political news over the past few days has centered on John McCain’s ads, “Celeb” and “The One,” that mock Barack Obama by portraying him as an empty suit, and on Obama’s claim that Republicans are trying to scare voters because he “doesn’t look like all those other Presidents on those dollar bills.’’ The New York Times editorial board predictably weighed in on Obama’s behalf, calling the Celeb ad a “racially tinged attack.”

How can this be, since the ad never mentions race, and has nothing to do with race? Because, the Times instructs us, it begins with image of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The Times recalls an ad that “Republican operatives” ran against Harold Ford when he ran for the Senate in 2006:

That assault, too, began with videos juxtaposing Mr. Ford with young, white women.

The Ford ad is here; you can judge for yourself whether it was racist. (I think that in this context, “racist” can fairly be translated as “effective.”) But does the Times seriously believe that any ad that contains images of both a white woman and a black candidate is racist? (Don’t white women often appear in Obama’s own ads?) That strikes me as a very weird position, which perhaps reveals more about the Times editorialists than about campaign advertising.

In this case, the images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton were chosen because they are instantly-recognizable as “celebs” who are, as the Times puts it, notoriously “bubble-headed” and “publicity-seeking.” So, what if the McCain ad had used exclusively images of African-Americans who are notoriously bubble-headed and publicity-seeking with whom to compare Obama? Nicole Richie, say? In that case, a far more plausible claim could have been made that the ad was racist.

Needless to say, the Times defends Obama’s “dollar bills” line, which was the first injection of race into the campaign, on the risible ground that he was merely “the victim” of a “racial attack.” In the Times’ world, you simply cannot criticize an African-American candidate, or you are a racist. Unless, of course, the African-American is a Republican.

It doesn’t seem, though, that this sort of media instruction has had much effect. Today’s Rasmussen Reports contains these interesting findings:

Sixty-nine percent (69%) of the nation’s voters say they’ve seen news coverage of the McCain campaign commercial that includes images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and suggests that Barack Obama is a celebrity just like them. Of those, just 22% say the ad was racist while 63% say it was not.

I assume those 22% are people who have not actually seen the ad, but are loyal Democrats trying to parrot the party line. More:

However, Obama’s comment that his Republican opponent will try to scare people because Obama does not look like all the other presidents on dollar bills was seen as racist by 53%.

This strikes me as pretty good evidence that Obama will have to campaign on the issues, and that his efforts to distract voters by crying “wolf” on race won’t succeed.

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