Obama to Fight Internet Smears

The Guardian reports that Obama’s campaign is forming a unit to combat internet rumors:

Barack Obama is recruiting senior staff to a new unit which will combat virulent rumour campaigns on the internet that threaten to cost him votes in the presidential election against John McCain.

The unit is part of a huge expansion of Obama’s campaign team as he shifts from the Democratic nomination race to the campaign for November’s election.

As well as the rumour-mongering problem, units are being set up to deal with other perceived vulnerable points, including off-the-cuff remarks by his wife Michelle. McCain’s wife, Cindy, questioned Michelle’s patriotism in February after she said: “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.”

Brooks Jackson, director of the Washington-based FactCheck.org, an independent academic organisation set up in 2003 to monitor the factual accuracy of statements made in elections, said yesterday there had been false rumours on the internet about George Bush and John Kerry in the 2004 election.

“With Obama, it is particularly vicious,” Jackson said. He added that one of the most persistent is that Obama, a Christian, is “some kind of Muslim Manchurian candidate, planted by Islamic fundamentalists to betray the country and it is very widespread”.

The real question is how they combat these rumors. John Kerry’s campaign had a web site debunking all the attacks on Kerry, but this only has an impact on the people who actually read the site. Rapid response has been an important part of campaigns at least since Bill Clinton. Under the fold I’ve placed the transcript of a report on NPR’s Morning Edition on rapid response efforts of the presidential campaigns.

Obama has been highly successful in many aspects of his campaign. Hopefully he can be more successful than previous campaigns in fighting all the untrue rumors which have been too large a part of politics.

Morning Edition (NPR); 4/1/2004; BOB EDWARDS

Profile: Rapid-response cycle of the presidential campaigns



The campaign phrase `rapid response’ emerged during Bill Clinton’s first run for the presidency. Clinton’s top aides made a point of responding to every charge from his opponent. It was the beginning of an era in politics in which both camps in the presidential race engage in a minute-by-minute battle to push their message. This year the biggest rapid-response teams ever are producing biting rhetoric very early in the campaign. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams went inside both campaigns for this report.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Today’s emphasis on instant response to any charge from a political opponent is a long way from the campaign of 1874; that year Democrat Grover Cleveland’s campaign was hit with a report that he was the father of an illegitimate child. Republicans chanted, `Mama, where’s my pa?’ The Cleveland campaign did not respond until after he won the election with the chant, `Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.’

(Soundbite of applause)

Vice President DICK CHENEY: Good morning.

WILLIAMS: This week the exchange of rapid responses between the Bush and Kerry campaigns began on Monday with a speech by Vice President Dick Cheney. The vice president charged that Kerry was ready to raise taxes.

(Soundbite of speech)

Vice Pres. CHENEY: To get a clearer picture of what the first hundred days of a Kerry administration would look like, we can start by reviewing his last 7,000 days in Washington. A career highlight was his vote in favor of the largest tax increase in American history.

WILLIAMS: The Kerry campaign fired back almost instantly on the economy during a speech in California.

(Soundbite of speech)

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): This administration has one economic policy for America: three millions jobs lost and driving gas prices towards $3 a gallon.

Ms. STEPHANIE CUTTER (Communications Director, Kerry Campaign): The best way to control a story, especially a story like this, is to get your side of the story out first.

WILLIAMS: Stephanie Cutter is communications director for the Kerry campaign. On Monday night, Kerry’s staff learned that the Bush camp was about to release an ad alleging that Kerry supported an increase in the gas tax.

Ms. CUTTER: When we got word that the Bush-Cheney campaign was going to hit us on an ad campaign today, we pre-empted it. We got together last night, we typed up this statement and did a fact sheet and blasted it out to the press, made a couple of phone calls and got into the wires.

Ms. NICOLE DEVENISH (Communications Director, Bush-Cheney Re-Election Campaign): They did a nice job putting their policy out Monday night.

WILLIAMS: Nicole Devenish is the communications director for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.

Ms. DEVENISH: At the end of the day Monday, I think, the Kerry campaign started to preview what they would do the next day, which is an announcement of a policy meant to address gas prices. So we, at 7:00 in the morning, released our ad to the morning networks and the wires.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Announcer: If Kerry’s gas-tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year.

Ms. DEVENISH: We release the item, we always try to put it in context because 30 seconds just isn’t enough to give an issue context. So at 10 AM, we put our campaign manager on the phone to go through the issue and the record.

WILLIAMS: With whom?

Ms. DEVENISH: With the press corps.

WILLIAMS: Anybody…

Ms. DEVENISH: And anyone’s invited to attend.

WILLIAMS: Ken Mehlman, Bush-Cheney’s campaign manager, led the conference call.

(Soundbite of conference call)

Mr. KEN MEHLMAN (Bush-Cheney Campaign Manager): We have put forward an ad today that highlights Senator Kerry’s long record of supporting higher, not lower, gas prices.

WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign rallied its troops to respond to what it called the, quote, “latest Bush campaign false attack ad.” The campaign used two surrogates, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, to speak with reporters.

(Soundbite of conference call)

Senator RON WYDEN (Democrat, Oregon): You know, up and down the West Coast now, our constituents are getting mugged at the gas pump.

WILLIAMS: Stephanie Cutter of the Kerry campaign.

Ms. CUTTER: It’s part of our truth squad. I mean, this administration has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at us. They validate what we’re trying to say; it’s important to have other leaders out there saying, you know, what the truth is.

WILLIAMS: Nicole Devenish of the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Ms. DEVENISH: It goes back and forth. We released our ad; they delivered a speech. Then we each responded to the other. There were at least three conference calls that our surrogates held yesterday responding to his various statements on the campaign trail. And, really, the effort of that is to always set the record straight when false things are said about the president and vice president.

WILLIAMS: The bottom line for the campaigns is whether their message is being heard. On Tuesday evening this report ran on cable television’s CNN.

(Soundbite of CNN broadcast)

Unidentified Reporter: A senior Kerry adviser said the senator never actually proposed in the Senate a 50 cent increase in the gas tax. A Bush-Cheney aide saying the president has a comprehensive energy plan to bring gas prices down but says that plan has been thwarted by congressional Democrats. About the only thing the two sides…

Ms. DEVENISH: This is kind of the rapid-response ground zero, if you will.

WILLIAMS: Nicole Devenish is giving a tour of the rapid-response section of the Bush-Cheney re-election headquarters in suburban Washington, DC. The campaign is located in an office building and is well organized with blinking TV screens to monitor news coverage as well as rows of computers and charts of plans for upcoming events, ads and surrogate appearances.

Ms. DEVENISH: My day starts at 6, but I am not the first one here. You know, the rapid-response team gets in right around 5 or a little before that, starts pouring over all the national and key regional papers, puts together a document called Attack Breakdown(ph) that chronicles all of the attacks the Democrats have launched against the president. And so, you know, before 6 AM we’re working on the message and response.

Unidentified Man: John Kerry for president.

WILLIAMS: In downtown Washington, DC, Stephanie Cutter is working in new offices still being organized after Kerry clinched the Democratic nomination. Cutter works back to back in the same office with the head of her rapid-response team, Chad Clanton.

Ms. CUTTER: Chad’s probably spinning right now. Here’s our map. Figure out where we want to…

WILLIAMS: What does the map indicate? Like, you got Missouri, Tennessee, Ohio…

Ms. CUTTER: You got your blue states, your red states, you’ve got your, you know, battleground states.

WILLIAMS: The battleground states are the ones that are colored in?

Ms. CUTTER: Yeah. And you just want to make sure you’re hitting as many of these states on a daily basis.

WILLIAMS: In addition to making calls to reporters, rapid response for both campaigns includes constant use of the Internet. The Kerry campaign has a site called the DBunker. They use it to post instant responses to every speech or statement coming from the Bush campaign. The GOP campaign Web site has unveiled a so-called Kerry Gas Tax calculator to show, quote, “how much a 50 cent gas tax would cost your family.” Nicole Devenish of the Bush campaign says things have come a long way from Bill Clinton’s War Room.

Ms. DEVENISH: Now–and I’m sure that my counterpart in the Kerry campaign would tell you the same thing–it goes back five, six, seven times in a day.

WILLIAMS: The cycle never stops as the campaigns immediately turn to placing guests on that night’s radio and TV shows, offering little time for reflection on how effective a campaign has been at getting the candidates’ message out for the day. Stephanie Cutter of the Kerry campaign.

Ms. CUTTER: I think we’ve been very effective today at setting the record straight.

WILLIAMS: Wait, why do you think that? When you go home, how do you know that the rapid response was effective?

Ms. CUTTER: You don’t. You know, you just do your best every day, set the record straight. And you wake up in the morning and you read the papers, and you see how you did.

WILLIAMS: And the rapid-response cycle goes on and on and on. Juan Williams, NPR News, Washington.

1 Comment

  1. 1
    Politivine says:

    It is pretty bad when you have to devise an entire team just to combat the GOP rhetoric talking points and fear tactics.
    Obama has flipped the GOP over on their lid, and they know it. Obviously, they are going to try the “all out negative” tactic in order to scare Americans into believing that Obama is not fit for president.
    Good luck with that one……

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