The TV Attack Ad Gets a New Lease on Life

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While we’re talking about our new Politics 2.0 package and yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions, let’s take a moment to ponder the future of that less than beloved institution, the 30-second TV attack ad.

In “The Attack Ad’s Second Life,” Leslie Savan and I examined the idea that the newfound ease of video production and distribution will kill off the negative election ad. Are the days of Willie Horton and “Harold—call me” over? Are we headed into an unregulated, bottomless pit of “macaca” moments on-demand and YouTube mash-ups? Advertising Age columnist and On the Media Host Bob Garfield thinks that TV ads are definitely on the way out—and that’s a good thing: “Nobody is going to opt in to see somebody’s legislative votes misrepresented in an attack ad—because why would you?” Yet that’s not to say that TV ads won’t play a role in 2008, or that they won’t be as lowdown and dirty as ever.

And now, a new Supreme Court ruling virtually ensures that that will be the case. In another 5-4 decision, the court struck down a provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law that prohibited pre-election ads paid for by unions or corporations. The majority ruled that such ads can not be banned unless they explicitly encourage voters to vote for or against a candidate. This will no doubt open the floodgates for a new slew of “issue ads”—attack ads that not so subtly go after candidates under the guise of informing voters. What this really means—for online fundraising, for swing voters, for the future of McCain-Feingold—remains to be seen. But it seems clear that even if the 2008 race is the TV attack ad’s death rattle, its demise will be anything but pretty.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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