Dear Chuck Todd and NBC: Iraq Matters

by: Matt Stoller

Tue Jun 17, 2008 at 13:19

Chuck Todd calls Moveon's latest ad, featuring a mother asking McCain not to kill her child with irresponsible warmongering in Iraq, 'shameless'.

I didn't notice any outcry from NBC when Progress for America aired this ad - one of the largest political TV ad purchases in 2004 - exploiting American deaths on 9/11 to promote Bush's reelection.

I get why discussing McCain's Iraq-related policy ideas and acknowledging that they will lots of people is impolite.  But not discussing them, and worse still, a journalist on a TV channel that has access to the public airwaves in return for looking out for the public good actually suggesting that others should not discuss them, is, well shameless.

Matt Stoller :: Dear Chuck Todd and NBC: Iraq Matters

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If Asshat Pundits (Redundancy Alert!) Like Todd Didn't Complain (4.00 / 1)
MoveOn would not be doing its job.

This is a bankshot dealio.  Taking the pundit class down along with McSame.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

In Pundit World (4.00 / 2)
elections are about who you'd rather have a beer with, candidate beverage preferences and bowling scores. They have nothing to do with issues like whether your child will die in a senseless war. It is shameless for MoveOn to even suggest such a thing. Real issues are the exclusive business of the people who pay Todd's salary, not us unwashed masses of little people.

[ Parent ]
Maybe if Kos (4.00 / 2)
sees that Todd clip, he'll stop lobbying for him to succeed Russert.

In other news, Obama says he might cut the taxes of corporations! At least that's what he says when's speaking to the Wall Street Journal.

To be honest... (0.00 / 0)
I didn't like the ad either, and I do think it could backfire.  I think there are probably more effective ways to make a point than to put a baby on screen and say "You can't have him", since anyone could take any baby and make similar points about just about any cause.

If that's the Iraq ad they just sent out an email about, (4.00 / 1)
it tests very well:
"'61 percent majority describe the ad as convincing.' They also found that 58 percent agree with the ad's message."

[ Parent ]
Hard to trust stuff like that... (0.00 / 0)
The thing with ads is that people can say whatever, but then it could have a completely different effect internally. This is the trick of negative advertising... people usually don't like it, but it typically works.  I'm not sure if this one will or not.  Maybe I'm just not its target (married women seems more like it's target).

[ Parent ]
The target (4.00 / 4)
is parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters of anyone who will be of draft age in the next eight years or beyond, and anyone with the ability to imagine themselves in their place. That's a pretty wide target.

[ Parent ]
The baby sends a different signal, I think... (0.00 / 0)
Than "anyone in draft age in the next 8 years or so"... but yes, you are right, in a sense, about parents, grandparents, etc... anyone with a connection to a baby, not just a teenager or whoever.

I do have an 8 month old niece, though, and I still didn't like the ad that much.  In any case, as I said in a comment below, if it's effective, then that's great.  My one opinion doesn't matter since my vote is already in the bag. =)

[ Parent ]
Please describe a hypothetical ad (4.00 / 1)
in which the same line ("You can't have him") would be effective in relation to any of Obama's policies. This is effective because it is real. You don't think there are parents out there who think about this? It's fucking real! About as real as it gets. This is not some empty gimmick that could be slapped on any old issue.

[ Parent ]
"You May Want To Cover Him With Health Insurance & Send Him To College (4.00 / 1)
...but you can't have him!"

Yeah, that's the ticket!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Well, for instance... (4.00 / 1)
The other ad linked to, or something along the lines of the 3AM ad.  It'd be more like a "Obama wants to lose the war in Iraq and allow terrorists to run free.  John McCain is going to protect my child that I'm going to wave in front of the camera here."

And, don't laugh, but probably a lot of wing-nut weirdos WOULD say something along the lines of "you secularists and satanists can't have my child", as, of course, the Democrats, Liberals, and Obama, clearly represent (to them).  So, yeah, I think a baby could probably be used to promote quite a range of things.

In any case, the ad just hit me in the wrong way.  It's not that I don't get the message... maybe I just don't like having babies promote anything. =)  I don't know what else to say.  If it's effective, then great.  My one opinion doesn't mean anything, as my vote's in the bag anyway. =)

[ Parent ]
I understand your point. (4.00 / 2)
The ad plays on people's emotions. That's generally what most political ads do. Are you suggesting unilateral disarmament on making any political appeals based on emotion? I think a fair question is whether the ad is deceptive. Does it misrepresent McCain's position? I don't think so. Does it misrepresent the real world effects of those policies? I don't think so. For those reasons, I think it is a fair ad. I have a bad reaction to ads that use emotion to obscure an issue or deceive. This ad uses emotion to bring into sharp focus very real consequences of a specific political position. I would think that, for this reason, the ad will be very effective.

[ Parent ]
I'm with leshrac55 (0.00 / 0)
this ad has huge backfire potential,besides being a terrible ad.

The key to effectively playing on emotions is making sure your targets DON'T realize that is what you're doing.  This ad is WAY too ham-fisted for that.  As I have said before, this is like the MoveOn equivalent of when Pro-Lifers call us "Baby Killers", there is a shrillness and confrontational quality that tends to make people who don't already agree with the premise recoil.

[ Parent ]
When reality is on one's side, (0.00 / 0)
what is the need to play coy?

Besides, you and I can speculate on effectiveness all we want. I am assuming MoveOn focus-grouped it before putting it out there.

[ Parent ]
The problem here (0.00 / 0)
(and what the GOP will play upon) is that you're equating reality with an actress holding a child.  The ad doesn't SEEM real, despite the gravity of the situation.

[ Parent ]
That's a pretty feeble objection. (0.00 / 0)
Political ads use actors. This is not news. Republicans will find whatever bullshit reason they can think of to whine about Democratic ads. That is no reason not to run them.

I can see three legitimate criteria:

Is it honest?

Is it fair?

Is it effective?

I can answer the first two myself, and I assume MoveOn did their homework on the third.

[ Parent ]
I think you're giving MoveOn too much credit (0.00 / 0)
on the homework effective was General Betray-Us?

You just watch how the GOP tears this up, and whether or not the fact that it's an actress plays a role.  Remember the brouhaha about Bush using actors in place of the 9/11 heroes in his ads?  He could argue that it was a fair depiction of events, but it still gave him some blowback.

[ Parent ]
The big blunder on the Petraus ad (0.00 / 0)
was committed by Dems in Congress who are frightened of their own shadow. Otherwise, the Petraus ad would have been a very effective challenge to the Saint Petraeus propaganda that was not being otherwise challenged.

[ Parent ]
How was it a very effective challenge? (0.00 / 0)
That was one of the biggest backfires in recent memory.  The Democrats rejecting it had little to do with it.  

That ad made the same mistake this one makes.  It made Petraeus the subject of the ad, not the war.  It came off as a cheap shot, and a personal attack.

[ Parent ]
It's called "shaping the narrative." (4.00 / 1)
Had the MoveOn ad been given the slightest support from prominent Democrats, the narrative would have shifted from "Of course it's a given that brave and strong General Petraeus is the ultimate authority on the whole issue" to "Is General Petraeus a straight-shooter or an ambitious careerist compromising the good of the country for his own advancement?" Is there going to be backlash? Of course. Are there going to be plenty of people who think MoveOn are dicks? Of course. But the narrative is shifted to the benefit of progressives. MoveOn was willing to take a hit for the team. They were hung out to dry.

Somehow Limbaugh's comments about phony soldiers went unpunished. Maybe it's because conservatives stuck together, rather than scattering like frightened rabbits.

[ Parent ]
Basically, Yes (4.00 / 2)
Are you suggesting unilateral disarmament on making any political appeals based on emotion?

There is a significant contingent of liberals and Democrats who think that one must always fight with a minimum of 1, but preferably 2 hands tied behind one's back.

This same contingent is not amused, when in response, one calls on the Hindu god Vishnu, who could actually win a fight under such conditions:

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Funny as usual, but the point remains (0.00 / 0)
there is a reason some negative attacks work and some don't.  There is a certain art to it, and this one is as inartful as they come.

First of all this ad makes McCain the issue, rather than the war (John McCain YOU can't have him)--Mistake number one.  This is why it seems cheap, just like the ads the Republicans ran with the people talking about how they have Always been proud of their country.  Everyone knew that it was more of a slap at Michelle Obama than a statement of affection for America.  It seemed cheap, because it WAS cheap.

The DNC's ad on this quote is as effective as they come.  It's direct, it's about the WAR, and it lets John McCain hang himself with his own callousness.  It puts McCain in the proper context.  A Small and petty man standing in the way of us bringing our brothers and sisters home.

I think this ad WILL backfire, if only that it gives John McCain an opportunity to point out that Obama can't control liberal 527s despite his best attempts (and despite the fact that with the exception of this boneheaded ad, he's done a remarkable job at it), thus giving the GOP free reign to boldly turn a blind eye when their 527s start with the crazy ads.  MoveOn just rid us of the moral high-ground on this issue.

[ Parent ]
The implication of your critique (4.00 / 1)
is that it is somehow unfair to tie McCain to the results of his policy positions. That's an odd standard - one I don't imagine is shared by many people.

[ Parent ]
No, it is completely fair (0.00 / 0)
so long as we make it clear that it is the POLICIES that are the important part.  It is a mistake to place the emphasis on John McCain, because it brings issues that are universal down to a level that seems personal, more like a grudge than a genuine political disagreement.

The issues are what are important, not the messenger.

[ Parent ]
You are objecting to the fact that it's a 527 ad? (0.00 / 0)
So if the Obama campaign ran a similar ad, you'd be fine with it? I'm just trying to make sense of your argument. I don't understand your arguing against making a campaign ad against McCain about McCain except from the standpoint of campaign finance laws that say that 527 ads are supposed to be issue oriented and not explicit candidate ads. If that's your angle, I concede that you have a point. I don't think that point has any impact on the effectiveness of the ad.

If that is not your point, then what you are saying sounds just plain nutty.

[ Parent ]
The point is... (0.00 / 0)
that the Obama campaign has made a concerted effort to CONTROL the message of ads coming out on his behalf.  Taking unprecedented steps to reign in 527s and independent groups for a very specific reason.  The reason is this:

John McCain made a career out of being against 527s.  In 2004, his only objection to the swift boats was "I'm against all 527s, they have no place in our political dialogue".  He probably said this almost everyday of the campaign.

On the other hand, the Republicans know they can't win a positive campaign against Obama, and they'll have to make alot of attacks that the RNC and McCain wouldn't necessarily want their name on.  So if Obama could hold back his 527s, when the Republicans started up theirs, he could hit McCain hard for being both a hypocrite and an ineffective leader.  This was an awesome tactical place to be in, and MoveOn blew it with this ad.  We've now fired the first shot, and all is fair game.  We might as well crank up the rest of the 527s, because they couldn't even wait long enough for us to get in a good hit on McCain on this issue.

[ Parent ]
Holding back the 527s (0.00 / 0)
I understand your point.  I suspect your vision of a future where Obama would have received much credit for restraining liberal 527s may be a case of wishful thinking. But it is a reasonable argument. It is unrelated, though, to whether the ad is fair and effective on its own terms - a point we clearly disagree on.

[ Parent ]
4100 Dead--That Sounds Pretty Personal To Me! (4.00 / 2)
In fact, very few things get as personal as sending kids off to die for a lie.

We're not talking zoning laws and variances here, despite the punditalkcrazy's demeanor.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
No, not at all.. (0.00 / 0)
There's no need to make random assumptions about what I believe or don't believe.

I think there should definitely be ads that appeal on an emotional level... This one doesn't do it for me, though.  To me this seems more like an ad that directly tries to manipulate your emotions, rather than simply evoke them.  There are a lot of ways to create an emotional appeal in ads... throwing a baby at you is one way, I suppose... I'm not sure it's the best way.

If other people feel differently, than great.  If this ad wins the election, than fantastic.  All I'm saying is that this wasn't an effective ad for me, and I can at least see the opportunity for it to backfire.

[ Parent ]
Part of the "problem".... (4.00 / 1) that anti-war positions, even today, are barely represented in the media. Even "liberal" pundits tend to focus their criticism on the war's management, rather than the war itself.

  So when one sees a point of view, like this ad, that is not just anti-war but anti-war in a way that there's nothing at all odd or unusual about feeling that way, it's jarring and doesn't feel "right". Because 90% of the commentary in the punditocracy doesn't entertain that viewpoint.

  Personally, I think the ad is fine. War sucks. It's about time someone said so.


"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
Precisely! (4.00 / 3)
From the punditalkcrazy's POV, this ad is a "gaffe."

The definition of a "gaffe" is when someone accidentally tells the truth.

But there was nothing accidental about it.

And that just blows their minds.

The fact that ~ 60% of America agrees with MoveOn (just as 60% of America agreed with them when they formed about censuring, rather than impeaching Bill Clinton) only drives them further around the bend.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Watch the media coverage (4.00 / 1)

  If the beltway media talks a lot about the ad, and how awful it is, but doesn't actually show the ad itself, then that's a pretty good indication that the ad IS effective and hard-hitting.

  If the beltway media really does think the ad is weak (as opposed to Chuck Todd just saying it is), though, they won't hesitate to give it plenty of free airings as part of "news" coverage, as ostensibly that would help McCain.

  So let's see if the ad itself gets aired for free as often as the swiftboaters got theirs aired.

  Oh, and Chuck Todd is just as beltway as everyone else. Sure, he has occasional bursts of reasonableness. So does Chris Matthews. But they all serve the same masters. And they're not us.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
I still think VoteVets version of it was much better (4.00 / 2)

That's a good ad too. (4.00 / 2)
It focuses on economic opportunity costs of war. The other focuses on direct human costs. Both important issues. Both good ads.

[ Parent ]
This is a better ad (0.00 / 0)
because it is about Issues, not an obnoxiously blatant emotional appeal.  It asks people to think, and doesn't seem like a sucker-punch on behalf of people who are already against the war.

[ Parent ]
Mothers losing their children (0.00 / 0)
in senseless wars is not a legitimate issue? Okay. Wow.

[ Parent ]
I didn't say it wasn't a legitimate issue (0.00 / 0)
but the way it's played feels like a sucker punch, because it's about McCain, not the War.

I'm sure this ad is going to play well with fellow Chomsky fans, as you already agree with it, but the purpose of political ads is to persuade, and I think it's a failure as far as that goes.

[ Parent ]
Talk about a "sucker punch." (0.00 / 0)
Nice ad hominum attack with the Chomsky crack. Yeah, you really need to be familiar with Chomsky's work to understand that babies grow up to die in bullshit wars and mothers grieve. That's way too eggheaded of a concept for anyone but me and my "fellow Chomsky fans" to grasp.

[ Parent ]
It was no more of a sucker punch (0.00 / 0)
than you're implying that I said "mothers losing their babies" wasn't a legitimate issue.

My point is fairly clear.  You already agree with the ads position, so of course you're going to like it.  You already KNOW that McCain has unreasonable positions about the war.  Most Americans are coming around to that view, thanks to John McCain.  The only way we can LOSE this dialog is by coming off as LESS reasonable than McCain.  I think running an ad that implies that John McCain personally wants to take your newborn babies, and send them to Iraq so they can die, just because he's a mean old man, is a good first step in that direction.  

[ Parent ]
Have you looked at any polls lately? (0.00 / 0)
You already agree with the ads position, so of course you're going to like it.

Most of the electorate already agrees with the ad's position. This ad simply focuses on an issue that is a big loser for McCain. The woman in the ad is saying, "Listen, old man. Your foolish policies affect people's lives. My life. My babies life. I'm not going along with it." Seems like a fairly straight forward honest and realistic point that needs to be made.

[ Parent ]
If they said "You're policies affect people's lives" (0.00 / 0)
I'd be OK with it.  It doesn't say that, it says "No, John McCain, you can't have my baby".

There is a difference.  While it's true that most people disagree with the war, their opinion of McCain on the war is something else entirely.  That is what we need to shape.  We don't have to resort to the theatrical emotionalism to do it.

Again, the DNC's previous ad on this was PITCH PERFECT.  That's how we are going to define him.

[ Parent ]
I think Todd is wrong, but (0.00 / 0)
I see no evidence in his criticism that he was "actually suggesting that others should not discuss" "McCain's Iraq-related policy ideas." I think you're overreaching on that criticism.

Todd is right that the ad will backfire (0.00 / 0)
Like it or not, I think people will find the use of a baby distasteful and manipulative.

Of course, all advertising is manipulative.  But using a mother and a baby is as obvious as it gets.

"using a mother and a baby" (4.00 / 3)
is "obvious" because it so effectively illustrates the point being made: War is not an abstract game; real people get killed. Babies grow up and die in senseless wars. Mothers lose children. This shit is real! But heaven forbid someone would produce an ad pointing out the real effects of war on mothers and children by actually showing a mother and child! Outrageous! Making it real like that is clearly a cheap shot.

[ Parent ]
Next Thing You Know, They'll Be Showing Pictures From Iraq (4.00 / 2)
Don't they know the surge is working... to keep those pictures back in Iraq, where they belong?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I find myself kinda hoping that it backfires (0.00 / 0)
so hugely that everyone shows it again and again, in unpaid media, just to prove how badly it'll backfire.

It's not my favorite ad, but I prefer the cerebral. (Or so I claim ...) And it gets points for being, y'know, true. McCain wants us to stay in Iraq until we stop getting killed there, at which time we'll finally be able to stay in Iraq.

Real people who were babies, and who have babies, and who wanna have babies, and whose mothers still see them as babies, are dying every day. I guess I think this ad is completely horribly over the top, except for the fact that that politician it's opposing is unutterably worse.

[ Parent ]
Yes, I'm sure the media will let us know (4.00 / 2)
how badly it backfired. And the magical thing will be that they won't even have to rely on such things as polls to prove their point. They'll just know. Maybe they can even convince the perpetually frightened Dems in Congress to vote for a resolution condemning MoveOn again.

[ Parent ]
MoveOn should run a terribly partisan (0.00 / 0)
ad demanding that Democrats condemn MoveOn.  

[ Parent ]

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