The Netroots Created the Housing Gaffe

by: Matt Stoller

Sun Aug 24, 2008 at 11:06


After giving credit to the Obama campaign for handling the housing gaffe extremely well, I received this email from Leighton Woodhouse of Brave New Films.  Woodhouse essentially said that the netroots discovered McCain's housing problem and pushed it relentlessly until that fateful interview with McCain on Wednesday.  He makes a pretty compelling case.  Brave New Films pushed out a video called McCain's Mansions on August 17, there was a coordinated blog-friendly release, lots of mainstream media coverage, and the interview happened a few days later.

Unfortunately I have to censor bits of the email because certain bloggers want to stay anonymous.  But read the email.  It's convincing.

Matt Stoller :: The Netroots Created the Housing Gaffe
Hey Matt, I read your post congratulating the Obama campaign and I agree wholeheartedly.  However -- and I hesitate to say this for risk of sounding petty, but credit is in fact important in our world -- I want to point out that Brave New Films prompted the entire chain of events around the McCain houses gaffe that the DNC and the Obama campaign so effectively transformed into a clear win.  Without our latest McCain video, the gaffe and its consequences never would have happened.

If you ask David Waldman or X or Y, they'll confirm this account, because they were involved as well.  Every Tuesday, Robert and X and David and Y and I have a conference call together.  Out of one of those calls came the idea for our "McCain's Mansions" video.  For a couple of months, Brave New Films has been researching McCain's houses.  X helped with some of that research.  We culled sources for pictures, and even sent a producer to La Jolla to take pictures of his house there in person (she had to trespass to get them).  We came up with six images, and put the video together.  During this time, I believe David Axelrod made a passing reference to McCain's abundant houses, and there was one more instance of someone else raising the point, but there was no media story and no emergent line of attack opening up.  We effectively launched our video into a vacuum.

On the day we launched we were covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Jake Tapper and others.  We were all over the web, too; our video was the #2 most viral video the day after its release.

We also pursued Politico assiduously -- I talked to Ben Smith about the video on the phone, and one of my staffers had an email exchange about it with Michael Calderone.  Two days later, Jonathan Martin asked McCain the question about his homes.  That didn't come out of nowhere, that came out of our having put the message out there in the news cycle and our having conveyed it directly to Politico.  The BBC did a story on us in which they explain how 'McCain's Mansions' led to the gaffe, and The New York Times also credited us in a follow-up article.  Other than those stories, our participation has gone fairly
unacknowledged.

I'm not going to whine about that, as nice as it would be to have the recognition, because the point is that we were able to shift the dynamics of the message war in our favor, whoever gets the credit for it.  But I do want to point it out to you because it matters that the whole episode began with the netroots -- literally, a call between Brave New Films, Daily Kos, X and Y.  I think it matters that the blogosphere had been hollering for ages that Obama needed to go on the attack, and in the end, as much as the campaign and the DNC deserve credit for seizing the opportunity, it was in fact the netroots (or, as you would say, the Open Left) that wrote the script and created the opening.  This fortuitous turn of events was not planned or created by DC consultants, and it would never have been (they had months to pull that trigger, and far greater resources to do it than we did).

Just wanted you to know.


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A Blueprint for Success (4.00 / 2)
Perhaps, if we want the Obama campaign and by extension, the media to push certain themes, actively attempting to orchestrate (although the netroots are largely averse to orchestration) the same paradigm might have further success.  If Obama isn't going to show the level of aggressiveness needed, maybe the netroots need to step up and force his hand.  

next logical step? (4.00 / 5)
Isn't the next ad that keeps this story alive one focused on the $200k plus that the McCains pay their household staff?  "The McCains pay their servants FOUR TIMES AS MUCH as the average American household earns a year.  Does that sound like a person who can appreciate the pressures and strains you face every day?"

And, frankly, why has all the right wing slime machine 2004 talking points about Kerry marrying into money not been turned around and shoved right down St. John's throat?  Does Obama have money?  Sure -- but unlike John McCain he procured it the old-fashioned way; he earned it.  He didn't opportunistically divorce his wife to marry one who could provide him a lifestyle worthy of a celebrity.

John McCain has no character -- it's time for that myth to be blown up.


McCain - Butler - Hieress - Taxes (4.00 / 1)
"The McCains pay their servants FOUR TIMES AS MUCH as the average American household earns a year.  Does that sound like a person who can appreciate the pressures and strains you face every day?"

I think that's spot on. To extend this a bit I'd like to hear Democratic politicans using these (or similar) soundbites:

"When McCain married Cindy he didn't just get a trophy wife, he also got a butler!"

"McCain pays his butler and his other servants more than a quarter-million dollars a year. How much do YOU make?"

"Some people collect baseball cards. McCain collects houses."

"McCain's "cabin" has its own guest house!"

Other's more related to the dueling tax plans that complement the out-of-touch attack are:

"Obama's tax plan will cost McCain a million dollars a year compared to the plan McCain wants to pass."

"Not sure which candidate is on your side? John McCain's tax plan gives a kick in the head to everyone who isn't rich. But McCain's own taxes will go down. Obama will LOWER your taxes but raise his own because he's on YOUR side."

and so on ...


[ Parent ]
2004 slime machine talking points (0.00 / 0)
Glenn Greenwald has a list of the quotes from 2004 calling Kerry a gigolo.  As a commenter has suggested, it should be possible to splice the audio quotes into a radio commercial or video.  It would probably be quite inappropriate as an Obama campaign ad, but Brave New Films, some other group, or even the SaysMe route or a viral video, might work better.

Suggested framing:

Here are a group of people slandering a good man who has served his country honourably.

- actual voices of limbaugh, coulter etc., edited to leave in the content but leave out the name of the person slandered -

Shouldn't political campaigns be about real issues than such character assassination?

The name of McCain never needs to be mentioned.  It would both make the point about McCain and about right-wing hate.

The objective would be to get the media pundits talking about it, not to get real voters to see it (which would only pull the campaign more into the mud).  An alternative would be simply to mail it to every media outlet, especially the ones that employ those hate merchants.  When they realize how this could be used to discredit them, they would really be brought to their knees.  It could potentially change the entire tone of the campaign, done right.


[ Parent ]
Reprising 2004 slime (0.00 / 0)
Of course, this could be very painful to Sen. Kerry - it shouldn't be done without his permission.

[ Parent ]
National politicians need to have thick hide... (0.00 / 0)
Yes, this would be humiliating, but what Kerry thinks or feels is, in the end, irrelevant.  This ad only brings up the crap that was flung at him.  

And in the face of many many irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere that strongly suggested all sorts of vote-rigging, vote suppression and all kinds of other ways to swing the election to Bush, Kerry caved right away and conceded to Bush.  So, while, yes, this would be humiliating to him, he humiliated all the rest of us.

I would love to see Brave New Films or other sources move on this ad idea.


[ Parent ]
Careful with this figure (0.00 / 0)
We researched it and it's actually incorrect.  Long story, but essentially the reporter who came up with this figure added together two entries of $136.5K in McCain's tax return to arrive at the $273K figure, but in fact the two entries of $136.5K were referring to the same pot of money.  We checked with a CPA and he confirmed it.  So the real figure the McCain's spent on household employment expenses was actually $136.5K.  Still not chump change, but we should not be using that $273K number.

[ Parent ]
How many employees? (0.00 / 0)
What is McCain paying them? Because if it's just that he's paying them good wages, I'd stay away from that line of argument, as it can backfire.

But if he's paying them minimum wage or similar, that's an issue to home right in on. Great wealth and contempt for the staff does not play well.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog


[ Parent ]
I have no idea (0.00 / 0)
but you're right, it would be great to find out, and I hope somebody looks into it.

[ Parent ]
household help (0.00 / 0)
And of course part of the point is that -- in stark contrast to the average American -- the McCains live such an exotic lifestyle that they need (and can easily afford to employ) multiple butlers/maids/chauffeurs/what have you in the first place ...

How is a guy like that going to understand the real household pressures that plague so many folks?


[ Parent ]
The Bigger Picture--Slowly, Slowly, Closing Daou's Triangle (4.00 / 4)
The situation that Peter Daou described is starting to shift, and this is the cutting edge of what that shift looks like.  We still have light-years, not miles to go, but it's a very significant breakthrough, and the synergy of blogs, YouTube, and producers like Brave New Films is leading the way.

But they're hardly alone.  The fact that Glenn Greenwald, for exmple, is now doing web radio interviews is indicative of how the online blogger and media world are expanding and creating new synergetic possibilities.  Synergy, intentionality and timing are all key here.  And the triangle is slowly starting to close.


"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


you mean online video (0.00 / 0)
YouTube is just a brand.

I'm a firm believer in not promoting particular brands, especially giant corporate ones. There is no miracle intrinsic to YouTube, there are numerous other video services one can accomplish the same things with.  

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare


[ Parent ]
Hand Me My Kleenex, While I Google Up A Link For My Response (0.00 / 0)
except, of course, when it comes to genrefying their brand names.


"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 ]
The removed comment by "Translation" claimed... (4.00 / 1)
that Brave New Films "set up' McCain.

It's laughable to make such a claim. After all, it's clear that Brave New Films set out to look into his multiple elitist enclaves to reinforce the point that McCain isn't "one of us," a "regular American" with "working class values" in the "mainstream of American culture" -- in other words, they were pursuing a completely different narrative. If anyone set anyone up, it was John McCain himself -- by failing not only to have a fundamental command of the facts but to have a prepared pushback.

This allowed progressives, Democrats, liberals and disaffected Republicans to pile on with a second narrative: out of touch, confused, forgetful (read: too old, maybe in the early stages of Alzheimer's).

And McCain and his handlers have only themselves to blame for being so ill-prepared.


Luck (4.00 / 1)
Coach Darrell Royal famously said that "luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

This is probably the perfect example. BNF did the preparation with an assist from Politico and McCain provided the opportunity.

If he had answered "seven" that would have been gold. When he couldn't remember, that was the mother load.

John McCain doesn't care about Vets.



Politics ain't beanbag (4.00 / 3)
Nor is it Sunday School, no matter how much overly cautious Dem consultants have pushed our candidates to act that way. As Pastor Dan says, these rats aren't going to f**k themselves.  While it may be more appealing to netroots wonks to have adult conversations about policy, our corporate media and many of our fellow citizens are conditioned to focus on "character," since that other stuff is so booooorrrring.

The netroots can be the ratf**kers Obama won't hire, the only ethical limit being that the story must be true. McCain and Republicans in general provide so much "character" fodder the problem is in choosing what to push, not agonizing over whether telling these truths is the right thing to do.

No society that feeds its children on tales of successful violence can expect them not to believe that violence in the end is rewarded. -Margaret Mead


Brave New Films is doing some excellent work this election (4.00 / 1)
They are leading the 'the election wont be televised but YouTubed' movement.

I have said in the past, the Obama camp would be wise to follow their lead on attacking McCain. Looks like they have, at least on this housing crisis.


Bravo (0.00 / 0)
Please allow me the privilege of saying...

A job well done!


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