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Liberal Attack Ads Give the Lie to Media's 'Conservative Culture of Fear' Theme

Are conservatives creating a “culture of fear” for political gain? That has been the media narrative over the past few months. Networks and major newspapers have pushed stories about conservatives misleading the public in order to scare Americans into supporting their policies. But the media has not given the same “fear-monger” label to liberals.

From fake pundit Stephen Colbert's “March to Keep Fear Alive” that mocks conservatives, to comedian John Stewart's “Rally to Restore Sanity” that's being promoted by President Obama and the Huffington Post, the recent theme in news coverage has been that the political right is promoting anger, fear and Islamophobia in this country while the political left is rational and calm.


But amidst the outlandish election season attacks that liberals have been hurling at their political opponents, this narrative rings as false as many of the liberal charges. Unsubstantiated claims by Democrats that the Chamber of Commerce is taking “secretive” foreign money, and Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL)'s comparison of his challenger to the Taliban are only two of the most wild smears that conservatives have had to contend with in recent weeks. More widespread is misinformation on conservative candidates' views of social security – an advertising tactic transparently meant to frighten senior citizens into turning out for liberal candidates.


However, the mainstream media hasn't completely latched on to these tactics as the “politics of fear,” as it often does with conservative ads and campaigns.


“[A]s you know, a series of politicians have used the Islamic center, have used sort of Islamophobia and scare tactics in their campaigns,” said Christiane Amanpour on ABC's “This Week” on Oct. 3.

“It was not surprising that Republican ideologues like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin came out against the [Ground Zero] mosque,” said the New York Times in an Aug. 4 editorial. “A Congressional candidate in North Carolina has found it to be a good way to get attention and, yes, stoke prejudice against Muslims. We expect this sort of behavior from these kinds of Republicans. They have been shamelessly playing the politics of fear since 9/11.”


But it's liberals who have been ramping up personal attacks and fear-mongering this election season, as the Democratic Party winds down a year-long opposition research campaign against conservative candidates.

Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH) slammed her conservative opponent as a “dishonest used-car salesman” and warns “buyer beware!” In Louisiana, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) ran an ad against his rival Republican David Vitter, tying him to a former staffer who allegedly beat his girlfriend and featuring a photo of an abused woman.


Rep. Grayson in Florida smeared his conservative challenger Daniel Webster as a “religious fanatic,” and manipulated a video clip to make it look like Webster was demanding that his wife should “submit” to him.

In fact, the ad was taken out of context, causing the Orlando Sentinal to conclude that “Grayson's 'Taliban Dan' Ad Takes Webster's Words Out of Context, Twists Meaning.”


Another Grayson ad dishonestly attacked Webster as a “draft-dodger.”


More commonly, Democrat ads go back to the tried and true well of social security fear. “Call it senior scare. In race after race, Democrats running for Congress are using their opponents' criticisms of Social Security against them – sometimes accurately, and sometimes not,” according to Factcheck.org. The site listed several examples of attack ads that twisted the statements and positions of conservative candidates. “Context is crucial for many of the ads, and we find that the Democrats have exaggerated some of the claims.”


And a recent string of ominous Democratic National Committee commercials insinuate that the Chamber of Commerce is taking money from foreign governments, without evidence.


“Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie: They're Bush cronies. The US Chamber of Commerce: They're shills for big business,” said the ad.


“And they're stealing our democracy. Spending Millions from secret donors to elect Republicans to do their bidding in Congress. It appears they're even taking secret foreign money to influence our elections. It's incredible, Republicans benefiting from secret foreign money. Tell the Bush Crowd and the Chamber of Commerce - stop stealing our democracy.”

While the media has covered the increase in Democratic attack ads this season, it largely excuses them as par for the course in politics.


“The Democrats have one big chance against the Republicans. It's the strategy as old as politics: Go negative,” said reporter Bob Franken at the Times Union.


“A debate has broken out among some Democratic officials about the effectiveness – or wisdom – of running such pointedly negative advertisements with five weeks remaining in the campaign, reported The New York Times. “But party strategists said candidates did not have the luxury of waiting until the final stretch to go negative, particularly if the goal is to localize the races.”


The media has also promoted stories about “secretive” conservative groups funding conservative ads.


“The American Future Fund, a conservative organization based in Iowa, has been one of the more active players in this fall's campaigns, spending millions of dollars on ads attacking Democrats across the country,” reported The New York Times on Oct. 12. “Like many of the other groups with anodyne names engaged in the battle to control Congress, it does not have to identify its donors, keeping them -- and their possible motivations -- shrouded from the public.”


And on Oct. 8, NBC devoted an entire segment to “misleading” campaign ads – but only played ones from conservatives.

”Some of [the campaign ads] take liberties with the truth, some of the ads airing right now contain outright lies. Others have more subtle deceptions,” said NBC's Brian Williams on Oct. 8.


One of these allegedly untruthful commercials, by a West Virginia Republican, featured out-of-state actors who were “told to wear, quote, a 'hicky, blue collar look, jeans, work boots, flannel shirts and `John Deer' hats,' misspelled,” reported Mitchell.

Mitchell also knocked a “Republican attack ad” for filling the role of an unemployed steelworker with an “actor right out of 'Law & Order,'” instead of hiring an unemployed actor from the state.


“It's not new that political ads use actors. But what is different is the torrent of money from corporations and anonymous outside groups pouring into campaigns this year because of a Supreme Court ruling and other changes in the law,” said Mitchell.


The show then played a clip of President Obama saying that “They've got names like Americans for Prosperity, or The Committee for Truth in Politics, or Moms for Motherhood. Actually, that last one I made up.”

Mitchell concluded that “it's no laughing matter for Democrats, being outspent 7-to-1 by Republicans in the battle for the airwaves.”


If only the media would spend as much time looking into the groups that are funding liberal attack ads as they do looking into groups that are funding conservatives.


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