There's a new meme in the presidential race: The Internet is helping expose dirty tricks, enhance campaign accountability and punish the purveyors of dog whistle sleaze. Web luminaries from Arianna Huffington to Micah Sifry pushed that argument this week. The Obama campaign agrees.
On Friday, Obama's new media office launched an initiative to identify and expose any last-minute, below-the-radar attacks on the Democratic nominee. A web portal, Radar.BarackObama.com, tracks attacks, anonymous robocalls and solicits reports from supporters around the country, "anchor[ing]" an "expansive campaign to push back on McCain's unceasing negativity," according to a campaign aide. (The campaign is also touting offline pushback in key states, pointing to recent events in Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia.)
Of course, Obama's aides have been countering attacks for the whole campaign, online and off, including another open-source portal, FightTheSmears.com. Radar is distinct, however, because it maps and measures Republican attacks, showing the public (and the press) exactly how much Republicans are relying on robocalls, mailers and attacks in the homestretch. The site aims to expose every "toxic attack" designed "to quietly poison voters' information with lies and fear tactics." A U.S. map provides an indictment of Sen. John McCain, the site contends, by displaying attacks "which are approved by the McCain campaign or its Republican partners" (emphasis in original). The map:
As it happens, TalkingPointsMemo, a site that has fused journalism and new media activism, unveiled a similar map this week, titled "Flying Under The Radar: The Map of GOP Sleaze."
In the new era of web-driven politics, nothing stays below the radar for long, which can pose a bigger problem for hypocritical and deceitful candidates. For months, McCain proudly lectured voters about how he runs honest, honorable campaigns. Yet new media scrutiny has exposed his use of the same lies, smears and tricks that helped sour the nation on the Republican politics of Rove. For some voters, the revulsion with McCain's last-minute smears may be especially acute, once they know that he is employing the very operatives who launched hateful, racist smears and lies about his family in 2000. That is not only hypocritically dishonorable, by definition; it also smacks of an unseemly desperation.