Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The Blame Game

By kgpatia
In the media aftermath of Wednesday night's presidential debate, it may be difficult to see beyond the dizzying effects of repeated references to "Joe the Plumber." However, many campaign behemoths were tackled in the debate, including the growing issue of negative campaign advertisements. Bob Schieffer proved to be a more pressing moderator than those in debates past, asking the candidates point-blank: "Are each of you tonight willing to sit at this table and say to each other's face what your campaigns and the people in your campaigns have said about each other?"

The squirm-inducing moments that followed were the result of weeks of negative campaign ads and heightened media coverage of this negative campaigning. The Project for Excellence in Journalism recently reported that "for the first time in a month, the 2008 campaign generated more coverage than the financial crisis." The story that trumped the financial crisis (between October 6-12)? Increased negative campaigning and attacks.

In the debate, Sen. John McCain hammered Sen. Barack Obama about his relationship with William C. Ayers. This came in light of weeks of McCain's campaign trying to make an issue of the relationship, with running mate Sarah Palin going so far as to claim that Obama "pals around with terrorists."

McCain also accused Obama in the debate as having "spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history," adding, "And I can prove it." Obama, for his part, countered that "100 percent" of McCain's ads "have been negative." Additionally, the Obama campaign recently released a 13-minute documentary-style campaign ad, complete with its own website, detailing John McCain's relationship to the so-called Keating Five.

However, it appears that the candidates may not be slinging mud in the same quantity or velocity. According to an article in the October 16 edition of the Wall Street Journal, an independent study reports that "higher proportion of Sen. McCain's ads are negative than Sen. Obama's." And voters are noticing. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll released on Wednesday - which Obama quoted in the debate - 61% of respondents felt that McCain engaged in more negative campaigning, compared to 31% of respondents who felt that Obama did.

These same voters are none too happy about the political mud-slinging going on, no matter who they feel is contributing the most to the heated political fray. However, the same Wall Street Journal article referenced above notes a silver lining to this flood of negativity. "Attack ads," the article notes, "are more likely to be about issues than are positive ads. They're likely to contain more information, back up their claims with evidence and delve into details."

It seems then, that despite the bad reputation attack ads get, there may be something good, or at least valid, in all that mud. Thus, as with all other campaign information, it behooves voters to neither accept nor reject an attack ad at face value, but rather investigate the claims it makes as much as possible on their own. With the election less than three weeks away, we all owe it to ourselves not to be thrown by the hype - campaign created, media-induced, or otherwise - and stick to the facts.


To watch current campaign ads, or view those from elections past (did you know campaigns used to have musical ads?) visit the Living Room Candidate.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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