The Ads

The Note has a great point about the Bush ads:

The Bush-Cheney-McKinnon TV ads make their Fox Sports debuts this weekend, and it’s gotten us to wondering whether the media’s predilection for controversy in the moment ignores the dynamic effect of its own coverage. Dynamic, and not necessarily zero-sum for either side.

Notice the way the coverage frames the debate:

The Washington Post’s Paul Fahri writes that the ads “generated criticism and controversy yesterday.” LINK

In The New York Times, Stevenson and Rutenberg say “aides were scrambling to counter criticism” LINK

Consider, for a moment, the story of an orange.

It’s a regular old orange.

One day, Jeff Zucker at NBC decides to make a television show out of the orange. It runs on Thursday night, in Friends’ time slot. The theme music is snazzy.

For 22 minutes, viewers get to watch the orange, doing nothing, just sitting there.

The next day, to hype the program, (called “Orange You Glad”) the NBC PR folks rope off a small section of Times Square and put the orange on a pedestal in the center. Thousands of people stop by and gawk. “IT’S THE ORANGE,” they say. “The ORANGE that was on television last night!!!”

The moral of this strange little tale: it doesn’t matter that the orange is a stupid old orange. It was on television, people saw it, and now they’re interested in it. Context be damned.

The repetition of the Bush ad and the 9/11 imagery, even amid the throes of a “controversy,” are bound to increase the association that viewers make between President Bush and his 9/11 leadership. So it doesn’t seem necessarily obvious to us that they are on the defensive, here, or are particularly worried about seeming crass.

No one for a moment doubts the strong feelings expressed by victims’ families, and we’re not suggesting that criticism of the ads aren’t warranted. (Perhaps they are, perhaps they’re not). It’s just that the mere fact of doing the story increases the odds that the goal of the ads will be fulfilled. (Well, at least half the goal — the question then becomes — will some key swingish people think that there has been a loss of national unity since then?) Especially this early in the season, when message-formation is perhaps the most potent weapon in the political arsenal.

What’s Bush’s re-election message? Easy: Steady leadership in times of change.

What’s Kerry’s election message? Ah …Well, it used to be … Howard Dean by-way-of Joe Lieberman … . I’m strong where Bush is strong and strong where he’s weak.

UPDATE: Poliblog has more. He shares The Note’s sentiments.