Blog Comments Become Fodder For Attack Ads

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 22, 2007

RICHMOND, Sept. 21 -- A Republican state legislator from Fairfax County has launched an attack ad on cable TV against his Democratic opponent that features unidentified, unverified quotes from a blog.

The ad by Del. Timothy D. Hugo points to a new form of negative campaigning in which information for an attack ad is sourced to comments posted on the Internet instead of more authoritative sources such as news reports or public records.

Hugo's ad highlights critical comments about his Democratic opponent, Rex Simmons, that someone with the screen name "Pitin" posted on the Democratic blog Raising Kaine.

Ads that quote from blogs, on which it is often difficult to identify the author, represent a benchmark in increasingly negative political campaigns, several political analysts said.

"This is one of the places where the old way of doing politics and the new way is coming into conflict," said David Weinberger, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. "We have developed a blogosphere that is full of lively debate . . . but at the same time we have political marketers who will use anything they can to advance their own cause."

In Hugo's ad, a narrator recounts what "others are saying" about Simmons. As quotes flash across the screen, the narrator says Simmons is "running the most cowardly campaign I have ever seen" and "has been lying to voters the entire campaign."

"We just can't trust Rex Simmons," the ad concludes.

The ad, which also says Simmons supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, cites Raising Kaine as the source of the quotes about Simmons.

Raising Kaine, named after Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) but not connected to him, is a site where Democratic activists talk about Virginia politics. The site allows anyone to post an entry or comment on one, even anonymously, after registering.

Lowell Feld, one of the founders of Raising Kaine, is calling on television stations to pull Hugo's ad, saying it misleads voters into thinking that Raising Kaine opposes Simmons.

Feld added that Hugo's ad signals "a dangerous precedent" that could affect all organizations that allow people to contribute anonymously to their Web sites.

"If someone is allowed to post on a blog, does that mean the organization is responsible and a political candidate can then source an ad to them?" Feld asked.

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