OK, again with the apologies for the slightly political nature of this post, but it's actually a tech issue. Blogger reactions are becoming fodder for the mainstream media and that is starting to cause some serious problems for candidates. This issue makes that point very well.
That said, the Obama campaign started running this Ad last week...
The problem, is this...
The reason he doesn't send email is that he can't use a keyboard because of the relentless beatings he received from the Viet Cong in service to our country. From the Boston Globe (March 4, 2000):
McCain gets emotional at the mention of military families needing food stamps or veterans lacking health care. The outrage comes from inside: McCain's severe war injuries prevent him from combing his hair, typing on a keyboard, or tying his shoes. Friends marvel at McCain's encyclopedic knowledge of sports. He's an avid fan - Ted Williams is his hero - but he can't raise his arm above his shoulder to throw a baseball.
Wow, that is a screw up.
Not just a little screw up but the mother of all screw ups. The Obama campaign's goal in this entire election is to draw attention away from McCain's Vietnam service. Everyone knows he was a hero in Vietnam but the party line for Obama has to be "that doesn't mean he's the right person to be President"
Bottom Line: Obama can't win on the Military Service issue so his best bet is to acknowledge it and move on (which is exactly what he's been doing up until now)
Accidentally mocking him for his heroism is one of those situations where you don't even want to apologize because that would entail bringing it up again. You just want to drop it and hope to God it goes away quickly.
I'm not saying cave, if someone brings it up to you it's ok to say something like...
"The Ad was intended to highlight the importance of Technology and the leading role our candidate hopes to take in that area but we sincerely regret the context of the Ad and as always honor Senator's service in the Military"
But the point is to minimize the Ad as much as possible. Unfortunately, Bloggers (being the passionate sort they are) don't follow those same rules. Nico Pitney tries to defend the Ad here.
The problem here is that Mr. Pitney, like most people, doesn't like to lose. So while the official campaign is willing to say "we blew this play" and move on to the next he feels the need to make an absolutely pathetic defense of the Ad. I mean, the defense put forth boils down to "he reads e-mail on the blackberry and is trying to get online so this is all a lie".
Well, you don't need perfectly working fingers to use a Blackberry wheel or click a mouse so that doesn't prove anything.
This brings us to the tech issue here. Back "in the day", when Newspapers carried all your news, the people talking about these issues were party surrogates who knew what they were doing (aka had some training in media relations and were briefed on where the campaign wanted to go on this issue). Now it's a free for all.
This presents two problems for political campaigns.
1. Normal people assume high profile bloggers (like those on the Huffington Post) are party surrogates and hence attribute their comments to the campaign.
2. The Campaign can't publicly distance themselves from the fringe groups (who post these things) without the risk of insulting those groups (whose support they need).
It's a tough situation. I firmly believe the harsh commentary in the blogosphere (which is overwhelmingly liberal) played a part in John Kerry's defeat 4 years ago and it looks like it's going to fill the same role this time around. Both parties need to find some way to get a handle on these people if they hope to survive in the coming years.
Addendum: As bad as Mr. Pitney's post was I think Dave Winer takes it up a notch...
Now the idiot right-wing bloggers have a new paranoid theory to cling to -- maybe McCain can't use a computer because of his war injuries. I have a different theory. He doesn't use the Internet for the same reason he doesn't understand economics and the same reason he thinks we could stay in Iraq for 100 years -- because he's a dumb, lazy and ignorant rich kid and has the curiosity of a bowl of oatmeal. And if it were true we would have heard from them on this already, and the only voices on this one would not be the pajama-wearing nutcases of the right. We'd be hearing from the lying suit-wearing lobbyist bastards running McCain's campaign, or the lying bastard John McCain himself.
Again, as bad moves go this is the worst. That said, I have to come to Mr. Winer's defense to a certain extent. He has repeatedly said he believes campaigns need to embrace bloggers more and this incident proves his point. I doubt Mr Winer would have posted this if the campaign had sent him an e-mail saying they felt it was playing as an insult to McCain's service and politely asked him not to post on it for that reason.
It very well might be time for campaigns to create blog networks around themselves and brief bloggers in the same way they do the talking heads.