An Attack Ad That Might (Still) Grab You

PBS on campaign spending: he-said, she-said, and something more

At this point, a political attack ad would probably sound to you something like the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher: wah-wah-wah, wah-wah-WAH (though perhaps a tad more menacing). But a sort of unintelligible noise, still, to be expertly tuned out.

Would an anti-David Brooks ad grab your attention? What about an ad targeting Jim Lehrer?

On Tuesday, viewers of PBS NewsHour were treated to an argument between Mark Shields and David Brooks about outside money and campaign ads—over exactly why the outside spending we’ve seen this year is bad and what impact it has or doesn’t have, over whether Democrats or Republicans have spent more this year, and also over whether it’s better to cite spending figures from the New York Times or (doesn’t the former often cite the latter?) Here’s how silly the Shields-Brooks argument became:

JIM LEHRER: Do you think the outside money— and we have to go here in a moment— but the outside money has contributed to the tone of the campaign, to the— quote— “nastiness” that is in a lot of these ads?

MARK SHIELDS: On both sides, they have been overwhelmingly negative, the outside— there’s no accountability, Jim.

In other words, it isn’t my saying, I’m attacking Jim Lehrer. He double-parks. He doesn’t return library books. And I’m Mark Shields, and I paid for this.

This is some bogus group with a euphemistic name attached to it. And they can say, David Brooks is a known public— you know, whatever he is.

JIM LEHRER: It’s OK. We got it.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s true.

JIM LEHRER: We get the point.

MARK SHIELDS: Thespian. Thespian.


David Brooks. Known public thespian. Bad for you. Bad for America. (thisadwaspaidforbythecoalitiontoprotectnewborndwarfbunnies).

Hopefully, Newshour viewers also caught Paul Solman’s report on outside ad spending which preceded (not directly) the Shields-Brooks segment and provided some facts, some background, along with some he-said, she-said, before concluding of these ads: “Pernicious propaganda? Free speech? Both? You get to decide.” From Solman’s report, at least, viewers got some of what they might need to do so.

The topic came up again on Tuesday’s Newshour during a segment hosted by Judy Woodruff and featuring a Republican strategist and a Democratic strategist who disagreed over whether this year’s outside spending is “new and over-the-top” or not and which side has spent more. From that transcript:

HE SAID: Wah-wah-wah.

SHE SAID: WAH-wah-wah.

On the much-debated question of who’s the biggest outside spender this year, in fact, we don’t yet and may never know, as explained in this blog post from the Sunlight Foundation (which funds CJR’s reporting on transparency).

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.