WashPost: Putting Black Opponent in a Darker Light in Political TV Ads Is Racist

A time-honored tactic in political TV ads is to use contrasting degrees of photographic exposure, one bright and snappy for your candidate and a darker hue, sometimes even going to old-fashioned black-and-white, for your opponent.

On December 29, at the Washington Post's Wonkblog, Max Ehrenfreund cited a conveniently timed "study" which looked at 2008 ads produced by and on behalf of GOP presidential candidate John McCain, and concluded that the McCain campaign and its supporters, by using such a tactic, were engaging in racism:

Obama’s skin looks a little different in these GOP campaign ads

A new study shows that negative ads targeting President Obama in 2008 depicted him with very dark skin, and that these images would have appealed to some viewers’ racial biases.

The finding reinforces charges that some Republican politicians seek to win votes by implying support for racist views and ethnic hierarchies, without voicing those prejudices explicitly. The purported tactic is often called “dog-whistle politics” — just as only canines can hear a dog whistle, only prejudiced voters are aware of the racist connotations of a politician’s statement, according to the theory.

That debate has been prominent in the 2016 campaign, primarily targeting Donald Trump, but it has existed in almost every recent presidential election. To hear their opponents tell it, when Republican politicians say they oppose a generous welfare system, they really mean black beneficiaries are lazy. If they endorse strict immigration enforcement, they really mean that Latinos are criminals, critics say.

Yeah, yeah. Anyone who supports tax cuts, states' rights, school choice, or virtually any other conservative principle is an obvious racist. Since the left is out of intellectual arguments, the only remaining tool they have is to call virtually everything they oppose "racist" to shut down honest discussion.

The last excerpted Post paragraph is the typical "dog whistle" garbage the left has used for decades on Republicans and conservatives when they have absolutely no tangible evidence of racism.

Turning the tables, here's a likely translation of the Post's "critics say" — "We believe those things about GOP candidates and conservatives ourselves — but we know better than to be 'voicing those prejudices explicitly.'" In other words, if they insist on going there, I'm going to posit the idea that Max Ehrenfreund and the editors who let this post through are projecting. (How does it feel, guys?)

Continuing:

A study published online this month in Public Opinion Quarterly provides new evidence that one GOP campaign — intentionally or not — has aired advertisements that exacerbate viewers’ racial biases.

Analyzing 126 advertisements from the presidential campaign in 2008, the authors first digitally measured the darkness of the two nominees’ skin in each spot, then sorted the ads into categories based on themes. President Obama and his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), looked very different in various advertisements depending on how the footage was edited and produced.

That was particularly the case in negative advertisements, in which each campaign manipulated the images of its opponent to shadow or wash out his face for dramatic effect.

... a large body of evidence shows that racial prejudices are stronger against African Americans with darker skin.

In the video at the Post's story, which is a McCain ad documenting Obama's past relationship with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, the McCain campaign used a series of still photos of Obama. With few exceptions, the photos show Obama's facial skin accurately. A few render it darker. It appears that all of them were obtained from elsewhere, and were not manipulated in any way, shape or form — unlike, for example, the infamously altered mug shot photo of O.J. Simpson Time Magazine published shortly after his arrest in 1994.

Ehrenfreund then described the study's attempt to demonstrate racial animus against those pictured with darker skin by using the same kind of bogus "fill in the blank" tests I decried when the Associated Press decided to tell us that "a slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not" in late October of 2012, when Obama's reelection victory against Republican Mitt Romney seemed far from certain.

These "experimental tests" are supposed to measure "implicit views toward race without asking questions about that topic directly." What these "experimental tests" can't do is tell us whether these test results actually prove anything besides the researchers' desperation, or whether they have any effect on actual voting.

Ehrenfreund did not indicate whether the researchers reviewed the photographic lighting exposures and contrasts used in ads placed by the Obama campaign or their supporters critical of McCain or Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin in 2008. The guess here is that they didn't.

It wasn't difficult to find an ad which altered Palin's appearance far more than the ad Ehrenfreund posted as a supposedly awful example at his writeup:

Palin's image was so severely altered that the ad's producers had to put her name below it so viewers would know it was really her.

But I guess we're supposed to assume that the Obama supporters who produced the ad weren't being racist (or sexist), because the clearly more severe image-altering was done on a white woman who is a conservative Republican — and that's okay.

What a disgraceful non-story the Post published.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.