ABC’s Terry Moran featured three Republican campaign ads as examples of "mudslinging" in the run-up to November’s mid-term elections. On Thursday’s edition of "Nightline", Moran slammed Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of "beloved" actor Michael J. Fox and his Democratic pro-stem cell research campaign spots as a "vicious attack." On a GOP ad attacking Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. for attending a party hosted by Playboy magazine, Moran stated the ad used a white actress to "smear him." Moran’s point of view on these ads was easily discernable from this introduction:
Moran: "Tonight, on Nightline, mudslinging. Michael J. Fox's dramatic campaign commercials, Rush Limbaugh's vicious attack. With less than two weeks to go before the election, how low can they go? Hardball politics, where the stakes are high."
While Moran stated that both sides are playing rough two weeks out from the election, he only highlighted controversies surrounding Republican campaign ads:
Moran: "The art of politics, someone once said, consists in knowing precisely when to hit an opponent below the belt. Well, here we are approaching the 11th hour of campaign 2006, and the low punches are being thrown right and left. And that's because the stakes in this election could not be higher. Today, President Bush defied what he called the pundits, saying he expects Republicans will keep control of Congress. Both sides are now playing a furious game of hardball. And it's coming at you every day in the ad wars."
Moran began his segment with the controversy over Michael J. Fox’s commercials on behalf of Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill:
Moran: "The bitterest political battle in the closing days of this campaign has erupted in Missouri, and it centers on Michael J. Fox."
Michael J. Fox [in campaign ad]: "They say all politics is local, but that's not always the case."
Moran praised Fox as "an admired, even beloved public figure" and a "political fighter":
Moran: "He is an admired, even beloved public figure. A young, supremely likable actor, struck low by Parkinson's disease in his prime."
Fox: "We need a rescue and the country should know it."
Moran: "And he's a political fighter for embryonic stem cell research, which incumbent Republican Senator, Jim Talent opposes, while his Democratic challenger, Claire McCaskill supports it."
On Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of the Fox spots, Moran failed to note that Limbaugh apologized for stating that Fox had faked his symptoms for dramatic effect.
Moran: "McCaskill paid for this ad, using Fox, or exploiting him, as some Republicans claim. Rush Limbaugh went even further."
Rush Limbaugh: "In this commercial, he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking, and it's purely an act."
Moran also made no mention of the questions regarding inaccuracies in the Fox ads, which, as NewsBusters reported here, Sean Hannity discussed on Wednesday’s Good Morning America.
Moving onto the Tennessee Senate race, Moran described the Republican National Committee ad against Harold Ford Jr., featuring a white actress portraying a Playboy bunny, as a way to "smear him" for going to a Super Bowl Party hosted by the magazine:
Moran: "Just take a look at Tennessee...In one of the most crucial Senate contests in the country, Republican Bob Corker is running against Democrat Harold Ford, Jr., who would be the first black senator elected from the south since just after the Civil War. It's a dead heat right now, and so the Republican Party swung for the fences with this ad."
[Republican campaign ad] Female: "Harold Ford looks nice. Isn't that enough?"
Moran: "The ad mocks Ford's positions on national security and taxes and gun control. And then out of nowhere--"
[Republican campaign ad] Female: "I met Harold at the Playboy party."
Moran: "Ford did attend a Super Bowl party last year hosted by Playboy magazine. And the ad uses a blonde, white actress to smear him for going."
Donna Brazile, a prominent Democratic strategist, was highlighted in Moran’s piece and denounced the GOP spot as playing to a racist stereotype:
Moran: "Many Democrats and others said the ad amounted to a racist appeal."
Donna Brazile: "It wasn't just the fact that it was a woman. It was a white woman with blonde hair. An old, racial stereotype that, somehow or another, black men are attracted to white blondes or white women are attracted to black men...This is a long, an old stereotype. It's, it's, it's as old as our republic, especially in the south. And to play that ad, one that could have used a brown bunny. Or, you know, a black Playboy bunny. They could have used any bunny. But they chose to use to play into the racial stereotype."
Conservative Bay Buchanan was then featured and asserted that "boring" candidates win in Tennessee, not "flamboyant, smooth-talking candidates like Ford:
Moran: "The Republican Party says it pulled the ad, but it was still running tonight. But mudslinging's often in the eyes of the beholder. And it can work. Especially if a candidate stumbles responding to it, as Bay Buchanan says, Harold Ford did."
Buchanan: "Finally, he says, 'So, I like girls. What of it?' I'll tell you what of it. Tennessee has produced both Frist and Gore. Tennessee likes boring. Boring wins in Tennessee. And here you have this flamboyant, smooth-talking, ladies' man. That's not the image. That's what that ad does. It made Ford reinforce this image of a dapper man that, that maybe not in touch with the people of Tennessee. Corker is boring. Boring wins."
Moran: "Ford supporters are saying what it also did was inject racism into the campaign, by suggesting to Tennessee people that here's, here's a black man who doesn't have his appetites under control."
Buchanan: "I don't know what's racist about that. We had Bill Clinton for a number of years, and he certainly had, was a good, old, healthy white man."
As if that wasn’t enough, Moran highlighted yet another Republican commercial, this time from the Massachusetts gubernatorial contest. Deval Patrick, a black Democrat, was criticized in a GOP ad for advocating on behalf of a convicted rapist to the state parole board:
Moran: "Race has also been a factor in Massachusetts, where Democrat Deval Patrick is running for governor against Republican Kerry Healey, who tried to link her opponent to a convicted rapist."
[campaign ad]: "Have you ever heard a woman compliment a rapist?"
Moran: "That ad backfired. Patrick is up more than 20 points in the polls now."
What Moran didn't say was that while Patrick still holds a significant lead over Healey, he is actually down from a 39 percent advantage he held in September.
Moran’s piece ended with a warning from Buchanan of more negative attacks to come:
Moran: "Dirty politics, once relegated to the shadows, distributed in anonymous flyers and pamphlets, or done by surrogates is now what campaigning's all about..."
Buchanan: "If you wanna play hardball, then we gotta play it. We can't just get in, on the field and then say, 'Oh, we're gonna be nice guys,' cause we're gonna get clocked if we do that. And we're in some tough races. If you don't have tight races, you don't need to play that hard. But these are all across the country, tight. And more importantly, they're not just about the individual races. They're about controlling Congress. That's why it's gonna get nastier and uglier than I think we have ever seen."
Moran: "So fasten your seat belts?"
Buchanan: "Absolutely. It is gonna be an e-ticket ride."
Note that Moran mentioned no incidents of "mudslinging" on the part of the Democrats. As Hannity pointed out on GMA yesterday, Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Steele was called a "token" by Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer and accused of having a "slavish" mentality to the Republican party. However, this incident did not seem to fit within the theme of Moran’s piece, which is of a desperate GOP willing to resort to "mudslinging" to maintain their hold on power.