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Context of '1934: California Republicans Use First Negative Video Ads to Smear Democratic Opponent'

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Upton Sinclair.Upton Sinclair. [Source: NNDB (.com)]Upton Sinclair, the author of Urban Jungle and a well-known “muckraking” journalist, runs as a Democratic candidate for governor of California. Sinclair has previously run failed campaigns for political office as a Socialist. He runs on a platform of eliminating poverty in California. To beat him back, the California Republican Party hires an ad agency and the first political consulting firm in the country, Whitaker and Baxter. The consulting firm decides that the best way to beat Sinclair is to portray him as a crazed Bolshevik—a “Red.” The firm produces phony newsreels of staged events, and pays for them to be shown at movie houses throughout California. One newsreel depicts crowds of bedraggled hoboes leaping off of a freight train, and one hobo telling the camera, “Sinclair says he’ll take the property of the working people and give it to us.” Another ad depicts an actor with a heavy beard and a thick Russian accent explaining why he will vote for Sinclair: “His system worked well in Russia, so why can’t it work here?” Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM and a powerful California Republican, ensures that the newsreels get near-saturation coverage throughout the state. Sinclair is defeated. In 1990, media pundit Roger Simon will write, “Though more than a half-century has passed, the fundamentals of that first negative video commercial are the same that are used in negative TV ads today: fear, danger, and stereotyping of the enemy.” [Regardie's Magazine, 10/1/1990]

Entity Tags: Republican Party of California, Louis B. Mayer, Upton Sinclair, Whitaker and Baxter, Roger Simon

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

President Harry Truman triumphantly displays a newspaper headline declaring victory for his opponent, Thomas Dewey. Dewey lost the election.President Harry Truman triumphantly displays a newspaper headline declaring victory for his opponent, Thomas Dewey. Dewey lost the election. [Source: Electoral-Vote (.com)]Advertising executive Thomas Rosser Reeves Jr. approaches Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey and offers to produce television ads for the Dewey campaign. Dewey is even with Democratic incumbent Harry Truman in the polls. “This could be a close election,” Reeves says. “I can pretty much tell which states are going to be close. If you would start two or three weeks before Election Day and saturate those critical states with spots, it could swing the election.” Reeves may be aware of the powerful impact negative newsreels had on the 1934 California gubernatorial election (see 1934). Dewey refuses, saying, “I don’t think it would be dignified.” Dewey subsequently loses one of the closest presidential elections in US history. In 1990, media pundit Roger Simon will write: “In 1948 there were fewer than 500,000 TV sets in America. Four years later there were nearly 19 million. And nobody ever said no to television again.” [Regardie's Magazine, 10/1/1990]

Entity Tags: Roger Simon, Thomas Dewey, Harry S. Truman, Thomas Rosser Reeves, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

An image from the ABC broadcast ‘The Fallen.’An image from the ABC broadcast ‘The Fallen.’ [Source: ABC / Poynter (.org)]ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004; CNN, 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004; Associated Press, 5/1/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004] Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. [Al Tompkins, 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” [CNN, 5/1/2004] Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004] “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” [Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]

Entity Tags: William Kristol, Fox News, Tim Holmes, Ted Koppel, ABC News, Bill O’Reilly, Brent Bozell, David Smith, Sue Niederer, Evan Ashcraft, Chris Wallace, David Dennis, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Ernest Sutphin, Robert McChesney, Ivan Medina, Irving Medina, George W. Bush, Seth Dvorin, Frank Rich, Jane Bright, Jay Rosen, Free Press, Mark Hyman, John McCain, Media Research Center, Pat Tillman

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Impelled by polls showing that Democrats may not do as badly as predicted in the upcoming November midterm elections, Republican political organizations pour vast amounts of money into tight Senate and House races in the final days, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by the Wesleyan Media Project and from Democratic organizers. The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) has “opened the floodgates” for corporate money to be used in electioneering and advertising, much of that money going anonymously to political parties and operations (see September 13-16, 2010 and October 2010). Much of the money is targeting three Senate races in Colorado, Kentucky, and California. Republicans are confident that they will gain control of the House of Representatives, but must gain 10 seats to control the Senate, a prospect that is not as likely. Last-minute spending surges are common in elections, but experts say they have never seen so much spending in the last days of a race. Pollster Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center is not sure the last-minute surge of spending, almost all of which is going to advertising, will have a major effect. Most voters’ minds are made up by now, Kohut says. Data shows that organizations affiliated with Republicans have outspent their Democratic rivals by more than a 3-1 ratio. In Nevada, “independent” organizations are pouring money into attack ads against Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and in support of challenger Sharron Angle (R-NV). Late campaign spending is fairly equal, according to the data, and the polls for that race are very tight. In Colorado, “tea party” favorite Ken Buck (R-CO) is losing ground to incumbent Michael Bennet (D-CO), and in response, Republican groups have funneled money into ads supporting Buck and attacking Bennet to create a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Buck. A similar instance exists in Kentucky, where another tea party favorite, Rand Paul (R-KY), is losing ground to Jack Conway (D-KY), and Republican spending on Paul’s behalf has made for a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Paul. In California, where popular Democrat Barbara Boxer (D-CA) once had a 2-1 spending advantage over her opponent Carly Fiorina (R-CA), pro-Fiorina groups have recently outspent pro-Boxer groups 5-1. In Pennsylvania, pro-Republican groups are heavily outspending Democrats, largely to support Republican favorite Pat Toomey (R-PA) over Joe Sestak (D-PA). In Delaware, Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE), whose campaign has raised large amounts of money from out-of-state financiers, has not received the lavish funding that her Republican colleagues have gotten to defeat her opponent Chris Coons (D-DE). O’Donnell has received some $300,000 from right-wing and tea party groups. But Coons is receiving virtually no support from independent pro-Democratic groups, possibly because polls indicate he will win the election and does not need the last-minute funding support. The elections will be held on November 2. [Reuters, 10/27/2010] The results of the massive spending are mixed. The Republican winners include Paul and Toomey. The Republican losers include Angle, Buck, Fiorina and O’Donnell. [National Public Radio, 11/3/2010]

Entity Tags: Christine O’Donnell, Chris Coons, Wesleyan Media Project, Barbara Boxer, Andrew Kohut, Sharron Angle, Reuters, US House of Representatives, Carly Fiorina, Joe Sestak, Jack Conway, Harry Reid, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Ken Buck, Michael Bennet

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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