Barack Obama builds a Web site to provide instant responses to false attacks
In an effort to beat back the persistent false rumors about him circulating online, Barack Obama has unveiled a new Web site, FighttheSmears, which his campaign promises to debunk falsehoods as they emerge.
Currently, the site outlines an issue -- say, the rumor that a videotape exists of Michelle Obama using the pejorative "Whitey" in reference to white people from the pulpit of their former church, Trinity united -- calling it "the Smear." Then it lists several instances in which the issues has been mentioned publicly, calling each instance a lie. Then, it discloses what it calls "The truth," in the above example, saying no such tape exists. (the photo at left, taken when Obama was visiting Kenya, has been used to falsely boost rumors his is a Muslim.)
Democrats still remember how John Kerry's campaign was undone in 2004 by his reluctance to acknowledge and address how the GOP-friendly Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were distorting his war record. This site seems a massive step in the other direction -- leapfrogging the old school notion that you don't repeat harmful things said about you by political opponents.
The site also makes it easy for users to forward messages to friends debunking the rumors listed, in a savvy attempt to create new email chains circulating a more favorable message. In the same way Obama got an early edge in online fundraising, he's taken a cue from liberal media watchdog Media Matters, and created a repository for evidence bolstering his case that skeptics can peruse as they like and fans can easily distribute.
During a segment I taped for NPR to air tomorrow, Washington Post Writers Group columnist Ruben Navarette said this site will allow the Obama campaign to mix in rumors which might be true -- recalling the way many disbelieved the Clinton campaign's whispers about Obama's ties to his controversial Chicago pastor until Jeremiah Wright's sermons were revealed on national television.
But I think the site will lose its utility the minute something true is debunked, giving those skeptical independent voters Obama is trying to take from McCain a serious reason to question whether they can trust him. Check it out for yourself and decide where the issue lands...