Obama 2008 the most negative TV ad campaign ever? Politifact says "Mostly True"

Posted by Mitch Perry on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 3:03 PM

If you're a viewer of MSNBC's Morning Joe program, you can't go more than a day or two before co-host Joe Scarborough refers to Barack Obama running the most negative television ad campaign in history when he defeated John McCain in 2008.

Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio repeated the same mantra on the day of the Florida presidential primary election. Now the Tampa Bay Times' Pulitzer-winning PolitiFact has researched it, and they label the characterization "Mostly True."

Citing a study written by University of Missouri professor William Benoit, Politifact's Amy Sherman writes:

"It is true (Obama) ran more negative ads or ran them more often than McCain, but if you look at the content of the ads to see what they were saying, it was really about the same,’’ in terms of what percentage were negative, Benoit said.

Benoit said he examined specific negative and positive statements in TV ads by the campaigns. One ad could have both negative and positive statements.

Professor Benoit found that 68 percent of the statements in Obama’s ads were attacks, while McCain’s were 62 percent attacks, and that the only campaign that came close to Obama's use of negative ads was that of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. His statements were deemed 69 percent negative.

The subject arises following the Obama campaign's announcement this week that it would encourage deep-pocketed Democrats to contribute to its super PAC (former Obama aide Bill Burton's Priorities USA Action), which has been struggling for funds in comparison to GOP super PACS like Karl Rove's American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.

That news disappointed some Democrats who feel that Super PACS, fueled by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, are anathema to democracy. But it's not the first time the president has disappointed good-government types when it comes to campaign finance.

In 2008, you might recall, Obama eschewed public financing (after being a supporter of it) when he realized that his popularity would allow him to raise more money by not accepting matching federal funds. That led to the scorn of his opponent that year, John McCain, Mr. Campaign Finance himself.

Obama ended up raising $745 million, an all-time record. Although some pundits are predicting he will raise $1 billion this time around, he may not achieve that level — in part because the big Wall Street money won't be available. Some Jewish donors have also said they won't contribute to his cause.

In his syndicated column today, Robert Reich writes that Obama has made a "total mockery" of the U.S. Supreme Court's "naive belief that super PACs would remain separate from individual campaigns," and will encourage Vice President Joe Biden, the First Lady and even cabinet members to speak at super PAC events.

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