Local Politics

Political Attack Ads Easy to Find Online

Posted February 1, 2008 5:58 p.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2008 9:06 p.m. EST

— The nastiest battle between Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore in their campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor is taking place in cyberspace.

While television ads for the two candidates feature soft-focus photos, patriotic music and narrators speaking about the candidates' personal and political accomplishments, ads popping up on Internet sites like YouTube have lower production values and considerably more negative messages.

"It's the Wild West of political communication now," said David McLennan, a political science professor at Peace College.

The federal government and the State Board of Elections regulate political ads on television, radio and in print. They have very little authority over ads on the Internet, however.

"I think the use of the Internet in campaigns from four years ago to now has exploded," McLennan said. "It's new. It's totally unregulated. Rules are being made up as time moves along."

Perdue's latest Internet ad uses a newsreel look to slam Moore for his role in approving the $21.5 million in public funding for the former Randy Parton Theatre in Roanoke Rapids. The city recently took control of the venue and cut all ties to Parton, including renaming the theater, after financial records showed questionable spending and growing losses.

Meanwhile, Moore's ad contrasts pictures of traffic congestion in Raleigh and Charlotte with the light traffic on a $120 million bridge over the Neuse River that Perdue backed for her hometown of New Bern. The music emphasizes the point, with The Eagles' hit "Life in the Fast Lane" playing over the gridlock, while cars drive over the New Bern bridge as "Bridge Over the River Kwai" whistles in the background.

"It was the most negative message of the campaign," McLennan said of the new ad.

Because the online ads are cheaper to produce and distribute than televised ads, he said, anyone can now post negative political ads.

"It's extremely scary that people who don't have time or experience or the ability to make an informed judgment about these ads are out there consuming it."

McLennan said most of his students get their political information from Web sites like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, and younger voters who turn to those sites are expected to have an impact in this year's presidential race.