Subliminal Messaging, or Over-Active Imaginations?

By Jennifer Parker

Jul 18, 2008 5:54pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: There’s a longtime tradition in political advertising to look beyond the message to the subtext — and even to the subliminal. In that spirit, a veteran Democratic operative offers an interesting observation of the newly released anti-Obama Web video produced by the McCain campaign. The video is an eight-minute montage of sometimes contradictory statements about the Iraq war made by Sen. Barack Obama.  At the very beginning, the title — “The Obama Iraq Documentary” — flashes into place in a blaze of orange. And for a single frame — a tiny fraction of a second — Obama’s face is framed by the following prominent letters: “a l  q D.” Some caveats: “al qD” is meaningless by itself. The “l” is actually the capital “I” in "Iraq," though in the typeface used in the video, it looks like a lowercase “L.” Other letters — at either end of the title — are simultaneously on the screen. And many editing programs do allow randomized letter placement. But still. . . . For a brief moment, Obama’s face is framed by letters that the brain may want to play with and spell something that does make sense. If you type “al qD” into Google, you get this response: “Did you mean: al qaeda.” Well — is that what the McCain campaign meant? No, said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers, adding that the admakers used a “text randomizer,” where a computer randomly chose the order in which the letters would appear. “The idea that it’s in any way done by the campaign intentionally is preposterous,” Rogers said when asked by ABC News whether the campaign meant to draw a link between Obama and al Qaeda. Rogers added that tens of thousands of people have viewed the video since it was released Thursday afternoon, and no one had asked the campaign about the letters in the beginning of the ad before ABC was in touch. “It’s so subliminal, even when it’s freeze-framed, it’s incomprehensible,” Rogers said. “We didn’t freeze-frame every frame in an eight-minute video to trouble shoot what liberal-bloggers might attack us for.” The video was produced by McCain’s ad team, FoxHole Productions. A McCain aide told ABC that it was primarily put together by an editor who had about 48 hours to throw it together in advance of Obama’s foreign trip. Still, in this era of hyper-analysis — and in the very week that a non-subtle New Yorker cover was blasted as beyond the bounds of satire — should something like this have slipped by Team McCain? As the veteran Democrat notes, every frame of anything put out by a campaign is typically reviewed and triple-checked. This could be carelessness, a bad joke by a too-clever staffer, or inevitable given all the letter combinations that emerge from the immense quantity of video content produced by campaigns these days. Matthew Dowd, a former strategist for President Bush who is now an ABC News consultant, said something like this should have been caught before it was sent out. He noted that campaigns need to be extra sensitive in the wake of the 2000 Republican National campaign ad attacking Al Gore that was revealed to feature a quick shot of the word “RATS.” “Part of what you have to do in a campaign is prevent the unintentional problem — and that’s a problem,” Dowd said of the McCain video. “We know what’s happened with this ever since 2000 — it’s a problem to do that. It’s either a malpractice problem of somebody who did this, or it’s an oversight problem. I’m much more inclined to think it’s oversight.” What do you think? An oversight? Meaningless? Or “RATS” part two?

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