As campaigns heat up, negative rhetoric reaches a new low
Negative ads and back-and-forth name calling have dominated much of the campaign rhetoric and political news coverage this election season. A communications professor who helps run factcheck.org says this presidential campaign has sunk to new lows.
But Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says the rhetoric on the campaign trial this year is much worse. It appears to be dominated by name calling and character assaults, with few signs of either side letting up soon.
Take Vice President Joe Biden's remark at a campaign event Tuesday. He told a crowd in Virginia that by deregulating Wall Street, Mitt Romney would “put ya’ll back in chains."
Jamieson said the comment was inappropriate and out of bounds. But she said Biden certainly didn't mean Romney would literally put Americans "back in chains" if elected president.
Yet the Republican campaign quickly fired back at Biden for the comment, while the country's news media made it a primary talking point Wednesday.
"What we have is a situation this year in which every word and phrase has quickly been jumped on by the other side in the 24-hour news cycle," Jamieson said.
She says comments like the one Biden made — and the resulting back-and-forth in the media — can dilute campaign politics by obscuring more substantive issues. But at least people know who made them.
Jamieson is more concerned about the attacks that come from undisclosed sources. She says the most worrisome trend is the flood of anonymous donations funneled through tax-exempt 501(c)(4)s into super PACs, non-profit political organizations.
"That's extremely problematic because we judge messages in part by their sources," Jamieson said. "With a 501(c)(4) group, you don't know because they don't have to disclose."
She added that higher levels of anonymity contributed to higher levels of deception, as many of this year's political ads have revealed.
"It's the equivalent of the rumor that spreads, and you have no idea who spread the rumor," she said of ads funded by 501(c)(4)s. "That's a form of communication historically that's always been the most problematic. When the source is anonymous, it has no accountability."
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