Mudslinging? No. Misleading? Yes | Wis.Community

Mudslinging? No. Misleading? Yes

The Associated Press, going where no other media outlet dares, actually does an analysis of the exchange of TV commercials between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson on the issue of oil drilling in the Great Lakes:

Johnson's response focused on Feingold's no vote, which came on a successful 2005 energy bill that made permanent a temporary ban on Great Lakes oil drilling. The no vote, Johnson suggests, calls into question whether Feingold is serious about standing up for the lakes.

The Republican's criticism is misleading. It implies that Feingold didn't want to protect the lakes. In fact, it was Feingold who co-sponsored the 2001 measure that enacted the temporary ban. Feingold voted against the 2005 measure because it wasn't substantive enough, he has said.

So far, so good. The AP actually looked at the record, not just what Johnson said. An objective look makes it clear Feingold has opposed Great Lakes drilling for at least nine years, while Johnson, who flip-flopped on it, has opposed it for three days.

But then there's this:

Johnson is correct that Feingold started the mudslinging. Until now, each candidate has focused more on himself. Feingold started the attack, and Johnson is showing he's not one to back down.

Mudslinging? What Feingold did in his commerical is far from mudslinging. Mudslinging, one online dictionary says, is "the practice of making unscrupulous, malicious attacks against an opponent, as in a political campaign."

Political campaigns are about drawing distinctions between candidates -- giving voters the information they need to make an informed choice between candidates running for the same office. Campaigns are intended to highlight the differences between the candidates and where they stand on issues.

A commercial like the one Feingold ran, which simply compares his own position on Great Lakes drilling with Johnson's, is not mudslinging. It's not even negative campaigning. It is simply telling voters where the two differ.

If you're Ron Johnson, you would certainly prefer not to have the voters pay a lot of attention to the differences on that issue. As the AP says:

However, focusing on the oil issue will more likely favor Feingold. Democrats have already highlighted Johnson's investments in oil companies, including shares of BP PLC worth between $116,000 and $315,000.

So Johnson wants to muddy the issue. Knowing he was on the wrong side, he's changed his position and now wants to make it look like Feingold is the one who favors Great Lakes drilling. And he's doing it best to try to make people think there's something wrong with Feingold's perfectly legitimate comparative commercial.

Can the editorials decrying "mudslinging," real or imagined, be far behind?

UPDATE: Johnson's ad makes a big geographic mistake.


July 15, 2010 - 11:55am