Huckabee's ad 'debut' tests definition of news

The election year is officially upon us. With it, come the dirty tricks and games that politicians inevitably play in their mutual massage with the national media.

The election year is officially upon us. With it, come the dirty tricks and games that politicians inevitably play in their mutual massage with the national media. The first example of 2008 came from Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who is locked in a tight GOP race with Mitt Romney in Iowa.

In a press conference ostensibly held to unveil a new attack ad against Romney, Huckabee piously announced that he just couldn't stand to go negative and that he wouldn't be running the ad after all.

But in a move so blatant that it made the assembled reporters laugh out loud, Huckabee showed the entire ad during the conference as the cameras were rolling.

Clearly, his campaign was seeking to have its cake and eat it, too: to appear gracious by pulling the ad, but still have the ad's negative messages permeate the public's mind courtesy of news media coverage.

Though we would all hope that political communications strategists would not stoop to such low levels, they almost always will in search of the keys to the White House. More interesting is the plight the media face when hit with such tactics.

Huckabee's ad is now public and it could certainly be argued that its content is news. At the same time, news outlets that chose to widely disseminate it would have to know that they are being used as pawns in a less than honest game of campaign sleight of hand.

The ad did indeed turn up online and Huckabee professed ignorance as to how it got there. While the ultimate responsibility for avoiding dirty tricks rests on the candidates themselves, it's not too early to make a plea to the more upstanding professional communicators on the campaign trail - and the reporters who cover them - to make a good-faith effort to be honest with the public and with each other.

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