August 3rd, 2006
Yesterday, when Jane Hamsher of firedoglake posted a picture on Huffington Post of Joe Lieberman photoshopped into wearing blackface, she was trying to make a point about what she sees as his hypocritical attempts to reach out to black voters. Instead, she handed the incumbent senator a chance to get high and mighty and force challenger Lamont to respond.
Now, Hamsher’s photo was satire, and satire’s always a little dangerous — particularly when it’s about race, probably the most sensitive social ground in this country. Some people won’t get the joke, others will act as though they don’t, and your target and his supporters can try to score a few points at your expense. As LBJ supposedly once said, “I don’t care if it’s true; I just want to hear him DENY it.” At the Lamont campaign’s request, Hamsher pulled the photo, and she’s also written an explanation of why she posted it and what she sees as Lamont’s opponents’ motives on her site.
This “issue” demonstrates something that’s always going to be a danger with social media — whether they had any connection to it or not, campaigns are going to be held responsible for things their supporters do. Of course, this was true long before the rise of our beloved internets, since candidates have tried to get traction in the media from opponents’ dirty tricks for decades (and zealous volunteers have been stealing signs and defacing posters no doubt since signs and posters first started being printed).
But the web and email can give a small action looooooong legs, and particularly when a blogger has been as closely associated with a campaign as Hamsher is with Lamont’s (she’s actively raised money for him on her blog), opponents are going to splash anything they can all over the media. In this case, it distracted Lamont on a day when he was campaigning with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
And, it shows the power of ubiquitous digital editing tools. Photoshop and its clones make it easy for ANYONE to fake a photo, for satirical or more devious purposes. As I discussed a few days ago, video trickery is probably next.
John Dickerson covers the dust-up in Slate, and echoes the concern that campaigns should have about social media (in his case, bloggers in particular).