Friday, March 07, 2008
white for skin and red for dying:
Kevin Drum comes to the defense of the skin-darkening ad. He points to a analysis for support. The whole defense is unpersuasive in the extreme. says it got ahold of a high-quality version of the ad in which it's lighter. Well, OK. Why the version released by the campaign on YouTube is darker is still confusing. But more confusing still is's subsequent... concession that the ad makes Obama appear darker-skinned than he is:
Furthermore, our analysis of the Obama frames, using Photoshop, shows a fairly uniform darkening of the entire image including the backdrop. It is not just Obama's skin color that's affected.
So the ad did darken Obama's face. It's irrelevant that the ad didn't darken him selectively. What's relevant is that he appears darker. There is absolutely no reason to do that except to exploit white racist fears of black people. After the comparisons between Obama and Jesse Jackson; after Clinton's refusal to forthrightly state that Obama is a Christian after they attended a prayer breakfast; after suggesting that states with heavily black populations don't in some sense matter, how much benefit of the doubt does Clinton deserve?
--Spencer Ackerman
im really not trying to troll here, but you cant think of any other reasons why he might appear darker--granting that he even does; he really doesn't seem any darker in the kdrum A/B--in the clinton ad? i take it you've never worked in image editing; preserving color and level fidelity between media is very difficult and requires lots of calibration and carefulness. given that (and given that the clinton ad really doesn't seem any darker to the naked eye, and that the darkening might have something to do with, oh, i dunno, negative campaigning in general?), should you really be so quick to throw out racism accusations?
Blogger simon | 2:56 PM

That's not trolling, it's totally legit. And you're right, I've never worked in video editing.

My point is that after a certain point, motivation is irrelevant; what's relevant is that the ad deliberately made him darker. Let's concede for the sake of argument that the campaign didn't have a racist thought in its head when it cut the ad. Yet after the Time (Newsweek?) OJ cover, should the campaign be let off the hook for doing something that has, at least, racial overtones? Especially when the campaign isn't explaining itself.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 3:04 PM

thanks for your reply. my overall sense, i guess, is that you see about as many "darkness" levels in the clips as there are different resamplings of the clips. it's almost as if every time either the original obama clip or the clinton ad gets put into a flash player, its levels change.

so basically it's impossible to do a good A/B because you fundamentally don't know what your A and your B are, if that makes sense. so if in some iteration x of the clinton ad, obama appears slightly darker than in some iteration y of the original msnbc (or whatever) clip, does that really tell us anything? as far as i can tell, at this point the answer is not really.
Blogger simon | 3:14 PM

So if I understand your logic correctly, even though they didn't intend to be "racist," they are guilty of something (what that something is you don't say), because Bill Clinton once had the temerity to suggest that the reason Obama won South Carolina was that he was black, and Hillary failed to announce vociferously enough to the world that Obama is a Christian.

If (as is true), it's common when making attack ads to screw around with the color, what would you have the Clinton camp do? Not run any attack ads when they are behind? Exactly how handicapped must they be because Obama is black? OK, Bill can't point out an obvious fact, because that's "race baiting." Hillary can't fool around with the color of an ad, because it has "racial overtones." The campaign is obligated to defend Obama against the smears of the right (much like Obama has been so courageously defending Hillary from the smears of the right and the media). So what can they do?
Blogger MG | 6:10 PM

Martin, please read your comment back and ask yourself if you really mean to say that Hillary Clinton should make Barack Obama's race an issue. That sort of thinking leads you to a place you may not want to actually be.

What can Hillary Clinton do? I don't know -- maybe run some ads that engage Obama on the issues? I know, it's crazy.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 8:39 AM

Sorry, but I didn't say Hillary should make race an issue. I did, and am saying that she hasn't, but folks like yourself are. Bill says Obama won South Carolina (and several other states) because he's black. It's a true statement that does nothing more than acknowledge the role that race can play in a campaign, but Bill's a Horribly Bigoted Human Being for making it! I have no idea if the Hillary attack ad was darkened or not (and neither do you, although you have no problem saying otherwise), but if it was, I feel pretty certain that it was done for the same reasons those things are usually done -- ie, race had nothing to do with it. But race was drug into the debate anyway. You mentioned with approval Chait's little piece in which he argues, in effect, that Hillary should just lay down and die and let Obama have the nomination because, among other reasons, Obama is black. In that same piece, Chait argues that Hillary is benefiting in the primary because she's a woman, and a majority of Dem primary voters are women. Is Chait, then, engaging in gender and race baiting?

Please examine, if only internally (I have my own suspicions about why you won't do this publicly), the rhetoric and narrative that have shaped this campaign, and figure out the role race is really playing in it, and has played in it for some time. And then take a page out of Chait's book, and think about if it will play out the same way in a general election.
Blogger MG | 11:59 AM