Maker of anti-Clinton 'Net ad revealed, now jobless

News watchers need to buckle up today as the mainstream media does its whipsaw thing now that the identity of the infamous anti-Hillary Clinton/pro-Barack Obama "Vote Different" video has become publicly known - and that man is now out of a job. The ad, a take-off on Apple's legendary "1984" spot, had become a YouTube sensation and the guessing game over the author an online parlor game. (Note way-way-way-too-long string of updates below.)

For those who haven't seen it, the anti-Clinton ad, while unflattering, is reasonably clever, not the least bit offensive, and, by modern-day standards, more of a love note than a Swift-boating. ... But, as we're seeing, none of that matters in a practical, political sense.

Phil De Vellis, a political operative at Blue State Digital (the company name tells you what party's candidates it serves), has been outed as the ad's designer, and, depending on which account you wish to believe, has resigned or been fired because his employer's most prominent client is presidential candidate Obama. He claims he did it on his own time and without the knowledge of Blue State Digital or the Obama campaign. You can read more of what De Vellis has to say for himself here on the Huffington Post.

So why all the fuss?

This is high-stakes presidential politics and everybody has a well-defined role to play.

Clinton feigns outrage because that's her role. She's been in politics all of her adult life and is no more outraged by that video than her husband was believable when wagging his finger. She does, however, recognize opportunity when it knocks and this video is an opportunity for her to play the victim ... and no doubt attempt to inoculate herself against what promise to be truly vicious assaults to come.

Obama feigns outrage because that's his role. He may be newer to politics, but he's smart enough to recognize the risks - such as they are - of having his campaign appear to be "attacking" a fellow Democrat. The senator may indeed prefer that his campaign not be associated with such a video, but you can be certain that is a tactical decision and not an intellectually honest assessment of the spot's message or style.

De Vellis feigns resignation - and says he resigned - because that's his role. Even if we take him at his word about the project being his and his alone, he knew full well what the consequences would be if he his identity should become public. With free speech comes consequences. He's no naïf. Weep not for him.

The mainstream media knows its role here, too: Just fan the flames. There isn't a reporter or pundit on the planet who honestly believes that ad was out of bounds. There isn't a reporter or pundit on the planet who believes that Clinton or Obama might be genuinely outraged. (There may be a few who believe De Vellis a "victim," but they haven't thought it through.) But every reporter and pundit on the planet recognizes good political theater when they see it.

So, what should have happened, you might be asking.

Clinton should have watched the video and shrugged. Obama should have told his people to tell Blue State Digital to get a tighter grip on its employees. De Vellis should have shown reporters his slapped wrist, apologized for causing a client trouble, and gotten on with his career.

But this is presidential politics. Those roles aren't in the script.

Update 14, Saturday: The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore., mocks anyone (OK, those of us) following this story closely. Excellent mocking, too:

It's all fabulously insignificant. It's not about the importance of the Internet to a presidential campaign. That's so 2004 and Howard Dean for President. It's not about viral ads on the Internet building mainstream media buzz in a presidential campaign. Take a bow, JibJab. "This Land," featuring singing cartoon cutouts of George Bush and John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign, is a shoo-in for a first-ballot induction into the Political Satire Hall of Fame. What is it about? At this ridiculously early point in the 2008 presidential race, it is about, in Seinfeldian terms, nothing. Wake us up when the coverage begins analyzing the candidates' detailed plans for ending U.S. involvement in Iraq, fixing the broken health care system and addressing the demographic time bomb that's ticking within the Medicare and Social Security programs.

(Update 13, 8:30 p.m. Friday: An unlucky one for the Obama campaign. According to ABC, the maker of the video was not long ago a roommate of Obama's press secretary.)

(Update 12: This blogger at The Huffington Post does a nice job of explaining why this particular type of ad - and the impact it had - cannot be easily replicated. In other words, why the alarmists should calm down.)

(Update 11: Interesting blog post here that talks about a similar ad concept broached during Howard Dean's spectacular yet ill-fated campaign in 2004. Just goes to show that there are no new ideas.)

(Update 10: Here's what I mean about the political players being disingenuous and mouthing words that they simply cannot believe. From Friday's Washington Post column by Howard Kurtz: "Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, said he finds it ‘disappointing that we all believed this ad was made by an average citizen expressing himself or herself, and that turned out not to be the case.'" ... What a load of crap. Wolfson doesn't believe, didn't believe and would never in a million years believe that the ad was simply the expression of "an average citizen." However, by saying he believes it he's portraying himself as high-minded and it gives him a backhanded way of elbowing the Obama campaign without appearing to be elbowing the Obama campaign. ... It's all farce.)

(Update 9, Friday morning: Rush Limbaugh is gloating - "See, I Told You So" - over the fact that he had predicted a Democrat was responsible for the ad, which signed off with a plug for Barack Obama. Nice detective work, Rush; how'd you figure that one out? Now Rush can get back to straightening out Arnold.)

(Update 8: Actually, this response from Hillary Clinton was quite stylish. Good for her.)

(Update 7: Some reaction from Obama.)

(Update 6: They're talking about this over at Slashdot now.)

(Update 5: Oddly enough, Obama's "in the news" section on his Web site carries no mention of this story. Can't imagine why not. On a serious note, though, this strikes me as a perfect opportunity for a candidate to speak directly to supporters and doubters on a hot issue without the filter of the media. Yet I see nothing whatsoever about YouTubeGate on the Obama site.) He does offer this video of a recent campaign rally, though.)

(Update 4: Worst headline from a major news outlet, CNN, spotted so far: "Source behind Internet attack on Clinton revealed." Attack? This must be the headline writer's first political campaign.)

(Update 3: San Francisco Chronicle takes the pulse of real people - not pols or pundits - and it seems real people are more grown up about the video and its depiction of Clinton.)

(Update 2: AP writer raises many of the right questions regarding the impact that such Web-based ads are likely to have on politics going forward. ... I don't think anyone has anything but guesses for answers.)

(Update: The news and blog attention on this one is as intense as you might expect.)

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