The story of how Leslie Stahl's critical piece on Ronald Reagan was actually well-received because of the images alone is well-known. "Nobody heard what you said," the Republicans told her. "You guys in Televisionland haven't figured it out, have you? When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound."
Watch the latest McCain ad, featuring Barack Obama being tied to Franklin Raines, former CEO of Fannie Mae. "The first black man to head a Fortune 500 company," as Wikipedia puts it.
But here's the thing: watch it with the sound off.
Imagine seeing it in a bar or an airport. What do you see?
First a picture of Obama. Then another picture of Obama, and now a photo of Raines comes in on the same screen. Both men look concerned.
Now here's another picture of Raines alone, looking very worried, as headlines about fraud and various dollar amounts scroll by.
Now here's the important bit: why is Raines suddenly smiling? A real evil-looking grin there.
A photo of a house, bathed in red...
Now a photo of an older woman, looking a little disheveled and extremely worried.
And finally a photo of Obama, smiling for the first time in the ad.
What story is your brain meant to come up with?
The commercial makes no sense on its face. Via Howard Kurtz, Raines has nothing to do with the campaign or Obama.
An Obama spokesman called the ad's contention "a flat-out lie," saying Raines has "never advised Senator Obama about anything, ever."
There's a bunch of text in headlines, but it's not the kind of fill-up-the-screen stuff you can easily read, and it moves too fast to actually make sense of it. The point is the giant images, and the primal reaction they are meant to inspire.
In a Time post called McCain plays the race card, Karen Tumulty concludes the same thing.
Let me stipulate: Obama's Fannie Mae connections are completely fair game. But this ad doesn't even mention a far more significant tie--that of Jim Johnson, the former Fannie Mae chairman who had to resign as head of Obama's vice presidential search team after it was revealed he got a sweetheart deal on a mortgage from Countrywide Financial. Instead, it relies on a fleeting and tenuous reference in a Washington Post Style section story to suggest that Obama's principal economic adviser is former Fannie Mae Chairman Frank Raines. Why? One reason might be that Johnson is white; Raines is black.
Poster tarheel74 from MyDD has a similar take: McCain's ad injects race again: The black guys are ripping us off!"