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Panel Discusses the Ad Wars

Panel Discusses the Ad Wars

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume - August 6, 2008

BAIER: Barack Obama on the campaign trail responding to the McCain campaign's newest ad--the new one there called "Family" out today.

What about the ad wars back and forth and the reaction of both campaigns? Some analytical observations from Bill Sammon, Senior White House Correspondent of "The Washington Examiner," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Charles, the back and forth--the McCain camp privately believes the ads are hitting home and they are having an effect on the polls. What is your take?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It is only August, and nothing else is happening, so they have to focus on this.

I think it's having an effect. I think it's Obama himself who brought it on with his little overreaching on the European trip, and I think he invited it, this kind of ridicule about the grandiosity, the coolness, the distance, the self-confidence, overconfidence.

The problem with the ads, I think, for McCain is that he is sort of stepping on a story that was developing on its own independently in the media, and he may be overdoing it.

I think what you want to do in this kind of ridicule is you have to keep it light. The minute it gets heavy, it looks kind of weird.

I thought the winning ad here was Paris Hilton. She had a brilliant ad in which she, essentially, gave the best energy plan--you drill, and do you do renewables. Given all that, I would make her Secretary of Energy. She would do at least as good of a job as Bill Richardson.

BAIER: We are watching the Paris Hilton ad right here, and she calls John McCain, a something--

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: A wrinkly, white-haired guy.

BAIER: The McCain campaign, though, Mara, says they welcome-

LIASSON: They like the ad, yes, because the thought that she endorsed their plan, which is to do everything, drill, conserve.

I don't think it's great when Paris Hilton gets a lot of attention, since John McCain featured her in an ad, calls him a wrinkly white haired guy, although he does make jokes about himself.

I think that it wasn't so much that Barack Obama brought this line of attacked advertising on himself. I think it's that McCain felt that this was the only way that he could get back in the game, that he was shut out in the free media because they were so fixated on Obama.

And the McCain campaign believes that the tightening of these tracking polls and some of the other polls is as a result of what they have been doing. In other words, they have used humor and something that is a little outrageous and something they definitely have taken hits for, for being kind of silly and negative, but they feel that the bottom line is that this has helped and it has tightened the race.

I think it's tactical still. I think that the McCain campaign still has a bigger strategic problem.

And I do think that there was one set of ads this week where they tried to bring McCain back to his old image, and they talked about him as the original maverick. And Obama campaign immediately put up an ad saying, he is the original maverick, well--they played a clip of him saying that 95 percent of the time he is with George Bush.

And every time the Obama campaign can say "We're for change, he's for more of the same," that is a good day for Obama and a bad day for McCain.

BAIER: Is that quick response a direct result of the swift boat ads, and everyone's sensitivity to swipe back right away.

BILL SAMMON, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Oh, yes. I think the lesson we learned from the Kerry experience is that if you don't fight back, you will be defined in a negative way.

BAIER: Can you go over the top, I guess, in the response?

SAMMON: I think you can, but I don't think we have seen that so far.

I disagree with Charles. I think the ad wars have been a big plus for McCain. I think John McCain has gotten his mojo back in the last week or ten days largely because of these ads.

I think up until then he spent weeks and weeks walking on eggshells, like how am I going to attack Barack Obama. He was hesitant.

And I think the campaign made a decision, Steve Schmidt and other in the John McCain campaign made a decision to go for a frontal assault, go after his inexperience, go after-paint him as defeat--arugula eating, works out at the gym three times a day, that kind of thing, go after his liberalism.

And don't be afraid to use humor. I think that was a key decision. They went for the mockery, for the ridicule.

And I think these ads have had a light touch. When you throw in a fleeting image of Paris Hilton and don't mention her name, you don't put the words Paris Hilton under it, you just have a fleeting, subliminal image.

The really funny one was the Moses one, when Barack Obama, during one of his speeches, said "we will have the ocean levels fall." He literally said this, and then they interspersed this with a shot of Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea in "The Ten Commandments," is funny. I think it has worked.

BAIER: Mara, the McCain campaign has a $6 million ad buy during the Olympics, the Obama campaign has $5 million. Are three wasting money at this time before these conventions?

LIASSON: First of all, it is unprecedented, and there is a question, especially now that everything is played endlessly on the web and on You Tube, and maybe free advertising just doesn't pack the punch it used to.

However, McCain has an imperative. He has a lot of money he has to spend before the day he is nominated, because then he is going to take public financing. He is still under the primary system campaign fundraising laws until that moment. So he has an incentive to spend a lot of money now.

The problem is going to be for McCain. Right now he can match him dollar for dollar and even outspend him at the Olympics in ad buys, but come September, Obama will have so much money.

KRAUTHAMMER: Which is why he is doing all this attacking in August. I think it is a good idea to go on the Olympics.

But Obama's strategy is to say McCain is more of the same, which is not a credible charge, and McCain's charge is to say that Obama is an empty suit.

He doesn't have a resume like McCain, but he is an author. He is a senator. He is something. So you've got to be really careful with this implication that he's entirely empty and hollow, and you got to go light on it.

BAIER: Last word on this panel.

Next, we'll talk about the verdict in the first military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE SWIFT, HAMDAN ATTORNEY: He's just a driver. He's good for changing nuts and lug wrenches. He was never around al-Qaeda member. He was paid out of Usama bin-Laden's personal funds because he just worked for Usama bin-Laden.

TONY FRATTO, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We're very pleased that Salim Hamdan received a fair trial. I think that is the most important thing here.

This, obviously, was the first military commission trial, and the fact that it was carried out well is very important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: There you see Salim Hamdan's attorney, and also a reaction from the White House about this trial, the first military trial at Guantanamo Bay, in which Hamdan was found guilty on five counts of supporting terrorism, and found not guilty of three others, the conspiracy charges.

The ACLU weighed in today, saying "From start to finish this has been a monumental debacle of American justice," the ACLU executive director.

We're back with our panel. Bill, what about this, the historic nature of it, and what does it mean for the process?

SAMMON: He is only a driver, but he just happened to have a couple of surface to air missiles in his car as well.

I think this is a partial victory for the Bush administration because he was convicted on some counts, not on others. But even the fact that he was acquitted on some counts, in a strange way, is actually good for the Bush administration, because it shows that this was a fair process. It shows this wasn't a preordained, rigged show trial.

And the fact that the judge didn't allow certain testimony to be used because it came as a result of coercive interrogation techniques is going to have ramifications for these future trials.

But I think you have to remember that if this had resulted in an acquittal on all charges, this would have been a devastating setback to the Bush administration, which for years has been trying to get a conviction on one of these guys in Guantanamo.

This is the first one. He is a small fry, but it at least paves the way for some of these bigger fish that are now going to go on trial.

BAIER: And there are 20 others there who already have been charged and are awaiting trial down in Guantanamo.

LIASSON: Although, ironically, if one is acquitted, it will show that these military commissions are actually set up pretty fairly.

But the military commissions are still being tested in court-- aspects of them have not finished their legal test. But I think this was something that the administration can point to, as they did, as something that shows the military commissions can work and can be fair.

I think that's one of the reasons they wanted to start with someone who was such a small fish in the al-Qaeda pool, because they were testing the military commissions as much as they were putting Hamdan on trial himself.

BAIER: Charles, it took a long time to get to this point. Hamdan challenged the process, the Supreme Court scrapped it, started over. Congress and the President came back to the drawing board, and we ended up with this military commission.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Which is why even though he is a little guy this is an important precedent. And I think the verdict looks reasonable. We can all stipulate this guy did not graduate at the top of his class in the terror academy. He was not a mastermind. He was acquitted on conspiracy.

But, of course, he gave the materiel support. He was a driver and bodyguard of the worst terrorist in the world. He was aware of at least four savage attacks on the United States-our two embassies in Africa, the Cole, and, of course, 9/11.

And if you have one surface to air missile in your car, you can always say I have no idea how it got there. But when you have two, your materiel supporter is pretty obvious.

BAIER: What about the politics of this? John McCain and Barack Obama both weighted in today. John McCain welcomed the verdict, also took a swipe at Barack Obama for voting against the Military Commissions Act.

LIASSON: Obama was much more equivocal, said everybody acquitted themselves honorably--the judges and the lawyers here. But still it was a travesty that this took so long.

Look, I think there is another step in this process that's going to be really important in how these commissions are viewed, and that is the sentencing. He could be sentenced to one day or life.

Now, if, as his lawyers said, if he wins he goes back into his jail cell and if he loses he goes back into his jail cell. Because he can still be kept as an enemy combatant, I think is very important what kind of sentence is given to this guy.

If he is locked up for life even though he was acquitted on some of these charges, I think it could make these commissions look like they are kind of a sham.

SAMMON: The Supreme Court recently ruled that such combatants commission can appeal to civilian courts. In fact, he had already had a case concurrently in the civilian courts, and they said wait until the military tribunal is over and then come appeal.

So he will now appeal to the civilian court. It could end up in the Supreme Court at the end of the day.

BAIER: and the big question is the people who haven't been charged in Guantanamo, what happens to them. The administration has to deal with that quickly.

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