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Birth Of An Attack Ad

It'll likely get overlooked in all the commotion over Spritzer, but Orlando Patterson has an important op-ed in today's NYT. I didn't really think there was anything left to say about the infamous 3-a.m.-phone-call ad, but Patterson does:

I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.

The ad could easily have removed its racist sub-message by including images of a black child, mother or father — or by stating that the danger was external terrorism. Instead, the child on whom the camera first focuses is blond. Two other sleeping children, presumably in another bed, are not blond, but they are dimly lighted, leaving them ambiguous. Still it is obvious that they are not black — both, in fact, seem vaguely Latino.

I think this second point is a good one. After all, the home security system ads--which the Clinton spot seems to mimic--are almost aways very careful about race, invariably portraying a non-white family or (seemingly more often) a white burglar. But that was one aspect of those ads that the Clinton spot failed to mimic. Why?

--Jason Zengerle