Political guerrilla tactics have now met the Internet generation. In California, political rivals are sneaking in operatives from their campaigns to capture live blunders of their opponents on cell phone video cameras to later be uploaded to the Internet. Suddenly every conversation can be fodder for YouTube, MySpace, or even some random person's blog. It's the Ted Stevens effect to a new order of magnitude.
The people doing this say that it's to catch politicians in their double-talk and keep them accountable. I say that it's taking negative campaigning to a new level of plausible deniability. It's very easy to hide behind pseudonyms on the Internet and lash out, and I daresay that campaigns using these tactics are looking to get the dirty work done without the muddy footprints on their own doorsteps.
With the ease of video editing, it's very easy to manipulate a speech into something that doesn't even resemble the original content. Just take a look at the following chop job done to Bush's State of the Union speech:
It's very convincing and a chilling vision of the kinds of negative attack ads that someone could cook up. Yes, this one is an obvious fake, but something more subtle would probably appear in news outlets in no time flat. Just look at how traditional media outlets pounced all over Robert Wexler's prompted comments about using cocaine and prostitutes from The Colbert Report.
When watching the clip, it's obvious that it's him screwing around and saying it just to be funny. By taking the last 30 seconds of the video out of context, however, media outlets like The Today Show reported it as fact and ended up with egg all over their faces the very next day. Since the snippet was lifted from a reputable person who published the full interview, no harm was done. Imagine, however, that someone with an axe to grind left only the bad snippets in the clip and popped it onto the web.
It's a brave new world when you can instantly libel someone to an audience of millions and have almost no accountability for it. Let's hope that most candidates will have the decorum to stay out of this tasteless morass.