Amazingly, the man who concocted the anti-Hillary remix of the old Apple 1984 commercial is proud of himself.
After the Huffington Post outed Phil de Vellis, a now-former employee of a consulting firm that has been working for Barack Obama — whose campaign was designed to be the main beneficiary of the ad remix — de Vellis posted at the Huffington site an item called “I Made the “Vote Different” Ad. He starts:
Hi. I’m Phil. I did it. And I’m proud of it.
I made the “Vote Different” ad because I wanted to express my feelings about the Democratic primary, and because I wanted to show that an individual citizen can affect the process. There are thousands of other people who could have made this ad, and I guarantee that more ads like it–by people of all political persuasions–will follow.
This shows that the future of American politics rests in the hands of ordinary citizens.
We already knew that people could use online media to make political points, and that they could go around the traditional media to do so — though the ad in question wasn’t national news until the big networks, egged on by Matt Drudge, chose to make a big deal of it. Still, there was some viral spreading of the message, and it would have made the rounds to some degree even if the big media had ignored it.
His former employers say they didn’t know about this stunt until after he admitted it. Does that absolve them? Only, perhaps, in a technical sense. If Obama makes clear he’ll do no more business with this firm, he’ll probably win points for taking a stand for integrity in politics.
Anonymous and pseudonymous political speech have a long history in America. Every registered voter receives US Postal Service mail in the days before elections, political hit pieces that serve up sleazy negativity about candidates or issues, where the sender hides his identity and hopes that we won’t find out who he is — or whether what he says is true — until after the election. This repulsive activity sometimes turns elections.
Yet we don’t want to do away with anonymity, because we need to protect it for its essential uses. What de Vellis did doesn’t qualify. Not even close.
What de Vellis plainly doesn’t get is that he should be ashamed of what he did — not the creation of the remix but his craven hiding behind a pseudonym. People who don’t stand behind their words deserve, in almost every case, no respect for what they say. The exceptions come when someone risks life or freedom or livelihood by being a whistle-blower or truth-teller. When the purpose is to take down other people for what they believe, anonymity is a hiding place that has little honor.
Another lesson applies, and this one is about the rest of us: the audience for these kinds of things.
We are far too prone to accepting what we see and hear. We need to readjust our internal BS meters in a media-saturated age.
We should start with this principle:
An anonymous or pseudonymous attack on someone else should be presumed false, unless proved true.
If people started from this perspective, we’d have a much easier time dealing with the You-Tubing of the political class.