Jamison Foser at Media Matters notices some very stunning idiocy and responds accordingly. He writes:
The Wisconsin Advertising Project looked at a single week's worth of ads in determining that 56 percent of McCain ads and 77 percent of Obama ads were "negative." Aside from the dangers in drawing conclusions from such a small sample of campaign ads, the findings are of limited value given that the project made no effort to assess the veracity or fairness of the ads in question. In fact, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the study counted any ad that so much as mentioned the opponent's name as "negative."
I suppose it might be mildly interesting to know that 56 percent of John McCain's ads mention Barack Obama, or that 77 percent of Obama's ads mention McCain. But it doesn't really tell us anything useful. How did they mention each other? Did the ads criticize policy positions or personality? Were they honest? The answers to those questions are essential to any meaningful assessment of the candidates' campaign tactics. (If you do find the project's findings compelling, you should keep in mind that in July, based on a much larger sample, the project found that more of McCain's ads were negative.)
Despite the study's failure to even attempt to assess the validity of the ads it declared "negative," several news organizations hyped the findings. Worse, some suggested the finding that more of Obama's ads have been negative undermines the recent conclusions of many impartial observers that the McCain campaign ads have been more dishonest than those of the Obama campaign.
The New York Post, for example, reported that the results of the study "clash with recent media coverage accusing McCain of distorting Obama's record in ads." Nonsense. That's like saying that the fact that this is September clashes with the fact that it is Friday.
Foser is right. This is what one would call a "category mistake." Also, I think I speak from experience that many people wrongly call anything critical an "attack" and assume that anything "negative" is wrong. Foser's whole piece is well worth reading, as always.