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From Gotham to Helvetica: Obama 2012 Launches 'Attack Watch' Site

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, September 14 2011

In 2008, Barack Obama's election campaign launched Fight the Smears, meant to be a sort of online inoculation against being Swift Boated. There, the campaign could post counterspin on the anti-Obama talking point of the day — claims that Michelle Obama racked up an expensive room service bill, or that Barack Obama is a Muslim, whatever.

Getting a jump on the negative spin for 2012, the campaign last night announced Attack Watch, what could safely be called a far more strident version of the 2008 affair. It's also become a new punching bag for conservatives, who are having no end of fun taking over the initiative's official #attackwatch hashtag.

Here's text from the announcement email, attributed to campaign manager Jim Messina:

Here's the deal: We all remember the birth certificate smear, the GOP's barrage of lies about the Affordable Care Act, and the string of other phony attacks on President Obama that we've seen over the past few years

There are a lot of folks on the other side who are chomping at the bit to distort the President's record. It's not a question of if the next big lie will come, just when -- and what we're prepared to do about it.

AttackWatch.com is exactly what it sounds like: a resource that allows us to nip these attacks in the bud before they show up on the airwaves and in emails -- and then fight back with the truth.

The email — which, like the website, of course gives the opportunity to donate money as well as of time or attention — heralds a website that has more in common with Crooks & Liars than it does with My.BarackObama.com: High-contrast colors, lots of red text, and a vaguely conspiracy-theorist bent.

"Bright red is sprinkled everywhere in case the seriousness of the battle wasn't already apparent," Joe Coscarelli wrote for New York Magazine's Daily Intel. "It's not the most pleasant design job on the web, but it certainly instills a sense of urgency."

"While the initiative is reminiscent of a similar online effort launched during the 2008 campaign, called Fight the Smears, the intimidating design and language of the new site seems to be what’s causing a bigger ruckus," Elizabeth Flock wrote for Washington Post. "Fight the Smears looked and felt far less scary, quoting Obama at the top of its page in a classic hope-change statement: 'What you won’t hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon — that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge but enemies to demonize.'"

There are seven "debunked attacks" on the site now, a campaign official tells me — this person is not authorized to for attribution — with more to come. The site was built in-house.

As with 2008, the site asks users to report negative talking points as well as browse the campaign's rebuttals.

More on the history of this tactic: After Fight the Smears launched, a group of Obama supporters launched a crowdsourced effort to send volunteers into discussion threads wherever each smear appeared online. It's not clear if confronting negative talking points head-on was a good strategy: Back in April, Nancy Scola noted that Fight the Smears played host to a rebuttal of birther talk — which only grew stronger. Maybe there's a sort of Betelgeuse effect to some attacks — invoke them three times by name and they become real.

This post has been updated.

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