There’s still about a month until Election Day, but it’s already safe to declare 2010 the year of the Muslim-baiting campaign ad.
Yes, there was the occasional flare-up in 2008, typically targeting Barack Obama. But since then, the associate-your-opponent-with-Muslims tactic has metastasized.
How did it happen? This is the first election cycle under a president whom many falsely believe to be Muslim. And lurking resentments and suspicions were stirred up even more by the “ground zero mosque” hysteria that began in May and raged all summer long. The topic became impossible to resist for conservative campaign strategists.
Here’s a rundown of the five most notable such ads of the year — so far:
This September spot from North Carolina GOP congressional hopeful Renee Ellmers gained instant notoriety for its casual conflation of “the Muslims,” “the terrorists” and the organizers of Park51, the planned Islamic community center near ground zero.
Ohio Republican state treasurer candidate Josh Mandel this month released an ad ostensibly targeting the ethical record of his opponent, a black Democrat named Kevin Boyce. But the spot gratuitously refers to a lobbyist linked to Boyce by his full name, “Mohammed Noure Alo,” even though the lobbyist goes by “Noure Alo.” And the ad also falsely suggests that Boyce, who is Christian, attends a mosque.
“Kill the Ground Zero Mosque,” a spot released over the summer by the National Republican Trust PAC, features pictures of mosques and Muslim militants alongside lurid imagery from Sept. 11, including a person falling from the World Trade Center. It also refers to “the audacity of jihad,” another clear reference to Obama (who is pictured in the ad), and conflates the organizers of Park51 with the 9/11 terrorists. The ad was turned down by two networks in New York, and may in fact have been deliberately designed to be rejected and gin up publicity. It worked; the spot now has about 400,000 views on YouTube.
The shadowy American Future Fund released this ad back in August attacking Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, for his “support” of Park51. In fact, Braley’s position was merely that it was a local zoning issue for Manhattan, not for a congressman from eastern Iowa. The gist of the ad is that the “ground zero mosque” is the latest front in the centuries-long battle between Muslims and the West.
Dan Fanelli, a former Navy pilot who lost in the GOP primary to take on Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., put out a stunning trio of pro-racial-profiling ads featuring a Middle Eastern-looking man playing a “terrorist.” In one scene, the actor is literally wearing a towel on his head and has a faux-bomb strapped to his body.
Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin