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Advertiser: Mark Warner for Senate

Agency: Trippi McMahon & Squier, Alexandria, Va.

Rating: 2 stars

It was a sitting duck. A hanging curve. A lollypop lodged ever so weakly in a 3-month-old's hand.

A campaign ad for Sen. John Warner (R., Va.) used a doctored photo of his opponent, Mark Warner, wherein the challenger appeared to be shaking hands with former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, side by side with President Bill Clinton. But it was a fake. In the actual photo, Mark Warner was not shaking Wilder's hand but merely on the periphery of the scene, where he stood, smilingly, in appreciation.

Naturally, the Mark Warner ad response was quick to materialize:

"This is the real photo," the narrator says, as the real image and the altered one are juxtaposed, "but this is how it appeared in John Warner's ad designed to smear Mark Warner. And after repeated denials, John Warner finally had to admit that the photo was a fake. What would have happened if John Warner's deception wasn't exposed? Who was John Warner trying to fool? And how long has he been fooling us?

"This is the real John Warner: unprincipled ads, practicing politics as usual. And after 18 years in Washington, how can we trust him?"

Yes, the challenger was shocked, shocked at the brazen photo-distortion. And so it seems was the press. But why? It was absolutely no different from the routine manipulation of facts seen in virtually all campaign ads nowadays. Indeed, it's no different from the Mark Warner response itself.

If John Warner is practicing "politics as usual," what is the Mark Warner ad-a new covenant?

No, not hardly. It's just the latest extrusion from the lower gastrointestinal tract that is the political consultancy industry, using the same stock phrases, the same phony indignation and the same distortions, leaps of logic and general deceitfulness. Obviously, the senator has to take the fall-and deserves to-but just as obviously the candidate himself was almost certainly unaware that his hired assassin would be so clumsy. As, of course, Mark Warner well understands. Who was John Warner trying to fool? No one.

It's also amusing how a Democratic candidate can regard himself to have been smeared by being portrayed smiling next to the leaders of his own party-particularly when, in actual fact, he was smiling next to the leaders of his own party, but was too much of a non-entity to get in the center of the action.

Still, the point here goes to the challenger. Dueling cheap shots are all well and good, but a picture is worth a thousand lies.

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