Political Mischief: Smear, Sabotage, and Reform in U.S. Elections

By Bruce L. Felknor | Go to book overview

7
The Many Uses of Distortion

The art of distortion in political campaigning is painting a false picture with daubs of truth. Each daub is a fact taken out of a setting where it is part of a truth and carefully inserted into a new setting where it becomes part of a deception. The 1964 presidential campaign was one of the most sharply polarized in U.S. history, and like any such campaign it saw the wholesale use of distortion as each side tried to paint the other as the essence of evil. Modern visual media lend themselves well to this task because they are so effective at stimulating and exploiting emotion. And they are especially well suited to distortion because the moving images they present seem fully credible.


DISTORTING CHARACTER AND MOTIVE

Goldwater's puritan zealots of 1964 wanted to rally moral America to strike down the evil Johnson, and they contrived a television motion picture titled "Choice" to do it. Two weeks before the election it was screened for the Washington press corps--but by the Democrats, for whom Dick Tuck had obtained a copy. 1


Savaging Johnson

The film was a morality play, made for Goldwater's campaign organization, albeit without his specific knowledge. A sponsor, Mothers for a Moral America, had been created to present it to the nation's housewives on afternoon television. In September a Citizens for Goldwater aide named Russell Walton had commissioned a trio of filmmakers to create a "documentary" that would stress, as he put it to them,

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