That Anti-Clinton 1984 Ad

In 2007, Phil de Vellis, an employee of consulting firm Blue State Digital (created by former members of Howard Dean’s internet team), reportedly mashed up the classic Apple 1984 ad, substituting Hillary Clinton for Big Brother (or Big Blue, depending on your point of view). YouTube user ParkRidge47 posted the ad to YouTube on 5 March 2007.

Blue State Digital was, at the time, under contract with the Obama campaign for technical expertise, not creative expertise. As a Blue State Digital employee, De Vellis (reportedly a “strategist”) had worked on software for the Obama campaign website, according to an email exchange reported by the L.A. Times (Google cache). But de Vellis reportedly produced the video “on his own time.”

“I made the ‘Vote Different’ ad,” De Vellis said in The Huffington Post on 21 March, “because I wanted to express my feelings about the Democratic primary, and because I wanted to show that an individual citizen can affect the process. There are thousands of other people who could have made this ad, and I guarantee that more ads like it–by people of all political persuasions–will follow.”

RawStory reported a few days later (Google cache) that de Vellis had worked with Ben LaBolt, 25, then Sen. Obama’s press secretary. The two “worked and lived together in Ohio during the successful 2006 campaign to elect Rep. Sherrod Brown to the Senate;” de Vellis was director of Internet communications. An August 2007 profile of LaBolt positioned him as a campaign veteran: “he’s already worked on as many federal campaigns as his boss, the junior senator from Illinois, has run.” Today he is in the White House press office.

In a June 2007 interview with MotherJones, deVellis admitted that he knew he was “playing with fire” and attempted to minimize his connection with LaBolt (using an anecdote that, instead, links him to the campaign):

MJ: When you created “Hillary 1984,” did you think in advance that there would be this much fallout?

PD: I knew I was playing with fire, but I didn’t think it would reach this level. When I saw presidential candidates commenting on it on TV, it went to a whole new level of scrutiny that I have never witnessed. So, yes, I knew what I was doing. I didn’t realize I would be identified and I didn’t realize people would care as much as they did. I knew it was very provocative. The thing people don’t realize is that the Internet is a really hot medium. That is the kind of thing that breaks through-something that is really up in your face. Usually, you are shoving stuff out there that people could care less about. Did I realize it was going to be such a big deal? No, I didn’t really realize that, obviously.

[…]

MJ: I’m sure you are aware of the skepticism surrounding the situation-that people just don’t believe that there was no campaign involvement. You lived with an Obama PR flack.

PD: I’m friends with people on every campaign. Politics is a really small world-it’s really like junior high. The [Obama] campaign was not involved in it at all. As soon as they found out, I left the company. I think Obama’s a great guy, and I think he’s running a great campaign, but that doesn’t make me officially part of the campaign. But am I connected on one of these trees that connects all the great rock bands-like the drummer of Pink Floyd is also in Supertramp. Yeah, there’s some of that. But I have the capability to do that on my own and the ability to get it out there. I’m kind of a utility player. I can do it all. I can also just shut up and watch the fireworks go off and that’s what I did.

At least one Ohio blogger called foul, expressing skepticism that deVellis had either the creative or technical skills needed to create the ad, based upon the Brown Senate campaign. In an email exchange with Micah Sifry, parkridge47 (a moniker that deVellis subsequently claimed as his) admits that the idea for the ad came “from a friend”:

A friend suggested the idea after reading a New York Times article about the Clinton’s campaign bullying of donors and political operatives after the Geffen dustup.

What was the “Geffen dustup“? David Geffen is a billionaire producer, co-founder of DreamWorks and one of the party’s most prominent donors. From February 2007, via the Washington Post:

In an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Geffen said that Clinton is “the easiest to beat” of the Democratic field and skewered her unwillingness to apologize for her 2002 vote to use force in Iraq. “It’s not a very big thing to say ‘I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t,” Geffen said.

Geffen, who was a co-host of an Obama fundraiser Tuesday night in Los Angeles, saved even sharper criticism for former president Bill Clinton, to whom he was close before a falling-out over the pardoning of financier Marc Rich at the end of Clinton’s second term. “I don’t think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person,” Geffen said in an oblique reference to questions surrounding the former president’s private life.

After seeing the comments yesterday morning, the Clinton campaign immediately issued a call for Obama to disavow Geffen’s remarks and return his $2,300 donation, arguing that they were contrary to Obama’s pledge to run a positive campaign.

[…]

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson sided with Clinton and called on Obama to denounce Geffen’s comments. “I think these name-callings are not good,” he said. “I don’t know Mr. Geffen. I don’t know what was said. . . . But we don’t need that. We Democrats should sign a pledge that we all be positive. That’s what the American people want.”

Is it reasonable to deduce that “the friend” was associated with the Obama campaign? In February 2007, the only people following politics were die-hard politicos.

Silicon Valley Insider also expressed skepticism that the video could have been made by an amateur, quoting TechPresident:

But so far most of the discussion of the ad has put up a picture of an independent video person working at home on their Mac in their spare time. But that’s just not plausible. Such a character would be claiming his or her reward right now, boosting his or her career and having a great time doing the media rounds. And, also telling: the ad maker knew exactly what election law lines not to cross, stopping just short of express advocacy. Why didn’t the ad say, “Vote Obama”? So, when did independent YouTube video hackers get access to their own election law attorneys?

Videos on the de Villes website suggest that the Clinton 1984 ad was a one-hit wonder; there is nothing listed more current than 2007 and nothing with the creativity or technical expertise exhibited in that one ad. However, the ad does seem to have gotten him a spot on the Obama creative team; he was hired by Murphy Putnam, which produced radio and TV ads for the campaign.

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