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US Elections
Digging the Dirt
Sunday October 22 2000
Reporter Peter Marshall
Producer Tom Giles
Assistant Producer Gideon Joseph



Peter Marshall looks behind the scenes to uncover the tactics used in the race to become President of the United States.

Scroll down for related links

From the efficient researchers of the party war rooms to investigators digging into the past of candidates, Panorama uncovers a ruthless world of negative election campaigning.

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich, press secretary to Michael Dukakis in his 1988 campaign, believes this is inevitable.

She says "He who doesn't do it dies, you now have both sides with massive opposition research efforts. And the game today is both sides do it and then like children in the school yard we fight about who started it."

Negative campaigning is not only reserved for the presidential race. Panorama shows how the dirt was being thrown by candidates in the race for party nominations.

Republican candidate John McCain pledged not to run negative advertising. He changed his mind when George W Bush took out adverts to attack him.

The campaign turned ugly when it reached South Carolina. Telephone polling, commonly used to assess support for candidates, was used aggressively to send out negative claims about John McCain.

Our son answered the phone and was greeted with a barrage of negative facts

Donna Duren
The Duren family was faced with a barrage of calls from pollsters. They told them that John McCain was their choice, believing the calls would stop.

But they received another call. Donna Duren says "Our son answered the phone and was greeted with a barrage of negative facts or negative innuendo about the senator."

Bush won the nomination, as did Al Gore, who set about assaulting his opponent, Bill Bradley's, health care plan. Gore used scare tactics according to Mike Powell, Bradley's speechwriter.

He told AIDS victims that they may not be covered by Bradley's health plan. Powell says "It was a vicious lie", and yet that`s the kind of negative tactic that Gore engaged in to gain the Democrat nomination.

Alex Castellanos
Republican ad maker Alex Castellanos
Television commercials have been used to sell negative messages in the presidential campaign. Most famously, one of the Republican adverts put the word 'rats' in one frame under Vice President Gore's photograph in a subliminal attempt to make people feel uneasy about him.

This strategy failed, and the Republicans tried to play down the controversy. Alex Castellanos tells Peter Marshall "There is no secret rat strategy to win an election that I'm aware of."

In New York, the contest for Senator between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio has been particularly nasty.

Negative advertising and negative campaigns depress voter turn-out

John McCain
Mike Murphy, aide to Lazio, has run a series of attack ads on Clinton. He built a campaign based on adverts which said "Hillary Clinton: you just can't trust her".

According to John McCain, the overall effect for democracy is damaging. He says "The evidence is ample that negative advertising and negative campaigns depress voter turn-out and ours already is in the views of many, including me, unacceptably low."

Related links

BBC News In Depth - Vote USA 2000

BBC News - Democrats smell campaign rat

georgewbush.com

Gore-Lieberman Campaign website

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Digging the Dirt
The Duren family were on the receiving end of aggressive phone polling
Digging the Dirt
Peter Marshall investigates dirty tricks in the presidential race

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