WASHINGTON– President Obama likes to start his stump speech by addressing a topic on the minds of many voters: What’s up with the all the ads?
“Now, unless you’ve managed to completely avoid your television set or your cable is broken, you are aware that there is a pretty intense campaign going on right now,” Obama said in Denver this week, drawing laughter and the weary, knowing nods of beleaguered television viewers.
It’s not an apology, but it’s the closest the president gets to acknowledging what his campaign, Mitt Romney’s campaign and third-party "super PACs" have wrought.
I know, I know, he implies, I don’t like it either.
Of course, that is not stopping the onslaught of campaign ads raining down on swing states – courtesy of his campaign and others. So as a string of negative television ads irritated both fact-checkers and viewers this week, White House aides and Obama campaign advisors were forced to find ways of keeping their distance.
Obama’s campaign initially claimed ignorance -- with little success. They did not know the story of a laid-off steelworker featured in an ad that suggested Romney was responsible for the man’s wife’s death, Obama campaign aides said. The ad was produced by Priorities USA, a super PAC run by a former Obama aide. When it was reported that the campaign had once held a conference call to feature the man’s story, campaign aides reverted another mantra: That one is not ours.
From the White House, spokesman Jay Carney tried to stay another step removed, noting, as he often does, that he doesn’t comment on campaign activities. He was, however, eager to knock down a Romney ad as false – “as a matter of policy.”
Pressed on the apparent contradiction, Carney said he could not comment on the Priorities USA ad because he hadn’t seen it, although he promised a reporter he would watch it.
The next day, having still not seen it but read about it, Carney came back with his comment. He doesn’t comment on the campaign, he said, except Romney’s campaign ad, which is false – “as a matter of policy.”