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Questions Raised Whether Hillary Ad Darkened Obama

March 7, 2008

nothing new under the sun?

A controversial new Hillary Clinton attack ad caused an Internet stir Tuesday among critics who claim it deliberately darkens Barack Obama’s skin color.

The buzz began earlier the day, when the liberal Web site DailyKos.com showed side-by-side screen grabs of Barack Obama taken during a debate with Clinton in Cleveland last week. The screen grab used in the ad showed a clearly darker-skinned Obama, prompting some to wonder if it was done to highlight his race.

Clinton spokesman Jay Carson responded initially by speculating the darkened image might have occurred as part of a normal “saturation-desaturation” process typical in commercial production. He said both Obama and Clinton have used that process in their ads, and denied any ulterior motive behind the campaign’s ad.

After checking with ad guru Mandy Grunwald, however, Carson later said the images on the DailyKos site were not taken from the Clinton ad at all. “We don’t know what is up there, but it is not our ad,” he insisted.

There is no way to independently confirm the accuracy of the images on DailyKos.com. But debate images of Obama taken by FOXNews.com directly from the ad in question on Clinton’s official Web site still seem to be clearly darker than images of Obama taken from another video clip from the debate.

Click here to see the Clinton ad on HillaryClinton.com.

Click here to see the original debate footage of Obama.

Whatever the case, one posting on the DailyKos site charged that while darkening footage may be considered standard practice for political ads trying to “cast the target as sinister,” it is “not an acceptable excuse.”

“Even if you accept that as normal practice, it’s still a dirty one,” the posting said. “This is, at best, the worst of politics as usual.”

The Obama campaign had no comment.

Some bloggers compared the case to the infamous 1994 Time magazine cover of O.J. Simpson following his arrest on murder charges. In that case, Time photo editors deliberately darkened a mug shot of Simpson, giving him a much more menacing appearance.

A number of commonly used techniques allow photo and video editors to darken or lighten images. The lighting and tonality can be changed for effect, to highlight some parts of the image or for a variety of other reasons.

The Clinton ad, released Monday in Texas, alleged that Obama was “too busy” running for president to hold any hearings as chairman of an oversight committee for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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