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Candidates Fight to Disprove Smears, Set Record Straight to Voters

This presidential campaign is different than previous years - it's the first in which campaigns are forced to confront nearly constant Web attacks and rumors from both amateurs and organized partisans. Media experts discuss the trend.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The campaign wars are playing out on an entirely new front this time around, as the most enduring and damaging charges and countercharges flourish on the Web. The information, spread through streaming video and e-mail chains — and much of it untrue — is the handiwork of both amateurs and organized partisans, and they won't go away.

  • WEB VIDEO NARRATOR:

    Can Americans elect a man with not one, not two, but three Islamic names?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    This anti-Obama video, for instance, is one of the most circulated on the Web. Its false claim that Obama is a Muslim was created by a producer of evangelical Christian programming.

    The Internet can be a booster's megaphone, as well as a boon for political fundraising. A recent Pew Project survey found 46 percent of all Americans go online to get and to share political information.

    But lies, falsehoods and myths have also spread virally in hit after hit after hit, thanks to cheap editing programs, homemade movies, and video-sharing services like YouTube.

    Both campaigns are fighting back, Obama through a Web page called fightthesmears.com, and the McCain campaign through its own "truth squad" expected to start up soon.

    Snopes.com, a site dedicated to exposing mythmaking, devotes an entire section to debunking Obama rumors. Factcheck.org and Politifact.com do much of the same, but Obama is not the only viral victim.

  • REV. ROD PARSLEY, Televangelist:

    Islam is an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: And I'm very honored today to have one of the truly great leaders of America, a moral compass and spiritual guide, Pastor Rod Parsley.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    This anti-McCain video juxtaposed anti-Islam statements made by evangelical pastor, the Reverend Rod Parsley, with statements of McCain praising Parsley.

    It was the work of 64-year-old film director Robert Greenwald, whose videos have been viewed on YouTube more than 5 million times. That's more people than have watched the McCain campaign's own videos.

    But the work of amateurs can be just as damaging. This site from a North Carolina professor shows pro-Obama videos and anti-McCain ones, while this one, also created by an amateur, does the reverse.

    E-mail traffic has amplified much of the misinformation. This missive, which started circulating in January 2007, asserts Obama was educated at a radical Islamic school in Indonesia, was sworn into the Senate on a Koran, and turns his back to the flag.

    All of the charges are untrue, difficult to track down, and impossible to shut down. But for the candidates, as well as for the people who turn to their laptops for information, the viral cat is out of the bag.

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