Campaign Consultant Fired for Making Anti-Hillary '1984' Video

An employee of a political campaign consulting firm in Washington, D.C., whose clients include presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D - IL), has confessed to having created the heavily-circulated remix video of the classic 1983 Macintosh introduction ad produced and directed by Ridley Scott, which was altered to substitute Sen. Hillary Clinton (D - NY) in place of Big Brother, and Obama's campaign logo in...a strategic location on the classic hammer thrower's outfit.

Phil de Vellis, the former campaign communications director for newly minted Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and an employee of consulting firm Blue State Digital - which works exclusively with Democratic candidates - confessed to being YouTube user "ParkRidge47" (a reference to Sen. Clinton's birth place and year). In keeping with his employer's policy against doing any work for candidates on the side, de Vellis was terminated today.

In a statement late today, Blue State Digital Managing Director Thomas Gensemer wrote, "Mr. de Vellis created this video on his own time. It was done without the knowledge of management, and was in no way tied to his work at the firm or our formal engagement [on technology pursuits] with the Obama campaign." Gensemer said his firm is under contract with the Obama campaign for hosting services, though not for creative or campaigning services.

De Vellis' identity was discovered shortly after political blogger Arianna Huffington issued a challenge on The Huffington Post to her affiliate bloggers, to work their sources and smoke the mash-up artist out of his hiding place. He had already made contact with the political blog TechPresident, responding to an e-mail sent to his "ParkRidge47" identity on YouTube.

As Huffington told TechPresident Wednesday night, her affiliates discovered de Vellis' identity first, and later backed up that finding by verifying his IP address - though she's not saying how that happened. With both pieces of evidence in hand, she says, she gave de Vellis a little courtesy call earlier today. "I called Phil and told him what he had discovered," she told TechPresident's Micah Sifry. "There was a stunned silence. And then I asked him if he would blog for us about why he made the video. It's a new world, isn't it?"

Of course, given a chance to extend his 15 minutes of fame, he had to oblige.

A close-up look at the '1984' pro-Barack Obama mashup, which shows the 'artist' - now identified as Phil de Vellis - left some artifacts behind. A close-up look at the '1984' pro-Barack Obama mashup, which shows the 'artist' - now identified as Phil de Vellis - left some artifacts behind. Notice a good portion of the original Mac logo still appears on the hammer thrower's jersey.

"I made the 'Vote Different' ad," De Vellis wrote for The Huffington Post, "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."

Indeed there have been ads like this one, including one produced by a supporter of Connecticut Democratic senatorial candidate Ned Lamont, who substituted his primary opponent, Sen. Joe Lieberman, in place of Big Brother, only this time not nearly so slick. Some observers said the Lamont supporter probably didn't use a Mac. Lamont defeated Lieberman in the primary, though Lieberman went on to retain his senate seat running against Lamont as an independent.

This evening, the Obama campaign released a statement that gave general praise to homespun campaign advertising, though without mentioning de Vellis directly. "I've been particularly inspired by the countless creative homemade videos that have cropped on our site and others, capturing the essence of Barack, the campaign and your hopes for the future," writes campaign manager David Plouffe. "We welcome and encourage these works, which can help carry our message farther and wider, giving people a deeper sense of what this is all about. And what this is about - in part - is a new politics of hope, not fear; a politics that stresses our stake in each other, rather than one that divides and inflames."

Plouffe may have neglected to mention that the video which inspired this work showed a hammer being thrown into the face of his candidate's chief opponent.

According to statistics gathered by TechPresident, YouTube viewership for Obama's campaign-related ads in general, including the "1984" mash-up, rose by a staggering 1,024% this week, to 1,009,819 views. Sen. Clinton ranked second with 57,863 views, followed by former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani with 48,201 views. But the pro-Obama remix has perhaps been seen now by more television viewers than Internet viewers, thanks to network evening newscasts and cable political shows.

Speaking on NY1 on Tuesday, Sen. Clinton said she hadn't seen the remix yet, but was thankful for it to some extent because "it seems to be taking attention away from what used to be on YouTube and getting a lot of hits, namely me singing 'The Star Spangled Banner.' Everybody in the world now knows I can't carry a tune."

While both Clinton and Obama (through his managers) are satisfied with playing softball over the issue, the sudden prominence of what ended up being a relatively trivial pursuit may raise considerably deeper issues than simply the fate of campaign message control. First of all, de Vellis has illuminated a channel for drawing attention to candidates that the "Swift Boat" attackers during Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid never realized existed. While it's now mandatory for US TV political ads to carry the candidate's voice, if not also his or her face, identifying herself and adding, "And I approved this message," no such regulations can be expected to be imposed for "viral video" campaign ads.

So individuals can create ads that appear to come from organizations, and organizations can create ads that appear to come from individuals - in both instances, perhaps, aiming to circumvent responsibility for the messages therein, or lack thereof. And such messages could ride a wave of mystery, as viewers speculate on who's responsible - the mystery itself could help perpetuate the message...or the myth. Indeed, some as late as this morning were speculating that Republicans could have been behind the video, in an effort to make the two leading Democrats appear to be bogged down over insignificant issues of style over substance.

In the midst of all this, we forgot to mention the likely copyright infringement aspect, though de Vellis' work perhaps did nothing to denigrate Apple or Macintosh. While network anchors thrilled at what they considered the professional quality of de Vellis' handiwork, viewed under a magnifier, it's not all that perfect; and in light of how many video editing tools are now available to the general public, it's not all that unusual.

And as a campaign ad (which, technically, this wasn't) it didn't say much on behalf of the candidate whom it supported - even whether he uses Macs. Over one million viewers don't really know any more about Barack Obama now than they did last week. Thus, in the light of history, voters may yet come to question whether Phil de Vellis did anyone - Obama, Clinton, Steve Jobs, himself - any public service at all.

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