WASHINGTON—White House hopeful Barack Obama said his campaign had “no way of knowing” that the creator of the anti-Hillary Rodham Clinton YouTube ad worked for a campaign vendor and asserted that the ties were only “attenuated.”
Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday that his campaign was not damaged by the revelation that the ad maker, Phillip de Vellis, worked for Blue State Digital, the Washington D.C. firm whose co-founder, Joe Rospars is on leave—to work for the Obama campaign handling new media and the Obama web operation. Blue State holds a contract with the Obama campaign to provide technical internet support and oversee its server.
Asked for his reaction to the links between his campaign and de Vellis, Obama downplayed the relations. “Yeah, very attenuated ties,” he said.
“ Obviously, as I said before we have no idea who this person was, we have no way of knowing who this person was. He doesn’t work for us and my understanding is that the vendor had a policy of not doing this kind of stuff and as a consequence he has left. So, I think that is the end of the story.”
However, it may not be. On Monday, during an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Obama said his team did not have the “technical capacity” to made the ad—which has more than 1.7 million hits on YouTube in the past two weeks.
“It's not something that we had anything to do with or were aware of and that frankly, given what it looks like, we don't have the technical capacity to create something like that. It's pretty extraordinary,” he said.
But on this front, Obama clearly did not know what he was talking about. De Vellis retooled the Apple 1984 spot from his apartment, using his Mac.
Asked on Thursday if it hurt his campaign to have even attenuated ties, Obama said, “No. I think that people have a judgment that the…if I have a phone contract with Verizon and an employee of a phone company does something that you know, we’re not, we’re not responsible for that.”
De Vellis was bounced from the firm Wednesday —either fired or quit—after he was unmasked by HuffPost employees, given the charge to track down the mystery maker of the YouTube ad, a reworking of an iconic 1984 Apple spot for Macintosh computers that was turned into a hit job on Clinton and an anthem for Obama.
Obama said that a danger of the Internet—where there is “all kinds of bubbling energy” is that people can put material up they do not have to be accountable for—unlike campaigns.
“There is just going to be all kinds of bubbling energy on the Internet. I mean if you go on YouTube there are tons of ads. This particular one got attention, but there are ads that attack me for being completely unprepared, for you know an age of terrorism.
“They are all sorts of ads that are both positive and negative. It’s one of the strengths of the Internet, , but its also you know a danger of the Internet in a sense that people can do things anonymously without it it, without, without being accountable for them and then I think that’s, you know, that is something of concern.
“So our main approach is that making sure that the staff that we’ve hired, that we have control over, that we maintain a constant tone in our campaign. There are going to be all kinds of activities out there with the millions of Americans who now have the possibility of launching something that’s seen by a million people, and, it’s just something that we’re going to have to adapt to,” said Obama, the junior senator from Illinois.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is up for re-election in 2008, told the Sun-Times said it is hard for a campaign to stop a free-lance effort.
“ I don’t know how you can really police your organization to stop someone from doing something on their own. I mean that’s hard. I asked Barack about this yesterday and he said, “I don’t know where this came from,”’ Durbin said.
Durbin also added something a little puzzling, given that Obama’s own campaign distributed a statement from Blue State Digital managing director Thomas Gensemer acknowledging that de Vellis admitted to them he created the video.
Durbin said Obama “told me this morning, he said, we still have, you know, we have no knowledge of this being created or even going on the air or who created it.”
OBAMA CAMPAIGN STATEMENT
The Obama campaign and its employees had no knowledge and had nothing to do with the creation of the ad. We were notified this evening by a vendor of ours, Blue State Digital, that an employee of the company had been involved in the making of this ad. Blue State Digital has separated ties with this individual and we have been assured he did no work on our campaign’s account.
BLUE STATE DIGITAL STATEMENT from Thomas Gensemer, Managing Director, Blue State Digital
This afternoon, an employee at our firm, Phillip de Vellis, received a call from Arianna Huffington of “The Huffington Post” regarding the “1984”video currently circulating online. Initially, de Vellis refused to respond to her requests. He has since acknowledged to Blue State Digital that he was the creator of the video.
Pursuant to company policy regarding outside political work or commentary on behalf of our clients or otherwise, Mr. de Vellis has been terminated from Blue State Digital effective immediately.
Blue State Digital is under contract with the Obama Campaign for technology pursuits including software development and hosting. Additionally, one of our founding partners is on leave from the company to work directly for the campaign at headquarters.
However, Blue State Digital is not currently engaged in any relationship with the Obama Campaign for creative or non-technical services.
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.
I have spoken with David Plouffe, Sen. Obama’s campaign manager, to inform him of this action and am appreciative of his understanding and ongoing support of our work.
We wish Mr. de Vellis well in his future endeavors.