WASHINGTON (AFP) — Barack Obama Thursday launched an aggressive and innovative offensive to douse toxic "smears" stalking the African-American Democrat's shot at the White House.
While pursuing a war of words with Republican John McCain over taxes, Obama unveiled a new website at www.fightthesmears.com debunking false rumors doing the rounds of the Internet and right-wing media outlets.
The site was created after one recent, and thus-far unfounded, assertion that Obama's wife Michelle had been caught on tape slurring white people.
"We created an interactive tool to allow our supporters to fight back against these smears in the same way that they received them -- on the Internet," campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
"People can upload their address books and easily send fact-based emails to their friends and family," he said.
"Just knowing the truth isn't enough -- you have to proactively tell people the truth to fight back."
Obama's main campaign website already had a fact-check section to refute rumors such as the Christian candidate is a secret Muslim. But aides said the new site went further in inviting supporters to spread the word.
Political candidates have traditionally refused to acknowledge slanderous rumors for fear of giving them respectability.
But given the slew of attacks being spread by email against Obama, his campaign said it had to respond in kind by harnessing the "viral" power of the Internet to add to his impressive record of online fundraising.
"Whenever challenged with these lies, we will aggressively push back with the truth and help our supporters debunk the false rumors floating around the Internet," Vietor said.
The new initiative was launched after reports, by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh among others, that a videotape existed showing Michelle Obama using the derogatory term "whitey" in the couple's former church.
No such tape has surfaced despite frenzied speculation by right-wing pundits and blogs, and Obama last week decried the mainstream media's attention to "dirt and lies."
Other anti-Obama emails argue falsely that he was sworn into office holding a copy of the Koran, and the contention that the Bible's Book of Revelation describes the anti-Christ in terms applicable to the Democrat.
The Democrat was back on the offensive a day after ditching Washington insider Jim Johnson, who was leading his search for a vice presidential nominee, over allegations of sweetened mortgage terms from a lender at the heart of the US "subprime" housing crisis.
Citing figures in a new study by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, Obama supporters accused McCain of advocating a cash grab for the wealthy at the expense of the struggling middle-class.
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said one-quarter of the benefits under McCain's tax plan would go to people earning more than three million dollars a year.
"This is more of the same on steroids!" she told reporters, referring to President George W. Bush's hefty tax cuts and contrasting those with Obama's plan to reduce taxes for those on less than 250,000 dollars a year.
"The thinnest sliver of wealth in this country will be enriched under John McCain's tax policies while once again, the middle class will be looking around wondering what has happened to the American dream," McCaskill said.
McCain accuses Obama of advocating "the largest tax increase since the Second World War" and is touting his own plan to keep costs low for consumers and businesses amid mounting economic hardship.
"At a time when Americans need relief at the pump, Barack Obama's support for higher gas prices and higher energy taxes is just another example of his weak economic judgment," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said.
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