In the old (retail) model, you pushed a negative ad out to voters in critical states, and then the political media covered that.
In the new (wholesale) model, you distribute a negative ad narrowly to the political media, bypassing altogether the voters, who then become familiar with the ad only after the pundits have fit it into their preferred narrative.
Case in point:
It looks as if the new McCain ad falsely attacking Obama over his canceled troop visit may not really have a lot of money behind it, suggesting that its real purpose isn't getting it before voters directly.
Rather, the real target audience may be the media -- meaning that the McCain camp's goal is largely to get the ad debated in the press and to drive the conversation that way.
Evan Tracey, who tracks media buys at the Campaign Media Intelligence Group, took a look at the McCain buys and discovered that an earlier McCain foreign policy attack ad, as well as the troop visit attack spot launched this weekend, are running in almost no battleground-state markets, with the new spot only running in Denver and Washington, D.C.
So it's more efficient and cheaper just to direct the ads at the chattering class, who apparently will make no more effort to bring critical or fact-checking skills to bear on it than their average audience member.
Honestly--could we really have a much more dysfunctional relationship between the elite political media and national politics?
I doubt it.