WASHINGTON — The creator of the faux-Apple ad against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been unmasked as a Democratic operative who worked for a digital consulting firm with ties to Sen. Barack Obama, NBC News confirmed Wednesday night - leaving Obama on the spot.
Heralded by many as the embodiment of Web-driven citizen activism, the once mysterious YouTube ad now stands revealed as the work of a Democratic operative employed by a consulting firm with Obama links.
The operative was first identified by the political blog Huffington Post as Philip de Vellis, a strategist with Blue State Digital. After NBC News confirmed de Vellis’ identity, he publicly admitted his involvement on the same blog.
"It's true ... yeah, it's me," said Philip de Vellis, a 33-year-old strategist with Blue State Digital, a Washington company that advises Democratic candidates and liberal groups.
The Clinton campaign had no immediate comment.
Breakthrough in digital campaigning
Although the final image of the 74-second video — a recreation of a pathbreaking 1984 television ad for Apple’s Macintosh computer — reads “BarackObama.com,” a spokesman for Obama told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that the campaign played no role in creating it.
Blue State designed Obama's Web site, and one of the firm's founding members, Joe Rospars, took a leave from the company to work as Obama's director of new media.
Obama, Blue State and de Vellis all say de Vellis acted on his own. De Vellis left the company on Wednesday. He said he resigned; Thomas Gensemer, the firm's managing director, said he was fired.
De Vellis confirmed in his Web posting that although Blue State worked for the Obama campaign, he was operating independently when he created the ad, which sparked a sensation when it was unveiled anonymously on the Web video site YouTube. De Vellis wrote that he admired Clinton, D-N.Y., but believed that her campaign was “disingenious,” a description he did not explain.
“The specific point of the ad was that Obama represents a new kind of politics, and that Senator Clinton’s ‘conversation’ is disingenuous,” he wrote. “And the underlying point was that the old political machine no longer holds all the power.”
Political analysts alternatively hailed or criticized it as a turning point in the development of the unregulated world of guerrilla political marketing after it recorded nearly 1.5 million views.
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Repercussions may await
The entire episode hangs a cloud over the Obama camp.
Since he arrived on the national political scene, Obama has won convert after convert with a vow to rise above the bare-knuckle fray of politics.
However tenuous, any link to the ad, with its Orwellian image of Clinton as Big Brother, raises questions the Obama camp would rather not face.
In a statement, the Obama campaign said it "had no knowledge and had nothing to do with the creation of the ad."
"Blue State Digital has separated ties with this individual and we have been assured he did no work on our campaign's account," it added.
De Vellis, in a blog he wrote after he had been identified by Huffingtonpost.com, appeared to acknowledge the trouble he had brewed. "I support Senator Obama," he wrote. "I hope he wins the primary. (I recognize that this ad is not his style of politics)."
New age for Internet conflicts
It's not as if Obama's campaign is not willing to mix it up.
Last month, Obama adviser Robert Gibbs referred to the infamous Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers of the Clinton era after the Clinton team demanded that Obama apologize for anti-Clinton remarks by Hollywood producer and Obama backer David Geffen.
And this week, Obama consultant David Axelrod publicly challenged Clinton strategist Mark Penn over his characterization of Obama's stance on the war in Iraq.
The unmasking of de Vellis also cracks the enticing image of the Internet as a freewheeling arena where average citizens engage in vigorous, often provocative, discourse.
“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. This shows that the future of American politics rests in the hands of ordinary citizens,” de Vellis wrote, adding: “This ad was not the first citizen ad, and it will not be the last. The game has changed.”
De Vellis said he acted like any techno-savvy, politically attuned Web surfer. He said he worked on a Sunday in his apartment, using his Mac computer and video editing software to alter an updated version of a classic Apple ad that aired during the Super Bowl in 1984.
But the fact remains that de Vellis was a political professional. He had worked for Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown in his successful campaign for U.S. Senate in Ohio. And he was working for a firm with political clients, including Obama.
"Obviously some people are going to look at this and see that I'm working in politics and they'll think that it's kind of disingenuous or not genuine," de Vellis said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I still think that ordinary citizens can change politics. It could have been anyone else who could have made this ad."
The ad portrayed Clinton on a huge television screen addressing an audience that sat in a trancelike state. A female athlete, running ahead of storm troopers, sprints into the auditorium and tosses a hammer at the screen, destroying Clinton's image. "On January 14th the Democratic primary will begin," the text states. "And you will see why 2008 isn't going to be like '1984.'" It signs off with "BarackObama.com"
In the interview, and later in a blog written for the Huffington Post, de Vellis expressed pride in his creation, while acknowledging that his employers are "disappointed and angry at me, and deservedly so."
"It changes the trajectory of my career," he said.
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.