Wash. Post's VandeHei focused only on Dem attack ads, ignored prior reporting on GOP negative advertising

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

The Washington Post reported in an article by Jim VandeHei that "Democrats are targeting the personal lives of Republicans in numerous key House races as part of a campaign to capitalize on voter disgust" stemming from the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley. But it made no mention of the numerous GOP-produced negative ads currently in circulation -- despite the fact that VandeHei co-wrote a Post article a month earlier about Republicans' pre-election strategy of "attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies."

An October 13 Washington Post article reported that "Democrats are targeting the personal lives of Republicans in numerous key House races as part of a campaign to capitalize on voter disgust" stemming from the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). Written by staff writer Jim VandeHei, with contributions from staff writer Chris Cillizza, the article focused entirely on the recent round of negative ads by Democratic challengers embroiled in tight House races nationwide. But while the article quoted Republicans criticizing this tactic, it made no mention of the numerous GOP-produced negative ads currently in circulation -- despite the fact that VandeHei and Cillizza devoted a September 10 article to Republicans' pre-election strategy of "attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies."

The October 13 article, headlined "In Key Races, Democrats Look at Rivals' Personal Lives," reported that Democratic challengers in tight House races in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York have recently released ads targeting their Republican opponents' "messy personal lives and alleged character defects." VandeHei described this phenomenon as "a much broader Democratic campaign to politicize the Foley page scandal over the final four weeks of the campaign." Further, the article included quotes from former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie and National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman Carl Forti expressing skepticism regarding the strategy's efficacy.

Yet, slightly more than a month earlier, VandeHei and Cillizza penned an article on Republican Party leaders' plans to "spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies." Headlined "In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal," the September 10 article reported that the NRCC had "this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates" and disclosed that the committee intended "to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads." Several weeks later, a September 26 Los Angeles Times article -- headlined "Negative Ads a Positive in GOP Strategy" -- noted that "individual Republicans are hitting their opponents hard ... on personal and local issues." On September 27, New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney devoted an article to the recent rash of negative advertising coming from both parties. Citing several examples, Nagourney reported that "Democrats have largely concentrated their efforts on the political records of Republicans," while "Republicans have zeroed in more on candidates' personal backgrounds."

But despite this series of recent reports -- including one penned by VandeHei and Cillizza themselves -- the October 13 Post article on the emerging Democratic advertising strategy failed to mention a single GOP-produced negative ad.

Further, VandeHei uncritically reported Gillespie's warning that, due to these tactics -- which he described as "dangerously close 'to overreaching' " -- Democrats might face a backlash similar to "the one that damaged Republicans after they pushed for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton over the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal in 1998." Indeed, the Democrats gained seats in the 1998 midterm elections, after the Republicans spent months highlighting the scandal and ultimately conducting a formal impeachment inquiry. But what Gillespie overlooked -- and VandeHei failed to point out -- is that Clinton enjoyed job approval ratings in the mid-60s during the weeks and months prior to the 1998 election. By contrast, recent polls place the job approval ratings of both President Bush and the Republican Congress in the mid to upper 30s.

Additionally, VandeHei misleadingly reported that the campaign of Democratic congressional candidate Chris Carney had produced an ad "accusing" his opponent, Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA), of "choking" and "attempting to strangle" his former mistress. From the article:

Democratic candidate Chris Carney is running an ad accusing Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) of "repeatedly choking" and "attempting to strangle" a young mistress. Foley and Sherwood share "the arrogance of power," said Carney. "They're willing to cover up these types of things to retain power."

Sherwood has apologized for the affair but said in a television ad that the "allegation of abuse was never true."

In fact, it is not Carney who has accused Sherwood of these actions; it is the alleged victim herself. In a June 2005 lawsuit, Cynthia Ore alleged that Sherwood had "repeatedly and violently physically assaulted and abused" her. From the complaint:

Throughout this long-term relationship, Defendant Sherwood repeatedly and violently physically assaulted and abused Plaintiff. These assaults and abuses included, but were not limited to Defendant Sherwood repeatedly striking Plaintiff on her face, neck, chest and back, violently yanking on Plaintiff's hair, and repeatedly choking and attempting to strangle Plaintiff by placing his hands around her neck.

Sherwood later settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Jim VandeHei
Stories/Interests
2006 Elections
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