On This Week, Will misrepresented Mehlman's views on controversial RNC ad, ignored contrary evidence in asserting "objectively good" economy

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

George F. Will falsely claimed that Republican National Committee chairman (RNC) Ken Mehlman "was appalled" by a controversial RNC ad attacking Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. that critics have characterized as racist. In fact, Mehlman has repeatedly defended the ad as "fair." Will also asserted that the economy "is just objectively good," joined by Time's Jay Carney, who asserted that real wages have been "coming up a little bit lately"; in fact, even though productivity has expanded by 14 percent since November 2001, real hourly wages have remained largely unchanged.

During a roundtable discussion on the October 29 broadcast of ABC's This Week, Washington Post columnist George F. Will falsely claimed that Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Ken Mehlman "was appalled" by a controversial RNC ad attacking Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. that critics, including the director of the NAACP's Washington bureau and former Republican Sen. William Cohen, have characterized as racist. In fact, Mehlman has repeatedly defended the ad as "fair" during recent interviews, as Media Matters for America has noted. In addition, during a discussion about the state of the economy, Will asserted that the economy "is just objectively good," and Time magazine White House correspondent Jay Carney asserted that real wages have been "coming up a little bit lately," which he claimed would "help the Republicans and help the president." However, during a five-year period of economic recovery beginning in November 2001, as productivity has expanded by 14 percent, real hourly wages have remained largely unchanged, despite a slight uptick in the past month.

The RNC ad, which was released October 20, features a scantily clad white woman posing as someone who "met" Ford "at the Playboy party," who invites Ford, an African-American, to "call" her. As the Los Angeles Times noted, "Critics said the ad ... plays on fears of interracial relationships to scare some white voters in rural Tennessee." During the roundtable discussion, Will falsely claimed that Mehlman "was appalled by this ad." In fact, Mehlman has repeatedly defended the ad during recent interviews. During MSNBC's October 24 midterm election special Decision 2006: Battleground America, NBC host Tim Russert challenged Mehlman repeatedly on the racial aspects of the ad, asserting that the ad "us[ed] race as a wedge issue." Russert asked Mehlman why "the whole idea of having a blond white woman winking at a black congressman, the notion of interracial sex is not, in your mind, racist?" In response, Mehlman said, "I think it's a fair ad." Further, Mehlman stated that he didn't "agree with th[e] characterization" by former Republican Sen. William Cohen that the ad contained an "overt racist appeal" and by Ford's Republican opponent Bob Corker that the ad was "over the top." Later, during the October 25 edition of CNN's Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer asked Mehlman, "Looking at it now, knowing everything you know, was it a racist ad?" Mehlman responded, "Again, I stand behind what I said before, which is as someone who is extraordinarily sensitive to it, I don't believe that it was. At the same time, there are good people on both sides who believe otherwise. I respect where they're coming from. I hope they do the same with where I'm coming from."

During a discussion about the economy, Stephanopoulos raised the question of whether "the economy is not as good as the White House says," adding that "incomes have been flat for a long time." In response, Carney said, "Incomes have been flat although they've been coming up a little bit lately." Later, Will asserted, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. You can have your opinion about whether the economy is doing well but objectively, again, the economy -- 4.6 unemployment. Growth quarter after quarter over three percent. It is just objectively good." However, as Media Matters previously noted, real wages -- wages adjusted for inflation -- have fallen in recent years; an August 28 New York Times report, citing the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute (EPI), noted that the median hourly real wage "declined 2 percent since 2003." In an October 16 press release, EPI noted that in the month following the Times report, real hourly wages experienced a slight uptick of "just under 1 percent," which EPI attributed to "falling energy costs." EPI further noted that the current hourly wage is "just a few cents above the real hourly wage from November 2001," and given that productivity growth since that time was 14 percent, "most workers, especially those in non-managerial occupations, have failed to benefit from the productivity-rich expansion."

In response to Carney, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted, "Costs and benefits to employers are going up, but people are not necessarily betting those benefits themselves. For example Employers are paying more for health care but employees have more of the cost thrown on them because costs are rising. Pension costs may be going up, and yet because of the decline of guaranteed pensions a lot more people feel insecure."

From the October 29 broadcast of ABC's This Week:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): The other issue that the White House is hoping is going to work is the economy. They're starting to talk about that a lot more in these last several days. I've talked to pollsters on both sides who say they're starting to get some traction. I've got to say we don't see it in our ABC poll. The economy is the number two issue behind Iraq, and those who say the economy is the number two issue or the number one issue go to Democrats by 17 points. So, Jay, let me ask you, that either means that Iraq is coloring the view of the economy or the economy is not as good as the White House says, and incomes have been flat for a long time.

CARNEY: Incomes have been flat although they've been coming up a little bit lately. The most important, I think, element of the economy and the economic improvement this year has been the reduction in gas prices. I think that takes a lot of pressure and anger out of those who are going to the polls and voting on the economy. I think all these issues, as long as it's not about Iraq, tend to help the Republicans and help the president because Iraq hangs over everything and a big -- to the point where, you know, voters might not even talk --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Anything but.

CARNEY: -- about it, but it's driving how they feel when they go to the polls.

WILL: First of all, incomes have been flat, but well-being has not been flat. It has been improving once you count two things: benefits, which continue to go up, and tax cuts, which are an achievement of this administration. I think what we're seeing, George, is this: that the numbers make our economy the envy of the developed world. But what has changed is this: Hitherto, there's been a common assumption that prosperity meant more personal security. Now, the very mechanism of prosperity, the globalization, this leveling wind of competition, breaks the link.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's why even if benefits are going up, people have a fear that their health care, their retirement security is going to go away.

DIONNE: Costs and benefits to employers are going up, but people are not necessarily betting those benefits themselves. For example, employers are paying more for health care, but individuals have more of the cost thrown on them too because costs are rising. Pension costs may be going up, and yet, because of the decline of guaranteed pensions, a lot more people feel insecure.

[New America Foundation fellow] Jacob Hacker has a book called The Great Risk Shift [Oxford University Press USA, October 2006], and I think people sense that more risk is being moved both from the corporation and government onto the backs of individuals. That's why a rising tide is not lifting all spirits.

CLAIRE SHIPMAN (ABC News senior national correspondent): And I think it can also work to make the president in the White House seem even more out of touch when they continue to say everybody should be feeling good, the economy is doing well. But people feel insecure. It's a disconnect, and it doesn't make sense right here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's the danger, and I'm not sure they have a choice, though.

WILL: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. You can have your opinion about whether the economy is doing well but, objectively, again, the economy -- 4.6 unemployment, growth quarter after quarter, over 3 percent. It is just objectively good.

SHIPMAN: But facts don't often have a lot to do with political strategy, George, so the White House needs to think about that --

DIONNE: But there are -- there are a variety of facts, including what's happened to wages, including what's happened to health care benefits, so people look at the facts that affect them personally, and a very significant chunk of the country has not shared in this prosperity. It's more skewed than it was in the past.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Some would say that the fact-free zones of this campaign are the political ads. Let's get there. It's been getting very nasty this week. Most of the debate around this ad that was run by an independent arm of the Republican National Committee against Harold Ford in Tennessee.

[begin video clip]

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I met Harold at the Playboy party.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'd love to pay higher marriage taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Canada can take care of North Korea. They're not busy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So he took money from porn movie producers, I mean, who hasn't?

[TEXT]: Harold Ford. He's just not right.

NARRATOR: The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Harold, call me.

[end video clip]

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, a lot of outcry that that ad has raised, E.J., I have to say -- you know, I'm gonna take some heat for this -- I didn't see it necessarily as racist. Silly, funny, irrelevant perhaps, kind of reprehensible, not particularly effective -- but racist?

DIONNE: I think you should take grief for it. I think that last scene is so relevant with meaning in -- from Southern history and the fear of miscegenation, and the fear of interracial relationships. I think it's an astonishing thing --

STEPHANOPOULOS: But aren't we beyond that?

DIONNE: And it's tasteless on top of it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I agree with that point.

CARNEY: Well, let me ask you: Are we -- do you believe the maker of the ad did it innocently? Had no idea what he was doing? I just don't believe it. I don't believe it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think they were playing on the idea that Harold Ford is a player, or their perception that he is a player, not necessarily racist, but go ahead.

CARNEY: And a white blonde woman saying, "Harold, call me." In a race, you know, single black male, who is known to be a player, whose best line of this entire campaign in dealing with this Super Bowl Playboy party was, "I like football and I like girls." Well, I mean, that's a fine reaction. He's single. But -- I thought that was a good line.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, then it's [inaduble] ad is fair game?

WILL: Why not put a beautiful African-American at the end of the ad?

STEPHANOPOULOS: There was a -- the top of the ad, actually, but go ahead.

CARNEY: Look, the Republican Party has come a long way from its Southern strategy, which did involve luring formerly Democratic whites away from the Dem -- away from the Democratic Party over the issue of race and their discomfort over busing and affirmative action and things like that. Ken Mehlman, the RNC chairman, has gone a long way in disavowing the Southern strategy, but there are times when it comes back, and I think it's one of them.

WILL: Ken Mehlman was appalled by this ad. I don't think the Corker campaign liked this ad. This ad, and this is the other part of the story, is a product of campaign finance laws, which set a limit on the amount of money that the parties can spend in consultation with the candidates. You described this as run by an independent arm of the party. Can't be both, George. It can't be an independent arm.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what they say.

WILL: But it's not true. It would be a crime -- a crime for Ken Mehlman to consult in advance on the message of that ad.

SHIPMAN: But it's hard to believe, even if it was an independent arm, that Ken Mehlman had no control and he wasn't able to --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think, legally, he doesn't. No, that's --

WILL: He has no control.

[crosstalk]

SHIPMAN: No, not legally, but they're not gonna listen to Ken Mehlman if he calls?

CARNEY: Claire's right; if he says, "Pull the air off -- pull the ad off the air" -- he's the head of the Republican Party -- I think it would come off. It took days. It took days.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He didn't actually call; he can go out and give an interview, say he's upset about it and, sure enough, the ad did stop.

DIONNE: God bless George, he'd blame cold coffee on campaign finance reform. A good conservative position is that no matter what the structure is, people are morally responsible for the choices they make, and I think this was a morally reprehensible choice to run this particular ad in this climate against an African-American candidate.

WILL: But the question, E.J., is, who made the choice? And the choice was not made by the Republican Party, because campaign finance laws make it a crime for them to be involved in this message.

DIONNE: But it is authorized by the Republican National Committee. The Republican National Committee sets out guidelines for what they're supposed to do.

WILL: It does not set out guidelines. It cannot be involved in the content of that ad. It is a crime under laws you, E.J., celebrate.

DIONNE: I do celebrate them.

SHIPMAN: This is not the only ugly ad, by the way. There have been a plethora of these ads, and part of the problem is, they're almost uncontrollable now between YouTube, the attention they get in the national media, and I mean, by the time they're taken down, people know them by heart all over the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They're uncontrollable, but are they still effective? And that's another question I have. I think all these ads tend to cancel each other out by the end of a campaign. They become complete white noise.

DIONNE: First of all, thank God for YouTube. One of the things the technology has allowed us to do is pay attention to all these ads. There's a lot of awful stuff that happens often on radio, by the way, where they don't get mass attention so, at least, the new technology has allowed a lot of these ads to get some scrutiny. I don't think they all wash each other out. I think some of them have more effect partly because we keep showing them on all kinds -- and write about them on all kinds of broadcasts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's the last word.

Posted In
Elections
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George F. Will
Show/Publication
This Week
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Propaganda/Noise Machine, 2006 Elections
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