Political Fact Check's Jackson should check the facts when discussing advocacy ads
Research ››› ››› MARCIA KUNTZ
On June 22, Brooks Jackson, executive director of Annenberg Political Fact Check -- a project of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center that "aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics" -- appeared on the PBS program The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, where he engaged in a one-sided assessment and selective presentation of the facts in reviewing political advertisements put out by various advocacy groups. Following is a look at the ads featured on NewsHour and discussed by Jackson and by moderator Terrence Smith (though not in the order presented on the program).
The Media Fund (TMF) ad:
AD VOICEOVER: Instead of protecting pensions, George Bush supported a bill giving Enron huge new tax breaks. Instead of giving seniors more prescription drug benefits, Bush gave drug companies billions in his Medicare bill. Instead of fighting corporate corruption, George Bush gave no-bid contracts to Halliburton, a company caught overcharging for fuel and food for our soldiers in Iraq. George Bush: He's turned the White House into corporate headquarters.
About this ad, Jackson had much to say:
Now, that, of course, is run by a group headed by Harold Ickes, who ought to know about the White House and corporate influence. He was the guy in charge of the White House sleepovers during the Clinton administration when he was deputy chief of staff. ... This ad is -- really, it's hard to cram this much distortion into a 30-second ad, but they do it.
After attacking the ad's credibility by going after Ickes, Jackson then cited actions the Bush administration has taken, which do not in any way refute the ad's assertions (1) that Bush supported tax breaks for Enron; (2) that drug companies benefited significantly from the Medicare bill, pushed through by congressional Republicans and highly touted by the president; and (3) that Halliburton, formerly Vice President Dick Cheney's employer, received no-bid contracts from the administration.
Citizens United ad:
MAN IN AD: On September 11, terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, including 346 firefighters -- one of which was my son, Michael. I lost my son. I spoke to him that day. He went to work that morning and he died for a reason, because somebody hates America. And that day, George Bush became a leader, a war president. I feel very comfortable with him as president. We want a guy that's going to lead us to victory in this war.
If viewers were listening at this moment for Jackson to point out that Citizens United's Bossie has just published a book blaming former President Bill Clinton for the September 11 terrorist attacks -- or that, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, Bossie was fired in 1998 from his job as chief investigator for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight for his role in releasing selectively edited transcripts -- they would have been disappointed. If they were waiting to hear Jackson acknowledge that another Citizens United ad explicitly blames Clinton for September 11, saying that Clinton is "responsible" for "leaving us vulnerable to terrorists," they would have rewound their TiVos in vain.
Instead, Jackson's analysis of this ad consisted simply of pointing out that, while Bush was criticized for ads featuring footage of the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, "an independent group can do things that the candidate himself can't do." And Jackson claimed that conservative advocacy groups are significantly underfunded compared to TMF and other liberal groups: "Another remarkable thing about this is how few people saw it. Only about $100,000 spent behind that ad. Liberals really have the advantage in this independent spending war so far."
Because Jackson failed to mention the Citizens United ad blaming Clinton for the September 11 attacks, he also neglected to note that the ad received at least one free airing, on the June 21 edition of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes.
AD VOICEOVER: The Bush administration gave Dick Cheney's old company no-bid contracts for Iraq on a silver platter. Then, the Pentagon caught Halliburton overcharging $61 million for gasoline. Worse, they billed over $100 million for meals for our troops that they never delivered. And George Bush is still doing business with them. George Bush, a failure of leadership. MoveOn PAC is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
After describing the ad as "unfair in some ways," Jackson made the following leap: "If all you knew about Halliburton is what you saw in ads like this one, you would think they had been officially charged with wrongdoing, and they haven't." But the MoveOn.org ad does not even suggest that Halliburton has actually been charged -- though one might reasonably infer that MoveOn.org thinks charges might be warranted.
Jackson then undertook a defense of Halliburton that fell far short of exoneration:
Their auditors are questioning expenditures for gasoline, it's true, and for meals served to troops, it's true. Nothing's been finally settled. These billing disputes arise all the time. The idea that the contracts were given on a silver platter with all these wads of cash, independent congressional General Accounting Office ruled that the contracts were legal and while there were some discrepancies in some of the add-ons, they probably could have been justified if they filled in the right blanks in the paperwork.
One might have thought, given that Ickes was never charged with -- much less found guilty of -- any crime related to fund-raising during the Clinton years, that Jackson would apply the same standard to himself that he apparently thinks MoveOn.org should have invoked. But apparently he did not.
Club for Growth ad:
AD VOICEOVER: The World Trade Center Towers were more than just buildings. They were symbols of hard-working people, economic freedom, and opportunity, the American way of life. That's why the terrorists attacked them. Our enemies want to destroy America's freedoms. President Bush is fighting terrorism to save lives and protect liberty. George W. Bush, the vision to promote freedom and the courage to defend it.
[The ad uses September 11 images] in a way, again, that the candidate himself probably doesn't want to do right now, and doesn't have to do if groups like these supporting him. Now, you have to note here that so far liberal groups have been overwhelmingly on the attack with these ads. There's been very few conservative ads of the kind we've been showing here. They've had very little money behind them comparatively so far. That may even up as we proceed because conservative groups are trying the [sic] raise more money.
Contrary to Jackson's pleas of poverty on behalf of conservative groups, The Washington Post reported on May 23, that the Club for Growth had raised $8 million this year "[f]or Senate and House races" and that the club's president, Stephen Moore, projected that it would raise a total of between $12 million and $15 million by the end of the year.
Jackson's analysis invites the question of whether, if a mirror-image ad been put out by a progressive organization accusing Bush of undertaking a war under false pretenses and dishonestly characterizing it as part of the war on terror, Jackson would have argued that the ad is unfair because Bush has not been charged with any crime.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: As you can see there is no ambiguity in my position on drilling off the coast of Florida
AD VOICEOVER: There sure isn't. President Bush opened up Florida's coast to offshore drilling and he supported an energy bill that could lead to even more. Well, what would you expect from a Texas oilman? Just one accident can destroy a coastline.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I put programs in place that help Mother Nature.
AD VOICEOVER: Mr. President, your oil drilling off Florida's coast isn't one of them.
Jackson's analysis: "The truth is, the Bush administration allowed drilling 100 miles off Florida's coast. I think anybody watching this ad would probably get the wrong idea."
But the truth is, in fact, more complicated. According to a May 30, 2002, article in The Tampa Tribune, the Bush administration announced an arrangement -- that "gives a significant boost to [the president's] brother [Governor] Jeb [Bush]'s campaign" -- whereby "[a] handful of influential oil and gas interests has agreed to receive $235 million in cash [or credits to submit bids to drill elsewhere] from the federal government to give up rights to explore and drill in environmentally sensitive areas near the Everglades and Florida's coast." However, while one agreement precluded the drilling of sites that happened to be less than 100 hundred miles from the Florida coast, according to the Tribune, the Everglades agreement's "fine print ... allows Collier Resources [a Florida company] to receive 'either cash or bidding credits that can be used for bids or royalties on future Outer Continental Shelf sales' by the federal government of licenses to drill between 3 to 100 miles from the U.S. coastline." Or, as unnamed Interior Department officials acknowledged, "such lease sales could allow drilling in the Gulf from Alabama to Florida, and a few places near California."
Citizens United's second ad:
AD VOICEOVER: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Hairstyle by Christophe's: $75. Designer shirts: $250. 42-foot luxury yacht: $1 million. Four lavish mansions and beach-front estate: Over $30 million. Another rich liberal elitist from Massachusetts who claims he's a "man of the people": Priceless.
While Jackson did point out that Kerry does not in fact claim to be a "man of the people," he also defended the ad: "Of course, the wealth that's portrayed here, all pretty much accurate." He also noted in an aside: "Most of those houses are in his wife's name, of course."
We can only imagine Jackson's analysis of an ad by a liberal group noting the extent of President Bush's wealth, along with the widely reported family and political connections he tapped in expanding that wealth. Jackson would at least cite that as an example of how, "so far, liberal groups have been overwhelmingly on the attack with these ads." Perhaps he would also note that it is no crime to be rich.
Finally, Jackson said, "John Kerry is running mostly positive ads while liberal groups are busy attacking Bush with tens of millions of ads like the ones we just saw."
"Tens of millions" of attack ads from liberal groups? Maybe it just seems that way to Jackson.
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