Fox News uncritically aired Santorum's highly misleading attack ad on Casey


Fox News host Jane Skinner aired a commercial produced by Sen. Rick Santorum's re-election campaign suggesting that the "campaign team" employed by his Democratic challenger, Bob Casey Jr., is made up of cigar-smoking crooks. Skinner failed entirely to inform viewers that none of the four supposed Casey contributors depicted in the spot has actually given any money to his Senate campaign and that two of them have, in fact, contributed to Santorum's re-election bid, according to recent reports.

As part of a September 26 segment on negative campaigning, Fox News Live host Jane Skinner aired in its entirety a television advertisement produced by Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) re-election campaign suggesting that the "campaign team" employed by his Democratic challenger, Bob Casey Jr., is made up of cigar-smoking crooks. Since the ad first ran, it has come to light that none of the four supposed Casey contributors depicted by actors in the spot has actually given any money to his Senate campaign and that two of them have, in fact, contributed to Santorum's re-election bid. But in her subsequent discussion of the Pennsylvania race with Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron, Skinner failed entirely to inform viewers of the ad's false premise.

The campaign ad in question first ran in Pennsylvania on September 13. Following is Los Angeles Times staff writer Janet Hook's description of it:

Sinister characters are scheming in a smoke-filled room, in a television ad that depicts big campaign contributors to Bob Casey, a Democrat running for Senate in Pennsylvania.

After detailing the legal troubles that each donor faces -- including an FBI investigation and jail time -- the somber narrator asks, "Where does Casey hold his campaign meetings?"

The camera pulls back to show the cigar-smoking "campaign team" -- behind bars.

A day after its release, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the identities of the unnamed figures depicted in the ad and debunked the Santorum campaign's suggestion that they represent Casey's current "campaign team." The Inquirer article noted that none of them has "taken a formal role in the Casey organization or has contributed money to his Senate campaign" and that one "died nearly two years ago":

The commercial, which uses actors, does not mention names. But according to documents provided by the Santorum camp, they include State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.), Philadelphia lawyer Ronald A. White, New Jersey developer Charles Kushner, and veteran political fund-raiser Robert Feldman.

Fumo, a longtime Casey backer, is the focus of a federal investigation into possible extortion, and Feldman of a probe into potentially illegal campaign contributions in Puerto Rico. Neither has been charged.

White died nearly two years ago; he faced federal charges of conspiracy and extortion. Kushner pleaded guilty in 2005 to tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal contributions to former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey; after more than a year in federal custody, he was released from a halfway house last month.

None has taken a formal role in the Casey organization or has contributed money to his Senate campaign.

The article went on to point out that one of the four purported Casey supporters identified in the ad as Casey's "campaign finance chairman" holds no such position in the campaign, though he "played that role for Casey in the past." Further, the Inquirer pointed out that the contributions cited in the ad were donations to his previous state-level campaigns for "auditor general, governor and state treasurer" -- not his current Senate bid.

Moreover, two of the four figures in the ad have reportedly contributed to Santorum's current re-election campaign. Indeed, a September 13 Associated Press article reported that Santorum's spokeswoman had acknowledged that the campaign received money from the two individuals:

Smar said the four men highlighted may have contributed to some of Casey's past campaigns before they were under investigation, but they have not given to Casey's Senate campaign. Two have actually given to Santorum's Senate campaign, and one is now dead, Smar said.

Virginia Davis, Santorum's campaign spokeswoman, acknowledged that the four had not donated to Casey's Senate campaign, but she said it is relevant that they gave him money in the past.

She said the Santorum campaign donated the money it had received from two of the individuals to the Villa Maria Education Center in Villa Maria, Pa., and to the Gesu School in Philadelphia.

But despite the fact that the ad's premise had been rebutted by several news agencies, Skinner aired it without comment. She and Cameron then discussed the Pennsylvania race at length without informing viewers of this fact.

Additionally, Skinner later referred to "some crazy" ad that she described as featuring "some sort of gorilla going after the Santorum workers." The ad in question, produced by Americans United for Change, criticizes Santorum's stance on the privatization of Social Security. But while Skinner played in its entirety the misleading ad targeting Casey, she aired this piece only partially -- without sound -- during her discussion with Cameron.

From the September 26 edition of Fox News Live:

SKINNER: Well, politics in Pennsylvania taking a pretty nasty turn, as in other states around the country. Republican Senator Rick Santorum and his Democratic challenger, Bob Casey, have both unleashed some negative ads.

[begin video clip]

SANTORUM: I'm Rick Santorum, and I approved this message.

NARRATOR: Meet Bob Casey's campaign team. A Philadelphia politician who gave Casey almost four hundred grand. A Philly businessman who gave Casey 31,000. A New Jersey developer -- 100,000. dollars. And several more of Casey's largest contributors are under investigation, including Casey's hand-picked campaign finance chairman. The more we learn about Bob Casey, the more concerned we ought to be.

[end video clip]

SKINNER: Well, for more on the positives of going negative, let's bring in Fox's chief political correspondent, Carl Cameron. He's live in Pittsburgh for us this afternoon. Pennsylvania, Carl, certainly a place where plenty of candidates are considered vulnerable this year. I was reading one congressman's comment about how the field is so tough, particularly -- he's a Republican -- for Republicans, that he said you, you almost have to go negative and you gotta focus specifically on your opponent. Does that work?

CAMERON: Well, it's, it's -- it's very true. Negative attack ads, particularly of a personal nature, do have an -- do take an effect, they do take their toll. And viewers do watch them. The airwaves are absolutely filled with ads in Pennsylvania, and those are the ones that tend to be more memorable. But they also come at a price, and they tend to occasionally erode a little bit of the support of the candidate who actually throws out that punch.

It's hard to say who started it in Pennsylvania in the Santorum-Casey Jr. race because they've been going at it really for the last year. With six weeks to the election now, it's straight -- it's a straight-up brawl. Santorum mocks Bob Casey Jr., calling him "Bobby" or "Junior" -- the son of the former governor. And Bob Casey Jr. goes back at Santorum, saying that he's completely out of step with Pennsylvania values and far too in step with President Bush. And this state, like so many other battlegrounds across the country, does have the effect of the president's unpopularity playing in the polls. The Iraq war is not popular here. And Mr. Santorum's trailing in the polls substantially -- a double-digit deficit to Bob Casey Jr. And because of that, it's also affecting the House races. So, not a particularly favorable environment for Republicans right now.

SKINNER: Yeah, and we should say, too, there's some crazy one that is not paid for by the Casey campaign, but involves some sort of gorilla going after the Santorum workers. I'm not exactly sure what the goal of is -- of it is there.

CAMERON: Yeah. Well -- you're -- and you're referring to the 527s, the independent groups that are -- that are on the air here with ads. And there's millions of dollars of those being spent. And in a lot of cases, that's the really nasty stuff. The campaigns don't do it. They sort of leave it to surrogates, or in some cases, the actual national parties. But in the case of Mr. Santorum and Casey, they are both throwing their own punches and definitely tough ones.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Fox News Channel
Jane Skinner
FOX News Live
2006 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.