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Bush Ad "Doublespeak" Leaves Out Some Context

It quotes negative comments from newspapers, but doesn't mention that they are editorial expressions of opinion.

May 24, 2004

Modified: May 24, 2004

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Summary

 

A Bush ad that's been running heavily quotes various newspapers as saying Kerry engaged in "doublespeak" on Iraq, advocates tax increases that would "kill the recovery" and "waffled" on education reforms. The quotes are mostly accurate. Not mentioned, however, is that those statements are editorials -- not news reports. In other words they are opinions, not facts.

One bit of exaggeration in the ad: Kerry's stand on Bush's education reforms isn't the total flip-flop it portrays. The ad says Kerry now "opposes" the reforms he once voted for. In fact, Kerry says he still supports the goals of Bush's No Child Left Behind Act but wants some changes to improve it, and more money than Bush has provided.

One article quoted is not an editorial. The National Journal rated Kerry's voting record in 2003 the most liberal of any senator. The ad gets that right.

Analysis

 

This ad was released April 21 but has been running heavily of late. We've had queries about it from our subscribers. It doesn't contain any blatant deceptions, but it does raise questions that call for elaboration and additional context.

 Bush Cheney '04 Ad "Doublespeak"

Bush: I'm George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Announcer: John Kerry says, "A lot of people don't really know who I am."

Well, actually, a lot of people do.

Kerry's hometown paper says, "In his continuing effort to be all things to all voters . . . John Kerry is engaging in a level of doublespeak that makes most voters wince."

The Wall Street Journal said Kerry's tax plan "would mean increasing the tax burden again, which would likely kill the recovery."

On Iraq, The Washington Post said "Kerry's attempts to weave a thread connecting and justifying [his] positions are unconvincing."

The Union Leader says Kerry has "waffled" on historic education reforms he supported in 2001, but now opposes.

And the non-partisan National Journal magazine ranks Kerry the most liberal member of the Senate - more liberal than Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy.

John Kerry's problem is not that people don't know him. It's that people do.

"Kerry's Hometown Paper"

Not mentioned in the ad is that the "hometown paper" it quotes, the Boston Herald,  endorsed Bush in the 2000 election, and that the same newspaper at other times has had glowing things to say about Kerry's leadership.

It is also a bit misleading to call the Herald  "Kerry's hometown paper" in the first place. Actually, the Herald is the smaller of Boston's two daily newspapers. According to the  Audit Bureau of Circulation, the Herald's average weekday circulation for the six months ended March 31 was 248,988. The larger Boston Globe's weekday circulation for the same period was 452,109. And on Sundays, the Globe outsells the Herald four-and-a-half to one.

The ad does quote the Herald editorial accurately and in context. The Herald was referring to Kerry's labored explanation of his vote against an $87-billion emergency supplemental appropriation for military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kerry voted for a Democratic proposal, which was defeated, to fund the $87 billion by scaling back Bush's tax cuts. Then he voted against the appropriation itself.

Boston Herald editorial: (T)he Massachusetts senator slipped into Kerry-speak: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," he said. If that isn't enough to convince voters that Kerry is talking out of both sides of his mouth, we can't imagine what is.
In his continuing effort to be all things to all voters - for the Iraq war and against it; for providing support to the military and against it; for providing for an adequate defense and against it - John Kerry is engaging in a level of doublespeak that makes most voters wince.

Worth noting, however, is that even the Herald has had nice things to say about Kerry at times. It endorsed him last year for the Democratic nomination, saying:

Boston Herald editorial: Those of us in Massachusetts who know him best, have never doubted that Kerry is as capable a political leader as any who have sat in the U.S. Senate.  . . . John Kerry as a presidential candidate remains a work in progress. But John Kerry as a solid, thoughtful political leader is a well-known commodity around these parts. It is that man, that leader, the Boston Herald is pleased to endorse for his party's presidential nomination.

Naturally, the Bush ad doesn't quote any of that editorial.

"Kill the Recovery?"

The statement that Kerry's tax plan "would likely kill the recovery" comes from the editoral page of the Wall Street Journal , which regularly expresses conservative, pro-Bush views and consistently opposes any tax increases. The editiorial is quoted accurately and in context. Here's a part of it:

Wall Street Journal editorial: The Clinton tax increases and the speculative fever drove government receipts to a peak of 20.8% of GDP. The Bush tax cuts and the bursting of the bubble have brought that figure down to about 16%. If rates are left as they are, as the economy accelerates revenues should stabilize near their postwar average of 18% of GDP.
Mr. Kerry's "fiscal responsibility" would mean increasing the tax burden again, which would likely kill the recovery. And by ruling out the reform of Social Security and Medicare, he makes it inevitable that the long-term fiscal situation will deteriorate rapidly after 2008, when baby boomers start to retire. At that, the call for tax hikes will become a roar.

Of course, it's a matter of opinion whether it would "kill the recovery" to repeal Bush's tax cuts for taxpayers earning over $200,000 a year, as Kerry proposes. The Journal gives no authority for that sweeping prediction. Another view is that continuing large deficits that have materialized under Bush now pose a threat to future economic growth. For example, in remarks May 6 to a banking conference, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan spoke of "our yawning federal deficit" and said it poses "a significant obstacle to long-term stability." Greenspan noted that the budget deficit is currently projected to equal more than 4% of US economic output, after being in surplus a few years ago. There was no mention of that in the Bush ad either, naturally.

Kerry's Iraq Position "Unconvincing?"

The Washington Post editorial criticizing Kerry's stands on Iraq is also quoted accurately in context. And this one comes from a newspaper that leans generally in favor of Democrats. The editorial appeared Feb. 15:

Washington Post editorial: The most important confusion surrounds Mr. Kerry's position on Iraq. In 1991 he voted against the first Persian Gulf War, saying more support was needed from Americans for a war that he believed would prove costly. In 1998, when President Clinton was considering military steps against Iraq, he strenuously argued for action, with or without allies. Four years later he voted for a resolution authorizing invasion but criticized Mr. Bush for not recruiting allies. Last fall he voted against funding for Iraqi reconstruction, but argued that the United States must support the establishment of a democratic government.

Mr. Kerry's attempts to weave a thread connecting and justifying all these positions are unconvincing. He would do better to offer a more honest accounting.

"Waffled" on Education?

The Bush ad relies on the Manchester, New Hampshire Union Leader -- one of the nation's most conservative newspapers -- for the charge that Kerry "waffled" and now "opposes" the education reforms he once supported. Actually, Kerry doesn't oppose Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, and states that he still supports its goals of greater accountability. What Kerry has often criticized is what he calls Bush's failure to provide enough money to fund the new requirements that the law places on states. Kerry also is calling for "changes" in the law that would rate school performance on "more than just test scores" and create "rewards" for states that set high standards to shoot for. Kerry says such states are now penalized if they fail to reach the standards, creating an incentive to set standards low.

The Union Leader did indeed accuse Kerry of having "waffled" to appease a large teachers union, but stopped short of accusing him of opposing the Bush reforms themselves, as the ad claims:

Manchester Union Leader editorial: Speaking before the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association last week, John Kerry waffled on his vote for the No Child Left Behind Act, which the teacher lobby hates. He can't pander to the group by bashing the bill because he voted for it. So he criticizes Bush for not fully funding it.

"Most Liberal?"

It is a fact as the ad states that the National Journal, a politically neutral periodical focusing on policy-makers in Washington, rated Kerry the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate based on his voting record in 2003. In fact, it was the fourth time in his Senate career that Kerry has been rated as having the most liberal voting record. The three other "most liberal" ratings came during his first Senate term, in 1986, 1988, and 1990. The National Journal has been rating members of both House and Senate on a liberal-conservative scale since 1981.

It's true that Kerry was absent (due to his presidential campaign schedule) for 37 of the 62 votes that the National Journal selected for their analysis. However, the publication said those missed votes were all in the areas of social policy and foreign policy, where Kerry "consistently took the liberal view within the Senate." On economic policy votes, the National Journal said Kerry earned a "perfect liberal score" last year.
Summing up: Overall, this ad rates fairly high for accuracy, in contrast with other Bush ads we've criticized as misleading. But it could lead voters to confuse editorial opinions with statements of fact.

Sources

Audit Bureau of Circulation, figures for Boston newspapers accessed from  website on 24 May 2004.

Editorial; "How's that again, Senator?" Boston Herald 18 March 2004: A36.

Editorial: "Kerry as Fiscal Conservative," Wall Street Journal 9 April 2004: A8.

Alan Greenspan "Globalization and Innovation," remarks at the Conference on Bank Structure and Competition, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 6 May 2004.

Editorial endorsement: "Sen. John Kerry Dems' best leader," Boston Herald 22 Jan 2004: A30.

Editorial: "Waffle house: Democrats pander to special interests," The Union Leader 11 Aug. 2003: A10.

John Kerry, "Detailed Plan to Strengthen Public Schools," statement of education policy on campaign website, accessed 24 May 2004.

Richard Cohen, "How They Measured Up," 2003 VOTE RATINGS, National Journal 28 Feb 2004.