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Distortion and Insinuation in Ohio

GOP Sen. Mike DeWine fires first, and Democrats return in kind on behalf of challenger Sherrod Brown.

July 21, 2006

Modified: July 21, 2006

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Summary

An ad by Republican Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio distorts his opponent's record by selectively choosing votes that don't accurately reflect the overall picture. In response, the  Ohio Democratic Party highlights votes that give a truer sense of Rep. Sherrod Brown's voting record, while insinuating without evidence that DeWine has been complicit with the Chinese and that he was somehow responsible for failing to forsee the terrorist attacks of 2001.

Both ads show how cherrypicked votes from the same lawmaker's record can be used to paint him either as a Jekyll or a Hyde -- or in this case, as someone who is tough on terrorism, or not.

DeWine's ad snared some unwanted publicity by using a shot of the World Trade Center towers billowing smoke -- which turned out to be a simulation of the 9/11 attacks and not the real thing. The DeWine campaign has replaced the image.

Analysis

Both ads are running statewide in Ohio with $470,000 media buys.  DeWine's began airing on July 13th, and the Ohio Democrats responded four days later. 

Mike DeWine ad: "Weakening Security"

(Image of Mike DeWine shaking hands with a firefighter, followed by the burning twin towers and and image of Sherrod Brown's face above them.)
DeWine: I'm Mike DeWine and I approve this message. 
Announcer: Where does Sherrod Brown stand on protecting America's homeland?  In Congress, Brown voted to slash national intelligence programs.  He voted against strengthening criminal laws for terrorist attacks.  He voted against the Patriot Act, which gives law enforcement the tools to fight terrorists.  Brown even voted against the death penalty for terrorists who killed passengers on trains and subways.  Sherrod Brown - Weakening America's security - Out of touch with Ohio values.   

Distorting Brown's Record

The announcer says that Brown "voted to slash national intelligence programs."  True as far as it goes, though Brown hasn't voted for an intelligence cut since two years before the 2001 terrorist attacks. Previously Brown voted several times to cut intelligence spending by as much as 10 per cent. He eventually supported the full appropriation every year but one.

DeWine lists nine congressional votes on a website, created by his campaign, called BrownVotes.com. Of the nine, six were cast on amendments between 1993 and 1997 to reduce the total appropriations for the CIA -- by $500 million in one case, by five or 10 per cent in the others.  However, each amendment was defeated and Brown still voted for the final bill for CIA funding nearly every time.

The exception was 1999, when Brown voted for the amendment to reduce the overall Intelligence appropriations, against the final appropriations bill, and, later, for a freeze on the bill's appropriations. 

The ad says Brown voted against the Patriot Act.  This is accurate as Brown voted against the original Patriot Act in 2001 and also against the reauthorization in 2005.

Death to Terrorists, or Not?

Here's where things really get confusing. Did Sherrod Brown support the death penalty for terrorists or not? DeWine's ad ends by saying that Brown voted against  "strengthening criminal law for terrorist acts," and "the death penalty for terrorists who kill passengers on trains and subways." The Democrats' ad says "Brown voted for the death penalty for terrorists." Contradiction? Nope, both are true.

Brown did indeed vote for the death penalty for terrorists – twice, in fact. Both votes were on amendments to the 2004 Intelligence Reform Bill. One vote was in favor of “amending criminal code to apply life imprisonment or the death penalty for a terrorist offense that results in the death of a person.”  The other vote would have strengthened the criminal code against terrorists and prescribed life imprisonment or the death penalty for terrorists who kill people using nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, certain biological weapons or shoulder-fired guided missiles. Neither of them became law.

The first amendment resurfaced during the reauthorization of the Patriot Act as the “Terrorist Death Penalty Enhancement Act of 2005.”  It was passed by voice vote in the House (so there's no record of how Brown voted) and included in the final version of the Act.  However, as DeWine accurately claims in his ad, Brown voted against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, including the death-penalty language amid much else. Additionally, Brown voted against an amendment that would have rewritten the criminal code to provide the death penalty for a terrorist involved in an attack on trains or mass transit that results in the death of a person. Brown campaign spokeswoman Joanna Kuebler said that Brown thought the death penalty measures Brown had supported would be "more effective in addressing terrorism."

So it's true Brown voted for the death penalty for terrorists, and also against. Take your pick.

Dems run the insinuation play

Besides leaping to Brown's defense on the death penalty issue, the Ohio Democratic Party's ad touts the positive in the candidate's House record on national security, and questions DeWine's own votes in that realm. The ad's description of Brown's positions is accurate -- he did vote for measures to beef up port and border security, and the Columbus Dispatch did refer to him as a "leading sponsor" of the Bioterrorism bill of 2001.

Ohio Democratic Party ad "Sad"

Man: It's sad: Mike DeWine exploiting images of 9/11 to smear Sherrod Brown.  Brown voted for the death penalty for terrorists, tougher port security, tighter borders, and led the fight against bioterrorism.  DeWine?  He failed us on the intelligence committee before 9/11 and on weapons of mass destruction.  He supported trade deals with China even after thousands of lost jobs and the transfer of sensitive military technology.  That's not protecting Ohio. 

The Democrats then take aim at DeWine’s record with a technique that we'd call tarring by insinuation. The ad says DeWine “failed us on the intelligence committee before 9/11 and on weapons of mass destruction.” That's a fuzzy charge. Failed us how, exactly?

Democrats cite a quote from DeWine in which he seems to shoulder some collective blame:

DeWine :  None of us really got it. We just didn’t provide the resources.

But if failing to "provide the resources" to CIA and FBI counterterrorism efforts means that DeWine "failed us" as the ad claims, then by the Democrats' own logic Brown himself would be even more culpable, having voted to provide even fewer dollars for intelligence. As a matter of reason, they can't have it both ways.

More generally, we find it too much of a stretch to blame any single member of the Senate Intelligence Committee for the failures of the US intelligence community to predict or prevent the 9/11 attacks or the erroneous assertions that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and an active program to develop a nuclear weapon.  The 9/11 Commission Report and the reports of two bipartisan investigations into the intelligence failures make it abundantly clear that there's plenty of blame to go around.

Deals with China?  

As for the ad’s other charge, that DeWine “supported trade deals with China” even though thousands of U.S. jobs and sensitive military technology had migrated to that country; it’s true that he voted in 2000 for an extension of normal trade relations with China – a bill that had the support of President Clinton and 82 of DeWine's Senate colleagues. 

Touching up the Twin Towers

As U.S. News and World Report first reported on July 19th, the image in DeWine's ad of the south tower billowing smoke northward as the north tower stands undamaged can't be real. According to FEMA structural engineer W. Gene Corley:

Corley: This particular image is impossible.  The north tower was hit first [so] the south tower could not be burning without the North Tower burning ... the smoke is all wrong ... the smoke of 9/11 was never in a halo like that.

In an AP story, the DeWine campaign described  the doctored image as a "graphic representation."  A new version of the ad has gotten rid of the smoke. We don't think the fake shot is a big deal, since it doesn't portray an event that didn't really happen. It seems to be an inexplicable act of incompetence on the part of the DeWine campaign. Having chosen to use images of the 9/11 attacks, which Democrats were sure to complain were unfair appeals to fear, why use a faked picture instead of the real thing?

The fact that DeWine has begun attacking his general election opponent this early in the season is a strong indication that he's concerned about saving his seat. Indeed, DeWine is on the Democratic Party's hit list as it aims to recapture the Senate.

by Justin Bank and Viveca Novak

Sources


Hammer, David.  " DeWine Changes 9/11 Imagery in Campaign Ad ," AP.  20 July 2006.

Otterman, Sharon.  "FBI, CIA : Lacked resources to avert 9/11," UPI. 27 Sept 2002.

Riskind, Jonathon.  "Ohio Lawmakers Busy as Congress Winds Down," The Columbus Dispatch.  16 Dec 2001. 

Rulon, Malia. "DeWine says intelligence failure shows need to do more," AP. 7 July 2004.

Schulte, Brett.  " DeWine Blunder adds fuel to Controversial Sept. 11 ad ," U.S. News and World Report. 19 July 2006.

Scott, Robert E.  " U.S.-China trade 1989-2003: Impact on jobs and industries, nationally and state by state ."  Economic Policy Institute Working Paper.  Jan 2005

"DeWine Glum after Mideast," The Toledo Blade.  10 July 2002.

"The 9-11 Commission Report," 22 July, 2004 

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