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"XXX" Marks the Spot Where Campaign Ads Head South

Attack ad claims Rep. Miller voted to fund sex research but not body armor.

September 27, 2006

Modified: September 27, 2006

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Summary

In an ad that many viewers will find distasteful, Republican House candidate Vernon Robinson accuses Democratic Rep. Brad Miller of voting to spend money on silly-sounding sex studies into masturbation, prostitution and arousal of teenage girls while trying "to deny our soldiers the body armor they need to save their lives."

We find the ad misleading on several counts. Miller did nothing that would have denied body armor for troops. There was no connection between the National Institutes of Health studies in question and funding for body armor. And despite the misleading way the ad belittles them, the sex studies had such stated goals as slowing the spread of AIDS, understanding homosexuality and improving the lives of senior citizens as their sexual function declines.

Analysis

This ad first aired Sept. 25 in North Carolina. We'll leave our readers to judge for themselves whether masturbation, prostitution and sneering references to "XXX" and sex are proper subjects for a political ad. We'll confine ourselves to the ad's factual accuracy, which we find wanting.

Robinson for Congress Ad: "Pays for Sex"

Announcer: What kind of Congressman would try to deny our soldiers the body armor they need to save their lives?
(On Screen: Soldiers alongside a flag-draped coffin.)
Announcer: Well the answer is, your Congressman, Brad Miller. That's right, Brad Miller did not vote for the appropriation to pay for improved body armor for our troops. But Brad Miller has no trouble spending your money, he, he would just rather spend it on sex.
(On Screen: A Picture of Rep. Brad Miller with "XXX" printed over it.)
(Sound FX: Animal noises.)
Announcer: That's right, instead of spending money on sickle-cell research Brad Miller voted to spend your money to study the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes in San Francisco.  Instead of spending money on cancer research, Brad Miller spent your money to study the masturbation habits of old men. Brad Miller spent your tax dollars to study something called the Bisexual Transgendered and Two-Spirited Aleutian Eskimos, whoever they are. Brad Miller even spent your tax dollars to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia. Brad Miller pays for sex, but not for body armor for our troops. If Miller had better priorities, you wouldn't be having to hear this.
(On Screen: Images of soldiers in combat.)
Robinson: "I'm Vernon Robinson and I approved this message because Brad Miller is out of touch and soon, he'll be out of Congress."

Body armor falsehood

As we noted less than a week ago, both Democrats and Republicans in this particularly bitter election year are falsely trying to paint their opponents as somehow opposed to giving US troops the latest body armor. This Republican ad is just the latest bit of this malicious bunk.

Robinson's ad asks, "What kind of Congressman would try to deny our soldiers the body armor they need to save their lives?" and then goes on to say Miller "did not vote for the appropriations to pay for improved body armor"

It's true that Miller missed the October 2003 vote on an $87-billion supplemental appropriations measure for Iraq and Afghanistan that included $300 million for body armor. The ad fails to mention that Miller was on his way to Iraq at the time to visit the troops personally. More to the point, however, is that it is simply false to claim that Miller tried to "deny" body armor to anybody. As we said before, by the time of this vote the Pentagon was buying every piece of modern body armor that suppliers could produce using existing funds.

"XXX"-rated sex studies?

The ad then goes on to use the time-dishonored tactic of making fun of government-funded research by giving twisted or incomplete descriptions of the subject matter. "Miller has no trouble spending your money," says the announcer, his voice dripping with contempt, "he would just rather spend it on sex." On screen a large "XXX" appears over Miller's smiling photograph. The announcer continues, saying Miller "voted to spend your money to study the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes in San Francisco . . . spent your money to study the masturbation habits of old men . . . (and) something called the Bisexual Transgendered and Two-Spirited Aleutian Eskimos, whoever they are, (and) even spent your tax dollars to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia."

It's true that Miller voted July 10, 2003 against a Republican amendment that would have forced the National Institutes of Health to cancel five specific research grants, including the four mentioned in the ad. It failed narrowly, 210-212. Those who voted with Miller included 164 other Democrats, 46 Republicans and one independent. Those who spoke in debate did not defend the specifics of the grants, but argued generally that NIH uses a system of peer review by scientists to allocate research money, and that the process shouldn't be made political. Democratic Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin said , for example, "I would rather trust the judgment of 10 doctors sitting around a table than I would 10 politicians sitting around a table when we decide how to allocate taxpayer money for those grants."

A look at the documentation  for these grants also reveals that they are not exactly as Robinson's ad describes them. We deal with each in turn:

  • "Vietnamese Prostitutes": This study was an effort to find a way to prevent the spread of AIDS. It was proposed in 2001 by the University of California San Francisco, to “describe drug use and HIV-related behaviors among Asian female commercial sex workers at massage parlors” in the area.  The study was awarded $1,726,536 from Fiscal 2002-2004 according to NIH documents.
  • "Masturbation Habits of Old Men”: Masturbating was included as one part of a much larger study on how declining sexual function affects the quality of life of elderly men. The research would, according to the proposal summary, "provide the most comprehensive picture to date of the sexual behavior of aging men." The project was awarded in August 2001 according to NIH documents and had received $137,378 in funding by Fiscal 2002.  It was proposed in response to a recommendation by the NIH to conduct additional research on aging and sexual function.
  • “Two-Spirited Aleutian Eskimos”: This grant didn't just deal with "Eskimos," it attempted to gain a national picture of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender and "two-spirited" individuals in the American Indian and Alaskan Native populations. The term "two-spirit" refers simply to Native Americans involved in same-sex relationships, according to a definition posted on the North East Two Spirit Society’s website . The proposal envisioned 400 interviews about sexual risk and drug and alcohol use. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2006 the project received $2,368,017.  According to the proposal submitted to the NIH the grant ends May 31, 2007.
  • "Teenage Girls": This grant actually proposed to study sexual arousal in 180 lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual "women," and makes no mention of "teenage girls" as test subjects as the ad claims. The proposal received $147,000 between fiscal years 2001 and 2002 but was not funded in fiscal 2003.

Pays for sex?

The ad concludes by saying, "Brad Miller pays for sex, but not for body armor for our troops. If Miller had better priorities, you wouldn't be having to hear this."

Saying Miller "pays for sex" makes it sound as though he's hiring the services of prostitutes, though Robinson offers no evidence of that. And saying it's Miller's fault that viewers are "having to hear this" gets things backwards. It was Robinson's decision to put this fact-twisting bunk on the air. If he had greater respect for the facts you wouldn't have to be reading this.

by Brooks Jackson & Emi Kolawole

Sources

"Miller, Johnson spar in televised forum," Associated Press State & Local Wire.  23 October 2004.

"Rep. Brad Miller in Congressional Delegation Traveling to Iraq, Kuwait, Germany,"  Press Release.  Office of Representative Brad Miller.  31 Oct 2003.