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Tugging At Heartstrings With Loose Facts

A mother makes an emotional but misleading accusation against GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson.

October 14, 2006

Modified: October 14, 2006

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Summary

Democratic challenger Chris Murphy's ad falsely implies that incumbent Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut failed to respond to a local resident's pleas for help with her son's medical problems.

The resident, Erin McCall-Goldie, says she contacted Johnson for help getting corrective surgery for her son's cleft lip and palate and was ignored. "I contacted Nancy Johnson's office repeatedly. She never called back," McCall-Goldie says, adding that she got better treatment from State Sen. Murphy, who "passed a law mandating insurance coverage for reconstructive facial surgery."

In fact, McCall-Goldie contacted Murphy first, and didn't write to Johnson until nearly three years later. And when she did, it was as head of a advocacy group pushing for federal legislation. She wasn't seeking direct assistance for her son.

The ad says McCall-Goldie contacted Johnson's office thirteen times and that she "never called back." That seems to be true, but a member of Johnson's staff did send an email response once, and the mother chatted with the congresswoman at two different public events. The ad also neglects to mention that McCall-Goldie held local office briefly, as a Democrat.

Analysis

The Johnson campaign asked Murphy to withdraw the ad after it began running on Oct. 8, but the Murphy campaign has refused, claiming in a statement that, "the ad is completely true." Maybe so, but only in the narrowest sense. The ad's carefully constructed language would lead any reasonable viewer to draw a false conclusion.

Chris Murphy Ad: "Connor" 

McCall-Goldie: My son Connor was born with a cleft lip and palate. I worried about his health and whether our insurance would cover expensive corrective surgery for Connor and others like him.  I contacted Nancy Johnson's office repeatedly. She never called back. 
[On screen: "No response".]
McCall-Goldie: But I went to State Senator Chris Murphy and within six months Chris passed a law mandating insurance coverage for reconstructive facial surgery. For us, Chris made the difference.

Distorting the Timeline

McCall-Goldie explains in the ad that her son Connor was born with a cleft lip and palate. The craniofacial condition needed corrective surgery which is often not covered by insurance plans. McCall-Goldie then says:

McCall-Goldie: I contacted Nancy Johnson's office repeatedly. She never called back. But I went to State Senator Chris Murphy and within six months Chris passed a law mandating insurance coverage for reconstructive facial surgery.

The script is written so it appears that McCall-Goldie called Murphy only after she went to Johnson and was met with continued indifference. This was not the case.

In fact, Murphy was contacted first – nearly three years earlier.

McCall-Goldie lists 13 dates on which she tried to contact Johnson, the first of which is Oct. 13, 2005. However, the law the ad refers to passed the Connecticut state legislature on May 23, 2003. McCall-Goldie says she had contacted Murphy six months before that.

It is also worth noting, that by 2002, Connor had already  begun having his corrective surgery. The ad misleadingly implies that  McCall-Goldie was asking for direct assistance for her son as opposed to legislative action on the insurance issue more broadly. 

Questionable Contact

The ad says that Johnson "never called back." So far as we can tell, that's true.

McCall-Goldie did get a pro-forma, "we'll get back to you" e-mail from one of Johnson's staffers, according to records McCall-Goldie provided to the Murphy campaign, which in turn forwarded them to FactCheck.org. But the mother says there was no follow-up to that e-mail, a statement Johnson's aides don't dispute.

Johnson said  at a news conference on Oct. 11 that she had spoken with McCall-Goldie twice this year. However, the mother has said, and the Johnson campaign has confirmed, that in both instances the contact occurred at public events, and it was McCall-Goldie who approached the congresswoman . The Johnson campaign says the district and Washington offices do not have records to confirm or deny her account. 

Extra Credit?

The ad says that Murphy "passed a law mandating insurance coverage for reconstructive facial surgery." That overstates Murphy's role.

The craniofacial bill was actually introduced by state Senator Kevin Sullivan. In fact, McCall-Goldie was effusive in her praise  for Sullivan, crediting him three separate times for his work in a thank you note after the bill became law in 2003. Murphy was not mentioned.

It would be more accurate to say Murphy helped pass the law. He was chairman of the Committee on Public Health that co-sponsored the bill and held hearings on the issue. He did vote  for the bill's passage, but he was hardly alone. In fact, the measure passed 31-1 in the state senate and 143-1 in the state house.

More than a Concerned Mother

Murphy's ad doesn't mention that McCall-Goldie has become a political advocate for the craniofacial community. She founded  and directs the non-profit organization Families Advancing Craniofacial Excellence (FACE). It was as the President/Founder of this organization, not just as a concerned mother, that she contacted and successfully lobbied Murphy and other members of the Connecticut state house.

It was also in these dual roles that she contacted Johnson. A letter she sent to Johnson's district office was written on FACE letterhead. It included both the organization's contact information and her own.

McCall-Goldie has become even more involved in the political process since then, actually becoming an elected official herself. She briefly served on her local Board of Assessment Appeals – as a Democrat – in 2004.

-by Justin Bank

Sources

Haigh, Susan, "Johnson demands ad featuring birth defect baby be pulled,"  AP. 11 Oct. 2006.