Saturday, October 16, 2010

FACT CHECK: Ad Attacking Grijalva Focuses On Boycott, "Deciding Vote"

Yesterday, Arizona's Politics posted about the quarter-million dollar ad buy by the Republican-affiliated group "Americans for Tax Reform" opposing Rep. Raul Grijalva (Dem., CD7), which was significant in its effect of expanding the playing field for Republicans and forcing Democrats to spend money in districts previously thought of as safe.  You can watch the 30-second ad here.

The ad focuses on two attacks: Grijalva's earlier support of a boycott of Arizona because of the anti-immigration law signed by Governor Brewer, and Grijalva's casting the decisive vote in Congress' decision to adjourn last month without extending the "Bush tax cuts."

First, the ad correctly notes that Arizona is facing a 10% unemployment rate and that the rate is the highest in 27 years (since the early Reagan years, by the way, when it hit 11.6%). 

The ad also almost perfectly represents the Arizona Republic editorial of May 1, in which they scolded many Arizona political figures from both parties (in order, Brewer, Napolitano, McCain, Kyl, Hayworth, Gordon, Pearce, Grijalva, Thomas, and Arpaio) for failing Arizona.  The editorial did say it was "a call for destruction of his own state's economy is irresponsible and beneath contempt."

However, the ad crosses into misleading territory when it states that "instead of fighting for tax relief for our families, Grijalva cast the deciding vote to go home...." The text on the screen finishes the sentence, stating "...without finishing his job."

The vote the ad is referencing took place 2 1/2 weeks ago, on September 29, when the Democrats were trying to pass a bill to extend some of the "Bush tax cuts" which are set to expire on December 31.  The Republicans refused to vote for the Democratic package, and the Democrats refused the Republicans' demand to extend them all.  They stalemated.  However, as the Washington Post put it in their news report, "Tax rates will increase next year if Congress does not address the issue, although both parties expect the tax cuts to be extended when members return after the elections."

Once they stalemated, the Democrats moved to adjourn.  The motion passed 210-209.  No single Representative can be credited with (or blamed for) having "cast the deciding vote".  There are no claims in any news or blog posts found which attempt to credit (or blame) Grijalva for being that deciding vote.  Any of the 210 Representatives could be lauded (or chastised) for being that key person.

Well-known and well-respected Fact Checkers and  have both considered similar "cast a deciding vote" claims.  While neither found them to be "false", felt it "needed clarification" (it does not always "grade" a claim) and found that it contributed to a "Barely True" grade.  In this case, Arizona's Politics finds it to be hyperbole that is somewhat misleading; graded on its own, such a claim would get something like a "B+".  It is just not correct and not necessary - if the announcer had simply said that "Grijalva voted to simply go home", it would not have lost any punch.

However, couple that hyperbole with the rest of the ad's misleading claim and you get a lower mark.  Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats were going to blink on the extent of the extending of the expiring tax cuts, so they ALL failed to "finish the job".  And since they all expect that there will be some extension after the pre-election posturing is over, it is misleading to fault one side - let alone one Congressman.

Combining the "A" from the first half of the ad with the "B" from the second half, we come up with either an "A-" or a "B+".  The final graphic - "No tax relief" - pushes it to the "B+".

We welcome your comments about this post. If you have something unrelated on your mind, please e-mail to info-at-arizonaspolitics-dot-com. Thanks.


Ronnie said...

Thanks for your honest and needed reporting, but I would argue that this ad deserve an “F” all around. First off, I believe that the AZ Republic endorsed Grijalva. It is entirely misleading to state the aforementioned without announcing that as well.

More importantly it is completely, 100% false to say that Grijalva was the vote against extending that tax cuts to middle class and poor - on the contrary he led the fight in the House to push leadership to bring the tax cuts to vote.

Here is just one of the many stories at that time:
Liberal Democrats call for tax vote
By: Jonathan Allen
September 27, 2010 07:12 PM EDT

A set of mostly liberal Democrats sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday requesting a vote to extend Bush-era income tax cuts for all but the nation's top earners.

The letter was signed by 46 lawmakers, including several in competitive re-election races. It stands in contrast to a letter from 38 moderate Democrats pushing Pelosi to extend the current rates for all earners — at least for the short term.

The writers of the latest letter framed the matter as one of standing up for principle — and for low- and middle-income constituents.

"We must show the American people that our Democratic majority stands for them — people who have worked hard, played by the rules and depend on these tax breaks to make ends meet," they wrote.

They also argue that allowing the top rates to expire will help close the gaping budget deficit.

The letter-writing effort was led by Reps. Raul Grijalva, a co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus, Alan Grayson (Fla.) and Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio). Grayson and Kilroy are among the most politically vulnerable Democrats in the House. Other Democrats in tough re-election fights who signed it: Carol Shea Porter of New Hampshire, Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Phil Hare of Illinois.

"Extending the Bush tax cuts will result in an $830 billion giveaway for the nation's wealthiest Americans, significantly increasing government debt, the interest on which will be paid by our nation's middle-class for years to come," they wrote. "This astronomical sum could instead be used to close our budget deficit. It is critical that we pass the Obama middle-class tax cuts not provide an even greater lift for the wealthiest Americans who don't need it."

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have all but foreclosed the possibility of having a vote to extend the individual income tax rates for workers in any bracket before the Nov. 2 mid-term election. The letters allow the lawmakers who sign them to get on the record with their position before heading home to campaign.

Mitch M. said...

Thanks, Ronnie. You raise some good points, but I think neither of them merit a failing grade. I do think your second point should bring the grade down a bit.

I do not think it is inconsistent to scold someone - even harshly and even for a very important issue - but still to recommend a vote for that person.

In my personal life, I have often vehemently disagreed with officeholders and/or candidates who I have ended up supporting. I have advised friends and others to support candidates who they do not agree with 100% of the time, but who they think will be the better elected official.

Second, the ad very carefully says that he was the deciding vote "TO GO HOME". It does not say that he was the deciding vote "against extending tax cuts." The article you cite does point out how careful they had to be to word it somewhat accurately, and I appreciate your posting it. I had actually briefly looked for that or similar articles, and your posting it does justify lowering it slightly from the "B+" to a "B". For general slipperiness on that issue.

Thanks again.

Ronnie said...

Well can I still vote for an "F" on its merits of intentionally misleading the American voters? :o)

The typical person walks away from this ad believing that Rep. Grijalva cast the deciding votes for not extending tax cuts to the poor. This is blatently false given his efforts to do exactly opposite (get the vote on the floor before they left). They also would walk away with the impression that AZ Republic does not support Grijalva when in fact they do. This is also wrong.

Either way - it's important to get the facts, even if you have to dig beneath a bolder to find them. Thanks for your committment to the truth!

Mitch M. said...

Thank you, your vote is cast! Everyone should vote! Unfortunately, for some strange reason, I can't see crowd-sourcing Fact Check grades as being a very good idea. ;-) Maybe as a separate poll, though; hmmmmmmm.

Seriously, though, it is indeed unfortunate that "intentionally misleading" voters is not enough to give an ad an "F".

However, "intentionally" requires objective proof that the advertiser knew what he/she/it was doing. And, "misleading" requires presenting more nuanced content and more context than we can expect in the advertisements of today.

And unfortunately, I do not think that I - or,even the vastly larger AZFactCheck's, the's and's - can go much beyond where I/we am/are going with checking facts and providing context to suss out the demonstrably-false and obviously-misleading portions of ads.

I think that I am trying to consider degrees of truth/falsity and misleading-ness. In the context of the larger political advertising universe, this one was pretty careful in the way it chose its words and presented the issue.

Heck, the unfortunate reality is that if we did not grade on some sort of curve, I would have to give every flipping ad - especially, the negative ones - an "F"!