In a recent article, The New York Sun uncritically reported the false assertion by Rep. James Walsh's campaign that a Majority Action ad claims that Walsh "favors a ban on stem cell research." Similarly, the National Journal reported Walsh's claim that the ad is "false and misleading," without noting that Walsh in fact opposes federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
In an October 30 New York Sun article, staff reporter Josh Gerstein reported on an advertisement by Majority Action, a self-described "independent political group" whose objective is "to shine the spotlight on 10-15 key Republican members of Congress, through aggressive advocacy campaigns." Gerstein uncritically reported that the ad's target, Rep. James Walsh (R-NY), "said he backs President Bush's position on allowing research on existing [stem] cell lines, which many scientists contend are inadequate," and that "Syracuse's ABC affiliate, WSYR, pulled the ads after Mr. Walsh's campaign charged that they falsely claimed he favors a ban on stem cell research, but other stations are carrying the ads." In fact, contrary to the Walsh campaign's assertion -- and as the Sun could have determined by watching the ad or reading a transcript -- the ad does not claim that Walsh "favors a ban on stem cell research," but rather that Walsh "voted against federal funding for stem cell research."
An article in National Journal's October 18 edition of CongressDailyPM, which noted that "[a] Majority Action spokesman said that [WSYR] is the only station refusing to run its commercials," also uncritically reported Walsh's claim that the ad is "false and misleading," without noting that Walsh does in fact oppose federal funding for embryonic stem cell research or mentioning Walsh's ties to WSYR's parent company, Clear Channel.
Neither the Sun nor the National Journal noted that Clear Channel's political action committee has donated to Walsh's re-election campaign. WSYR is owned by Clear Channel. The Clear Channel Communications Inc. PAC donated $2,000 to Walsh's campaign committee and $1,000 to Walsh's leadership PAC this year.
The ad did not claim that Walsh "favors a ban on stem cell research." An actor in the ad says that Walsh "voted against federal funding for stem cell research" and then later says, "Stem cell research can save lives. ... Congressman Walsh said no." Indeed, Walsh did vote against H.R. 810, which would have instructed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "conduct and support research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells ... (regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo)." Walsh also voted against overriding President Bush's veto on the bill.
In his October 30 New York Sun article, Gerstein wrote:
Hard-fought elections in two upstate districts have Democrats turning to Hollywood for last-minute cash, while Republicans are tapping the wallets of state party stalwarts and local business leaders.
A national political group targeting Rep. James Walsh, a Republican of Syracuse, recently landed $25,000 gifts from the producer of "All in the Family," Norman Lear, and from Edith Wasserman, the wife of the late chairman of Universal Studios, Lew Wasserman. At about the same time, the group, Majority Action, spent $40,000 on ads attacking Mr. Walsh's opposition to unfettered stem cell research.
In the blunt television spots, a little girl asks about Mr. Walsh: "How come he thinks he gets to decide who lives and who dies? Who's he?"
Syracuse's ABC affiliate, WSYR, pulled the ads after Mr. Walsh's campaign charged that they falsely claimed he favors a ban on stem cell research, but other stations are carrying the ads. The nine-term member of Congress said he backs President Bush's position on allowing research on existing cell lines, which many scientists contend are inadequate. Mr. Walsh's Democratic opponent, Daniel Maffei, favors extensive federally funded stem cell research.
From the article, "Majority Action Emerges With Sharp-Edged Political Ads" in the October 18 edition of National Journal's CongressDailypm:
Majority Action, a "527" group backed by such Democratic stalwarts as former Democratic Congressional Committee chairmen Martin Frost of Texas and Tony Coelho of California, has launched its inaugural political ads targeting vulnerable Republicans on hot-button issues like stem-cell research and prescription drugs. One television ad features a child actress pleading that her diabetes might be alleviated by stem-cell research, if not for lawmakers standing in the way. "Help me ... Maybe I'm your little girl," she says, adding the name of a targeted lawmaker: "How come he thinks he gets to decide who lives and who dies? Who is he?"
"It's a new low in political advertising," said Dan Gage, a spokesman for Rep. James Walsh of New York, one of four GOP House targets of stem-cell ads. Although organized a year ago, Majority Action waited until last month to air TV, radio and Internet ads against eight GOP lawmakers: Reps. Deborah Pryce of Ohio; Dave Reichert of Washington; Walsh, Thomas Reynolds and Sue Kelly of New York; Chris Chocola of Indiana; Thelma Drake of Virginia, and Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania. Sherwood, Drake and Chocola have been targeted with the stem-cell ads besides Walsh. Currently, a stem-cell ad is running only against Walsh in Syracuse. And the only other Majority Action ad now airing is against Kelly in New York City markets, accusing her of catering to special oil and pharmaceutical interests. One Syracuse TV station, WSYR, pulled the Walsh ad after the lawmaker protested that it was false and misleading. A Majority Action spokesman said that is the only station refusing to run its commercials.