MSNBC's Shuster made no distinction between true and misleading claims when discussing "five nastiest ads" run during election

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

MSNBC's David Shuster invited viewers to vote on the "nastiest" campaign advertisement among the "the five nastiest ads" culled by Shuster. However, Shuster's focus on "nast[iness]" obscured questions about the advertisements' accuracy; he also included on his list two Democratic advertisements that are based upon reported facts. In a discussion following one airing of Shuster's segment, CNBC's Donny Deutsch misrepresented one of the Democratic ads.

On the 9 a.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. ET hours of the November 1 edition MSNBC's Decision 2006: Battleground America, MSNBC correspondent David Shuster invited viewers to vote on the "nastiest" campaign advertisement among the "the five nastiest ads" culled by Shuster. However, Shuster's focus on "nast[iness]" obscured questions about the advertisements' accuracy. Though Shuster briefly discussed the context of the ads, he lumped accurate and inaccurate advertisements together in his top five. In fact, while Shuster suggested two of the three Republican advertisements in his list of five contain misleading or baseless claims, he included them with two Democratic advertisements that are based on reported facts. Further, discussing Shuster's list with MSNBC host Chris Matthews on the 3 p.m. ET edition of Battleground America, CNBC host Donny Deutsch misrepresented one of the Democratic ads.

Democratic advertisements

The first advertisement selected by Shuster, "Conrad Burns and Firefighters," quoted Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) saying that "one decorated [firefighting] unit from Virginia" who "helped fight our forest fires" did a "piss-poor job" and that one firefighter in particular "hasn't done a g-- damned thing." Indeed, as the Associated Press reported, Burns used that language in July when "confront[ing] members of a firefighting team at the Billings airport [who had] traveled 2,000 miles from Staunton, Va., to help dig fire lines for about a week around a 143-square-mile wildfire east of Billings [Montana]."

The other Democratic advertisement was paid for by New York Democratic House candidate Jack Davis attacking his opponent, Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY), for knowing that "Congressman Mark Foley [R-FL] was a predator, going after a 16-year-old boy" and then "urg[ing] Foley to seek re-election." On the 3 p.m. hour of Battleground America, Deutsch and Matthews discussed "nasty" advertisements after viewing Shuster's top five. Deutsch falsely asserted the advertisement "says because he [Foley] was a pedophile, he [Reynolds] convinced him -- he wanted him to run again." Deutsch then baselessly asserted: "Obviously, when he wanted him to run was before the incident. This is just falsehoods. This is once again -- you could not put peanut butter ads like this on the air."

In fact, the ad does not say that Foley was a pedophile and does not say that Reynolds "convinced" a pedophile "to run again." Moreover, Deutsch falsely suggests that when Reynolds "convinced" Foley "to run again," Reynolds knew nothing about Foley's alleged activities. As Media Matters noted, months after being told of the emails Foley allegedly sent to underage congressional pages, Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, reportedly persuaded Foley to seek re-election. Moreover, despite apparent knowledge of Foley's alleged emails, House Republican leaders allowed Foley to retain his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee and his position as co-chair of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, and the NRCC, headed by Reynolds, accepted $100,000 in contributions from Foley's political action committee.

Republican advertisements

Introducing the first Republican advertisement, Shuster reported that "[a] corruption investigation has reached associates of Democrat [Sen.] Bob Menendez [NJ]." Shuster then aired an advertisement by Menendez's Republican opponent, Thomas Kean Jr., in which the announcer claimed: "Bob Menendez believes sometimes you just have to break the law ... Is that why ... he wants to give your Social Security money to illegal aliens? Or why he's under federal criminal investigation?" The ad appears to be referring to the Senate immigration bill, which, as Media Matters noted, would do nothing to change the current prohibition on illegal immigrants receiving Social Security benefits. Shuster's report that the investigation has "reached Menendez associates" is vastly different from Kean's claim that Menendez is personally "under federal criminal investigation." As CBS News reported on October 26, "it is unclear whether the allegation [that Menendez is under federal criminal investigation] is true."

The second Republican advertisement was by challenger Paul R. Nelson, attacking Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) for voting to fund specific NIH grants. Shuster reported that Kind voted to "maintain peer-reviewed research standards at the National Institutes of Health. The standards cover all research." The vote cited in Nelson's advertisement corresponded with an amendment by then-Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) to H.R. 2660, which would have forbidden spending on specific NIH grants. Kind voted against the amendment.

However, the advertisement misled on the nature of the studies. The advertisement claimed that "Ron Kind voted to spend your money to study the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes." According to the American Psychological Association (APA), that grant was for "the first HIV prevention intervention study targeting Asian commercial sex workers at massage parlors in the U.S." Of another grant, the advertisement said "Ron Kind spent your money on masturbation habits of old men." According to the APA, that grant was for "a new analysis of data originally collected in the late 1980s" to study "sexual function and how it changes with age." The APA noted that "without a better understanding of age-related changes in men's sexual function, physicians may assume that declines in function are normal when they actually reflect early symptoms of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease." Deutsch said of Nelson's advertisement: "My favorite one is the candidate who is paying for masturbation habits of old men and pornograph -- I mean, the way these people connect these dots, it -- it's really sickening. ... I think people are sick of this stuff. And I think consumers are not stupid."

The third Republican advertisement was the Republican National Committee (RNC) advertisement featuring a scantily clad white woman posing as someone who "met" Senate candidate and Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN) "at the Playboy party," and who invites Ford, an African-American, to "call" her. As Media Matters has documented, the Los Angeles Times reported that "[c]ritics said the ad ... plays on fears of interracial relationships to scare some white voters in rural Tennessee"; former Republican senator and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, on the October 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, said the ad made "a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment"; and NAACP Washington Bureau director Hilary O. Shelton also has denounced the advertisement. Shuster misleadingly reported that the advertisement "was so over the line [that the] Republican National Committee pulled the ad off the air." In fact, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the RNC did not admit it was "over the line"; rather, RNC spokesman Danny Diaz "said the party was replacing the ad as part of a normal 'rotation.' "

From the 9.a.m segment of the November 1 edition of MSNBC's Decision 2006: Battleground America:

SHUSTER: But what we did is we went through the entire election, all of the campaigns all across the country, and produced what we think are the five nastiest ads. And here they are.

The first candidate for nastiest attack ad of the year involves Republican Senator Conrad Burns. This summer, when wildfires were scorching his state, Burns not only insulted visiting firefighters, but he did so using foul language. Now, Democrats are running this.

ANNOUNCER [video clip]: The following contains language by Conrad Burns unsuitable for Montana. After 9-11, our country's bravest went to help, including one decorated unit from Virginia. This year, they helped fight our forest fires. But Conrad Burns said they had done, quote, "a piss-poor job" and while pointing at one, "he hasn't done a [beep] thing." Senator Burns has forgotten, but that's not how we treat people in Montana. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

SHUSTER: Choice number two for the nastiest ad of the year involves the New Jersey Senate race. A corruption investigation has reached associates of Democrat Bob Menendez. So Republican Tom Kean Jr. is running this.

ANNOUNCER [video clip] Bob Menendez believes sometimes you just have to break the law. Is that why he brought a convicted cocaine trafficker with him to the Senate for his swearing-in? Or why he used his office to do favors for imprisoned mobsters? Or why he wants to give your Social Security money to illegal aliens? Or why he's under federal criminal investigation? Well, Menendez believes sometimes you just have to break the law. New Jersey deserves better.

KEAN [video clip]: I'm Tom Kean Jr., and I approve this message.

SHUSTER: In the Mark Foley page scandal, Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds acknowledged he knew of Foley's contacts and did not take action. So the Democrat in the race hit Reynolds hard with your third option for nastiest ad of the year.

ANNOUNCER [video clip]: Tom Reynolds knew that Congressman Mark Foley was a predator, going after a 16-year-old boy. What did he do? Tom Reynolds urged Foley to seek re-election. Why? Because Mark Foley gave over $100,000 to Reynolds's political committee, and Tom Reynolds needed to keep Foley's seat in Congress so he kept quiet. Reynolds says he did nothing wrong. But when it comes to protecting kids, isn't it wrong to do nothing? Tom Reynolds: wrong on all accounts.

DAVIS [video clip]: I'm Jack Davis, and I approve this message.

SHUSTER: This year, the House of Representatives voted to maintain peer-reviewed research standards at the National Institutes of Health. The standards cover all research. So Republican congressional candidate Paul Nelson is attacking Democratic lawmaker Ron Kind with this.

ANNOUNCER [video clip]: That's right. Instead of spending money on cancer research, Ron Kind voted to spend your money to study the sex lives of Vietnamese prostitutes. Instead of spending money to study heart disease, Ron Kind spent your money on masturbation habits of old men. Ron Kind spent your tax dollars to study something called "the bisexual, transgendered, and two-spirited Aleutian Eskimos," whoever they are. Ron Kind even spent your tax dollars to pay teenage girls to watch pornographic movies with probes connected to their genitalia. Ron Kind pays for sex, but not for soldiers.

SHUSTER: Finally, rounding out the top five, a nasty ad against Democratic senatorial candidate Harold Ford that was so over the line, [the] Republican National Committee pulled the ad off the air.

[begin video clip]

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Harold Ford looks nice. Isn't that enough?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Terrorists need their privacy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When I die, Harold Ford'll let me pay taxes again.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ford's right. I do have too many guns.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I met Harold at the Playboy party.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'd love to pay higher marriage taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Canada can take care of North Korea. They're not busy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So he took money from porn movie producers, I mean, who hasn't?

ONSCREEN TEXT: Harold Ford. He's just not right.

ANNOUNCER: The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Harold, call me.

[end video clip]

SHUSTER: So which of these five ads was the nastiest of this campaign? Well, you can cast your vote at hardball.msnbc.com, and we will announce the results on Sunday afternoon.

From the 3.p.m. segment of the November 1 edition of MSNBC's Decision 2006: Battleground America:

DEUTSCH: Here's the interesting thing we're going to see, 'cause my nasty ad -- my favorite one is the candidate who is paying for masturbation habits of old men and pornograph -- I mean, the way these people connect these dots, it -- it's really sickening. But I think the people -- we talked about this yesterday, Chris -- I think the voters are going to make a statement. I think people are sick of this stuff. And I think consumers are not stupid.

MATTHEWS: It just reminds me of -- like Arnie Becker on L.A. Law -- the divorce lawyers, and they come on and they say, "Did he ever say anything against you? Did he ever do anything against -- did he ever make you mad? Did he ever make you uncomfortable? Did he ever do anything?" And then you go, "That's your campaign. That's your case right there."

DEUTSCH: What is unfortunate about this is traditionally, this stuff has worked, and until it backfires in the marketplace, which I believe is gonna happen this time, we're gonna see -- it's not -- we've always seen negative ads. These are disgusting. They are vile. They are manipulations of the truth. The one where they attach -- where Reynolds run -- where they attach Foley to the candidate. Bascially, if you follow the copy of the ad, it says because he was a pedophile, he convinced him -- he wanted him to run again.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

DEUTSCH: Obviously, when he wanted him to run was before the incident. This is just falsehoods. This is once again -- you could not put peanut butter ads like this on the air.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
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David Shuster
Stories/Interests
2006 Elections
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