Fake News, Nebraska Style
August 2, 2006
Senate candidates from both parties stretch credibility in their latest ads.
In his most recent ad, we find that Republican Senate candidate Pete Ricketts inaccurately uses citations from news reports to draw his own, more incendiary conclusions. The words displayed are not in the articles, are not representative of the articles as a whole, and are more inflammatory than any words in the actual articles.
In an earlier ad, the campaign used images of newspaper clippings to splice its own conclusions among ten-year-old news reports for "creative reasons," according to a spokesperson.
Democratic incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson's campaign responds with a somewhat more accurate ad, but it is also stuck in the past, using a decade-old media report about long vanquished opponents.
The state's Democratic Party joins the fray with an ad attacking Ricketts for trying to lower the property value of his home for tax purposes. Ricketts did try to lower his house valuation, but so have many Nebraskans -- including Ben Nelson.
On July 28th, Ricketts released an ad entitled, "A New Low." The ad begins with an accurate clip from a July 20th editorial by longtime Nebraska political
Pete Ricketts Ad:
Announcer: The former World-Herald publisher says that in attacking Pete Ricketts, the Democrats tactics have sunk to as low a level as any in Nebraska politics. Ben Nelson's attacking Pete Ricketts property valuation challenge, yet Nelson challenged the valuation on his own Omaha home when it was assessed below his purchase price. Nelson also challenged the valuation of his Washington, DC home three times - winning three more reductions. Yet, unbelievably, Ben Nelson is still attacking Pete Ricketts.
Misrepresenting News Reports
The ad shows a Journal Star masthead and the date July 24th with the words "Nelson attacks Ricketts." The announcer tells us that "Ben Nelson is attacking Pete Ricketts' property valuation challenges." It's true that Nelson has been jabbing Ricketts on this -- but the article cited is predominantly about Ricketts' position on a national sales tax with a scant mention of the valuation issue at the end. The real headline reflects the true focus of the article: "Nelson raps Ricketts on tax reform issue."
The ad cites the Omaha World Herald on July 27th for the words, "Ben Nelson is still attacking Pete Ricketts." Ricketts campaign spokesperson Jessica Moenning explained in an email that since no quotation marks were used around the words, it was fine for the campaign to cite the article while drawing its own conclusions. But the article is primarily reporting on a Ricketts ad answering Nelson about the valuation issue. There is no mention of Nelson "attacking" Ricketts in the article. Once again, the real headline reflects the true focus of the article: "Republicans: Nelson fought valuations, too."
Finding a Pattern
This isn't the first time the Ricketts campaign has used newspaper clips misleadingly in ads. On June 29th, Ricketts released an ad entitled "Nelson
Pete Ricketts Ad: "Nelson Attacking Again" Announcer: Ben Nelson attacking Pete Ricketts. When Nelson attacked Chuck Hagel and Don Stenberg, the press reported Nelson took his campaign into the mud with straight out lies. Why's Nelson attacking? Because Ben Nelson's election puts Democrats in control of the Senate, which means higher taxes, liberal values. Pete Ricketts wants conservative change in Washington. Cutting Taxes. A balanced budget. Protecting our values. Ben Nelson: negative attacks, politics as usual.
Pete Ricketts Ad: "Nelson Attacking Again"
Announcer: Ben Nelson attacking Pete Ricketts. When Nelson attacked Chuck Hagel and Don Stenberg, the press reported Nelson took his campaign into the mud with straight out lies. Why's Nelson attacking? Because Ben Nelson's election puts Democrats in control of the Senate, which means higher taxes, liberal values. Pete Ricketts wants conservative change in Washington. Cutting Taxes. A balanced budget. Protecting our values. Ben Nelson: negative attacks, politics as usual.
Then more clips appear, with the announcer saying that "the press reported that Nelson took his campaign into the mud with straight out lies." What the ad doesn't say is that these reports are ten years old.
In a tightly contested 1996 race for U.S. Senate between Nelson and Senate colleague Chuck Hagel (R), the Omaha World Herald released an editorial advising Nelson to "abandon his unfortunate detour into the mud." However, the "press report," the campaign cites for its reference to "straight out lies," is actually a quote from Hagel reported in the Lincoln Journal Star .
In response, Nelson's campaign launched an ad on July 29th containing two specific media references. The ad shows still images from the Ricketts campaign
Ironically, the state Republican party released a statement accusing Nelson of manipulating news coverage in his ads:
The GOP statement says the words "Twisting the Truth" do not appear in the Journal Star on January 30, 1996 as the ad indicates. They do. The Nelson campaign supplied FactCheck with an editorial from the Journal Star from that day titled, "Republicans twisting the truth." However, the use of the quote in the Nelson ad is misleading. The editorial condemns attacks on Nelson's tax record as governor. While the Ricketts campaign is itself guilty of using ancient clips, it is disingenuous to use a decade old criticism of former political foes under the umbrella of "Pete Ricketts' negative attacks."
The other citation is on point. The GOP statement complains that the words "Superficial" and "Weak" are taken out of context from an editorial in the Grand Island Independent in June, but we disagree. The author used the words to describe Ricketts' use of the label "liberal" in an ad attacking Nelson. The Nelson ad's use of them is fair and accurate.
In the midst of these dueling media buys, the Nebraska Democratic Party released an ad attacking Ricketts on July 26th entitled, "Less." In the ad, the party accurately cites an Omaha World Record editorial that said Ricketts' ads "insult the intelligence of Nebraska voters."
Ricketts wasn't dodging his property taxes, rather he was trying to lower the amount of taxes he paid. As evidenced by the judgment of the state, he was right, though overly ambitious. In early July, Ricketts again unsuccessfully challenged a further valuation of his home amid much criticism from Democrats.
But, Ricketts wasn't alone - many Nebraskans challenge the valuation of their homes, including Ben Nelson. A Ricketts spokesperson was quoted in the World Record saying that 24,000 Nebraskans challenged the valuation of their homes this year. Nelson did so in 1985, and since then he has challenged the value of his home in Washington, DC three times.
As a Democrat, Nelson has no easy task trying to keep his seat in the conservative Cornhusker state, and the Republicans have their eye on this real estate. Because airtime in the state is relatively cheap, both parties and their candidates are expected to inundate voters for months to come as they vie for control of the Senate.
- by Justin Bank
Anderson, Harold A., "Democratic Party crossed the line with unfair Ricketts ad," Omaha World-Herald. 20 July 2006.
Ayoub, George, "Label Makers Missing Larger, Critical Point," Grand Island Independent. 20 June 2006.
Tysver, Robynn, "Republicans: Nelson fought valuations, too," Omaha World-Herald. 27 July 2006.
Walton, Don, "Nelson Raps Ricketts on tax reform ideas," Lincoln Journal Star. 25 July 2006.
Walton, Don, "Hagel, ohter Republicans criticize integrity attacks from Nelson," Lincoln Journal-Star. 31 Oct. 1996.
"GOP Cites Nelson's property tax protests," AP. 28 July 2006
"Nelson Abandons the High Road As Nebraska Senate Race Tightens," Omaha World-Herald. 27 July 1996.
"Republicans twisting the truth," Lincoln Journal Star . 30 Jan. 1996.
"Ben Nelson ads show pattern of deception and dishonesty," Press Release, Nebraska Republican Party. 31 July 2006.
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