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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

New RNC Web Ad Blurs History

Another video on homeland security twists Democrats' words and exaggerates 'the Republican record.'


The Republican National Committee’s latest Internet ad says “the facts speak for themselves,” but it twists a few of them.

It rewrites history when it claims Republicans “created the Department of Homeland Security,” which the White House actually resisted for nearly nine months before giving in to bipartisan pressure. It gives Republicans credit for a law reorganizing intelligence agencies, which actually passed the House with more Democratic votes than Republican.

The video twists the words of prominent Democrats when it says they are “against terrorist surveillance” and “against terrorist interrogation,” when what they are actually saying in the ad is that they are against illegal eavesdropping and against abusing prisoners.

It says Democrats are “against the Patriot Act,” and many are, but the fact is most Democratic senators voted for reauthorizing it earlier this year after demanding and getting some civil-rights protections.


This ad first appeared on the RNC home page Aug. 18. It uses lines of attack we expect to see repeated frequently between now and election day. It says “terrorists are watching” what Democrats say, then contrasts that with the “Republican record since 9/11.”

RNC Web Ad:

(On Screen: Democrats say they want to talk about National Security and the war on terror. While terrorists are watching.)

Dean: We need a real tough fight on terror, but we need to be tough and smart; not just talk tough.
(On Screen: What are Democrats going to talk about? Their Record?)

Reid: We killed the Patriot Act.
(On Screen: Against The Patriot Act)

Biden: This administration’s biggest problem in my view is took its eye off the ball because it focused on national missile defense.
(On Screen: Against Missile Defense)

Lamont: I look at the illegal wiretaps. I thought that was a time that Democrats should have stood up and held the president accountable. I think we should have said that was wrong. I think we should have had hearings.
(On Screen: Against Terrorist Surveillance)

Durbin: If I read this to you and didn’t tell you it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control.
(On Screen: Against Terrorist Interrogation)

Kerry: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.
(On Screen: Against Funding for our Troops)

Murtha: We need to redeploy and let the Iraqis handle this themselves.

(On Screen: The Facts?
The Republicans record since 9/11:
Passed the Patriot Act
Created the Homeland Security Department
Strengthened and Reformed America’s Intelligence Agencies
Increased Homeland Security Funding by More than 300 Percent Over the Clinton Administration
Doubling the Size of America’s Border Patrol and Increased Border Security Funding by 66 Percent Over the Clinton Administration
Fighting Terrorists Where They Recruit, Train and Plot … So We Don’t have to Fight them here
No Attacks on American Soil
Democrats can talk about the war on terror, but the facts speak for themselves
A stronger America, A safer America)

Rewriting History I:
Department of Homeland Security

The ad claims Republicans “created the Department of Homeland Security.” In fact, as we noted before, the Bush administration spent nearly nine months in 2001 and 2002 rejecting calls for the cabinet-level department.

The President created a White House Office of Homeland Security in October 2001, headed by an assistant to the President but with no direct management authority over security agencies. Soon after, a Democrat, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, introduced one of the first bills calling for a full, cabinet-level department. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said on March 20, 2002 that a Cabinet-level agency was not needed.

Ari Fleischer: So creating a Cabinet office doesn’t solve the problem. You still will have agencies within the federal government that have to be coordinated. So the answer is, creating a Cabinet post doesn’t solve anything. The White House needs a coordinator to work with the agencies, wherever they are.

Rewriting History II:
Intelligence Re-organization

The ad also claims that Republicans “Strengthened and Reformed America’s Intelligence Agencies,” referring to legislation that actually came through a broadly bipartisan effort.

The National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 passed the Senate 89 to 2, with one Democrat and one Republican voting against it. It passed the House by a vote of 336 to 75, and most of those who voted for it were Democrats while most of those opposing it were Republicans. President Bush acknowledged the bipartisan nature of the bill when he signed it Dec. 17, 2004 by including both Sen. Lieberman and Democratic Rep. Jane Harman of California among those he credited, as well as Democratic former congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana, the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission. That commission, also bipartisan, and also initially resisted by the White House, had urged the reorganization.

Twisting Words I:
“Against Terrorist Surveillance”

The ad shows Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont saying “I look at the illegal wiretaps. . . . I think we should have said that was wrong.” Then it superimposes the words “Against Terrorist Surveillance.”

That mischaracterizes what Lamont actually said. The words are from Lamont’s July 7 debate with Sen. Lieberman. Even in the clip shown in the RNC ad Lamont didn’t say he was against surveillance, only against the way President Bush ordered National Security Agency eavesdropping without judicial orders. That’s made clearer in the full transcript, which shows that Lamont prefaced the snippet we see here by saying “We have a President who is acting as if he is above the law right now.”

Whether Bush’s NSA program is legal, as the White House says, or not, as US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled last week, is a matter still being litigated. But the fact is that it was illegality to which Lamont objected, not surveillance.

Twisting Words II:
“Against Terrorist Interrogation”

The ad shows Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois denouncing alleged mistreatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, and then superimposes the words “Against Terrorist Interrogation.” But Durbin wasn’t objecting to interrogation. Durbin actually was objecting to such things as keeping prisoners chained up in their own excrement, as described by an appalled FBI official who had reported witnessing that and other abuses.

Durbin is shown on the Senate floor August 2, 2004, holding a recently released email from a FBI official (whose name had been redacted) summarizing what the official witnessed:

FBI E-mail: On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position on the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been there for 18 to 24 hours or more.

The official also described seeing a prisoner nearly lying unconscious in a cell in which air conditioning had been turned off and the temperature was well over 100 degrees, next to a pile of the prisoner’s own hair, adding, “He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.”

Unless the RNC means to endorse such treatment of prisoners as essential to “interrogation” it is mischaracterizing what Durbin said.

A Half-Truth:
Against the Patriot Act

The ad says in print that Democrats are “Against the Patriot Act,” which is only partly true. Most Democrats in the House did indeed oppose the Patriot Act in its present form, but not the large majority of those in the Senate. It is true that 156 House Democrats opposed renewing the Patriot Act in the form it went through the House on July 21, 2005. And it is also true that nearly 2/3rds of House Democrats also voted against the addition of some civil-rights measures on March 7, 2006 that were part of a compromise allowing passage in the Senate. Mostly the Democrats said the measures didn’t go far enough, so based on the latter vote we judge it is fair to say that at least 124 House Democrats are against the act in its present form, and that 66 support it.

But it’s a different story in the Senate, where only 9 Democrats and Independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont voted against final passage of the Patriot Act renewal, while 34 Democrats voted in favor.

For the record, the measures that were added included one allowing recipients of a law-enforcement request for business records to challenge a gag order preventing them from talking about it. Another removed a requirement that recipients of national security letters, which are like subpoenas but do not require court approval, disclose the name of any attorney they consult or intend to consult. Another ensures that libraries operating in traditional roles and not as Internet service providers are not subject to national security letters.

Reid’s Misleading Boast

Incidentally, one of those voting for Patriot Act renewal was Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is shown in the ad boasting, “We killed the Patriot Act.” Reid did say that but, obviously, he chose his words poorly. In fact, Democrats hadn’t killed the act; they had only blocked it with a filibuster while demanding some additional civil-rights protections, some of which Republicans later agreed to add. Reid’s words are grossly misleading, but that’s Reid’s fault and not the RNC’s. This clip has become a staple of Republican advertising and we suspect we haven’t seen the last of it.

-by Brooks Jackson, with Justin Bank, James Ficaro & Emi Kolawole



Watch RNC Ad: “Safer America”

Supporting Documents

View the FBI memo Durbin was holding.


“Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer,”  Transcript. 19 Mar. 2002.

“President Bush signs Homeland Security Act,”  Transcript. 25 Nov. 2002.

“President Establishes Office of Homeland Security,”  The White House. 8 Oct. 2002.

Sandler, Michael.  “Deal Clears Way for Anti-Terrorism Law,” CQ Weekly. 10 Mar 2006.

U.S. Senate, 108th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Vote No. 216.

U.S. House, 108th Congress, 2nd Session. House Vote No. 544.

“Liberman, Lamont Spar in Conn. Primary Debate,” Transcript. 7 July 2006.

“President Signs Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act,” Transcript. 17 Dec. 2004.