A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Attack on Giffords Comes Up Short

An attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by a group called Conservatives for Congress hoodwinks viewers with selectively edited clips from a House hearing earlier this year.

The TV ad, which has been running in the Tucson market, lampoons the Arizona Democrat for asking Gen. David Petraeus about the military’s use of alternative energy sources such as hydro and solar power in Afghanistan. The question "left Gen. Petraeus almost speechless," the ad’s narrator says. Petraeus, who at the time was Commander of the U.S. Central Command, is shown saying, "Uh, I pause."  But it’s viewers who should pause before accepting this version of events.

Giffords’ question at the June 16 House Armed Services Committee hearing is portrayed accurately enough, but some context is in order before any ridiculing begins. A full clip of Giffords’ query shows that she noted the military is an enormous consumer of energy, that supply lines had been repeatedly threatened and that the planning for infrastructure projects in Afghanistan included small-scale hydroelectric and solar projects. Wouldn’t the military’s own use of such technology reduce its energy needs, she wondered?

And the ad’s contention that Petraeus was left "speechless" by the question? He might have been excused if he had been, since he’d already been answering questions for nearly three hours by the time Giffords got her turn.

But he wasn’t flummoxed at all by the query. Notice that the ad cuts him off rather abruptly. Here’s what Petraeus actually said:

Petraeus, June 16, 2010: I pause because there are a couple of different components to what we’re trying to do with respect to energy reduction, if you will, and that’s really what it is about. And there’s, again, a fairly comprehensive effort in that regard. We don’t have hydropower, obviously, access to that in the bases. But there has been a significant effort, which has reduced, very substantially actually, what we’ve needed for the cooling and heating of our workplaces and living places. And that is sometimes as simple as pumping extra insulation into the roof and walls of these fairly rudimentary temporary buildings we have, sometimes even the tents. It’s interesting because we were exchanging emails today with an individual who’s involved in that effort and we believe there have been, actually, billions of dollars in savings in this effort if you look at what we did in Iraq first in that regard and have now been pursuing in Afghanistan.

And Petraeus, far from considering solar power a loopy idea as this ad strains to imply, said the military makes "quite considerable" use of it in both Iraq and Afghanistan:

Petraeus: We do use solar power in some cases, again, where that provides a benefit to us. We did that in Iraq as well, by the way, I might point out, quite considerable use of that. And again, that’s the case in Afghanistan as well.

Readers can draw their own conclusions about the relevance of Giffords’ question. But Petraeus wasn’t rendered speechless by it. He answered it with customary aplomb.