A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Rep. Grayson Lowers the Bar

The Florida Democrat manipulates video to make his opponent seem to urge wives to 'submit' to husbands. He didn't.


Summary

We thought Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida reached a low point when he falsely accused his opponent of being a draft dodger during the Vietnam War, and of not loving his country. But now Grayson has lowered the bar even further. He’s using edited video to make his rival appear to be saying the opposite of what he really said.

In a new ad, Grayson accuses his Republican opponent Daniel Webster of being a religious fanatic and dubs him "Taliban Dan." But to make his case, Grayson manipulates a video clip to make it appear Webster was commanding wives to submit to their husbands, quoting a passage in the Bible. Four times, the ad shows Webster saying wives should submit to their husbands. In fact, Webster was cautioning husbands to avoid taking that passage as their own. The unedited quote is: "Don’t pick the ones [Bible verses] that say, ‘She should submit to me.’ "

Analysis

The ad compares Webster to "religious fanatics" in Afghanistan and Iran. It says Webster opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest, which is true. But it also claims that "Webster wants to impose his radical fundamentalism on us," and to support that claim it blatantly misuses a video clip of Webster speaking at a Christian conference in Nashville in 2009.

[TET ]

Grayson for Congress TV Ad: "Taliban Dan"

Announcer: Religious fanatics tried to take away our freedom in Afghanistan, in Iran and right here in Central Florida.

Webster: Wives submit yourselves to your own husband.

Announcer: Daniel Webster wants to impose his radical fundamentalism on us.

Webster: She should submit to me. That’s in the Bible.

Announcer: Webster tried to deny battered women medical care, and the right to divorce their abusers.

Webster: Submit to me.

Announcer: He wants to force raped women to bear the child.

Webster: Submit to me.

Announcer: Taliban Dan Webster. Hands off our bodies, and our laws.

[/TET]

The ad, which first aired Sept. 25, starts by saying, "Religious fanatics tried to take away our freedom in Afghanistan, in Iran and right here in Central Florida," cutting to a clip of Webster saying, "Wives submit yourself to your own husband." Later the ad cuts to a clip of Webster saying, "She should submit to me. That’s in the Bible." And twice more, it shows him saying, "submit to me."

We contacted both campaigns to gather information on the claims in the ad and to obtain a copy of the video to better understand the context of Webster’s remarks. We also contacted the Institute of Basic Life Principles, which is a non-denominational Christian organization that runs programs and training sessions. Robert Staddon at the institute provided us with the section of Webster’s speech (see the video below) that deals with the Bible verse in question.

In an e-mail, Staddon said the video was "taken from a talk to fathers" at the Advanced Training Institute regional conference in Nashville in 2009. ATI is a religious-based program developed by the Institute of Basic Life Principles "to support parents in raising their children to love the Lord Jesus Christ." Bill Gothard, the founder of the Institute of Basic Life Principles, said that Webster home-schooled his children using the institute’s curriculum and has given speeches at the training institute on more than one occasion.

The full context of the remarks make clear that Webster is not telling wives to submit to their husbands. Just the opposite.

Webster: So, write a journal. Second, find a verse. I have a verse for my wife, I have verses for my wife. Don’t pick the ones that say, ‘She should submit to me.’ That’s in the Bible, but pick the ones that you’re supposed to do. So instead, ‘love your wife, even as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it’ as opposed to ‘wives submit to your own husbands.’ She can pray that, if she wants to, but don’t you pray it.

Grayson campaign spokesman Sam Drzymala told us that the campaign interpreted Webster’s remarks to mean that he believes wives should submit to their husbands. As evidence of this interpretation, Drzymala pointed to Webster’s comment to husbands, “She can pray that, if she wants to.”

The phrase "if she wants to," though, shows that Webster was not imposing his "radical fundamentalism" even on the people at the religious training conference. Also, the Grayson campaign’s interpretation is aided only by selectively editing the video to concoct a phrase that doesn’t even exist in the video: "She should submit to me. That’s in the Bible." That’s a mash-up of two sentences that read: "Don’t pick the ones that say, ‘She should submit to me.’ That’s in the Bible, but pick the ones that you’re supposed to do."

This is the second time in as many weeks that the Grayson campaign has resorted to cheap gimmicks to attack his opponent. As we wrote last week, Grayson falsely claimed Webster "refused the call to service" during the Vietnam War. In fact, Webster received routine student deferments in high school and college, and was disqualified for medical reasons after college.

As for Webster’s position on abortion, it’s true that he would prevent women from obtaining abortions even when the pregnancies result from rape, just as the ad says. And that goes for incest as well. He has been endorsed by the Republican National Coalition for Life, which states: "[W]e have listed the Republican Congressional Candidates whose responses to the RNC/Life Questionnaire indicate they are faithfully pro-life, and do not justify abortion for babies who are conceived through rape or incest, have a handicap, or a genetic defect." When asked directly by a local television reporter whether he would support an abortion for a woman who became pregnant as a result of rape, Webster said "that’s not the issue we’re talking about" and evaded the question. Grayson’s campaign posted that clip on YouTube.

But the ad’s claim that Webster would "deny battered women … the right to divorce their abusers" is a distortion. The claim is based on legislation he sponsored in the Florida House of Representatives 20 years ago. The bill, HB 1585, would have allowed Florida residents the option of a "covenant marriage," which would limit their divorce rights. Under the proposal, couples could dissolve a covenant marriage only in cases of adultery. But that would not have applied to anyone who did not choose to enter a covenant marriage. The legislation died in committee in June 1990. Webster has not advocated for covenant marriages as a congressional candidate.

Webster’s positions on abortion and marriage, and his religious views, are certainly fair game. But Grayson crosses the line when he uses manipulated video to cast Webster’s views in a false light, just as he did when he concocted a false accusation that Webster had been a Vietnam draft dodger.

— by Michael Morse and Lara Seligman, with Eugene Kiely

Sources

Seligman, Lara. "Patriotism Falsely Impugned." FactCheck.org. 22 Sep 2010.

Gothard, Bill, founder, Institute of Basic Life Principles. Interview with FactCheck.org. 27 Sep 2010.

Staddon, Robert, Gothard’s personal assistant, Institute of Basic Life Principles. E-Mail sent to FactCheck.org. 27 Sep 2010.

Graham, Brian, spokesman, Webster for Congress. E-Mail sent to FactCheck.org. 27 Sep 2010.

Drzymal, Sam, spokesman, Grayson for Congress. Interview with FactCheck.org. 27 Sep 2010.

Drzymal, Sam, spokesman, Grayson for Congress. E-Mail sent to FactCheck.org. 27 Sep 2010.

Republican National Coalition for Life, "RNC/LIFE PAC REPORT — 2010 Republican Candidates" 26 Sep 2010.

Spalding, Miriam Gan, State Archives of Florida. E-Mail sent to FactCheck.org. 27 Sep 2010.