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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Distorting de Blasio’s Words in NYC

A TV ad from Republican New York City mayoral candidate Joe Lhota distorts Bill de Blasio’s words amid violent imagery intending to portray the Democrat as soft on crime.

The ad claims the sum of de Blasio’s response to a motorcycle group’s assault on a family’s SUV was a suggestion to “visit motorcycle clubs and talk to bikers” — illustrated on the screen with quotation marks and de Blasio’s name, as if it was a direct quote. But those were the paraphrased words of a tabloid writer. De Blasio did call on police to warn motorcycle groups that intimidating riding tactics would not be tolerated. But he also urged police to “crack down” on “disruptive” riding tactics, saying he supports “new laws,” if necessary.

With Lhota down by a whopping 50 points in one poll, the ad was described by NBC’s First Read blog as a “Hail Mary” attempt to turn the tide on an issue of major concern to New York voters: crime. As the ad flashes images of riots, street violence and graffiti-strewn urban decay, the narrator warns that de Blasio’s “recklessly dangerous agenda on crime” would “take New York backwards.”

The two candidates have sparred over the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, which Lhota supports and de Blasio has blasted as racial profiling. But no mention of that is made in the ad. Rather, the ad’s case against de Blasio’s stance on crime is principally tied to de Blasio’s response to a recent biker group’s assault on a motorist that was caught on video and drew national attention.

As a video clip of the violent attack plays on the screen, the ad’s narrator says: “And de Blasio’s response to violent biker gangs? Visit motorcycle clubs and talk to bikers.” Those words — “visit motorcycle clubs and talk to bikers” — are shown on the screen with quotation marks and de Blasio’s name, as if directly quoting the Democratic candidate.

In fact, it is not a direct quote. Rather, it is a paraphrased version of de Blasio’s response reported by the New York Post on Oct. 3. And it’s a partial version at that.  Here’s what the Post wrote:

New York Post, Oct. 3: Democrat Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, has urged that cops visit motorcycle clubs and talk to bikers.

“We have to be very tough on this one — this is an unacceptable state of affairs,” de Blasio said.

So even the fuller response, including what was a direct quote from de Blasio, belies the ad’s characterization of his position.

And, on the same day that the Post wrote its article, de Blasio gave a radio interview to 1010 WINS about the motorcycle incident in which he called for a crackdown on biker “stunts” that he called “dangerous” and “not acceptable.” In the interview, starting at about the 4:54 mark, de Blasio said this “phenomenon” of disruptive riding tactics may require “some new laws”:

De Blasio, Oct. 3: Although I don’t have all the facts, I can tell you this much … I believe we are seeing a phenomenon of some of these motorcycle groups deciding to take over certain streets so they can perform their stunts and, you know, disrupt traffic, slow traffic, in the process. And it’s dangerous. It’s really dangerous. And this confrontation is a byproduct of that. So we have to crack down on this. It’s not legal to disrupt traffic in a group. It’s not legal, obviously, to take the law into their own hands, as they appear to have done. So I would, I think right now the police need to be tougher on this situation. If we need some new laws to address it, we should go ahead with that. But this is simply not acceptable behavior.

Those comments by de Blasio square with his initial response as reported by other news agencies.

According to the New York Times, “Mr. de Blasio did suggest in an interview after the motorcycle episode that police officers be proactive by informing motorcycle groups of a zero-tolerance policy for dangerous behavior. But he has also said that violent motorcyclists should be punished for any criminality.”

And Newsday reported, “In fact, de Blasio has said he would deploy the police to aggressively arrest and deter such behavior.”

Nonetheless, Lhota raised the issue in the first mayoral debate on Oct. 15 (at about the 3-minute mark).

Lhota, Oct. 15: Bill de Blasio’s answer to the issue of the bike riding was that he wanted the NYPD to sit down with bicycle clubs over a cup of coffee and talk about this. That’s not what we need to do. What we need to do is go in and arrest the people who did it. Talking is not what we need to do.

De Blasio’s response came at about the 4:20 mark:

De Blasio, Oct. 15: My opponent likes to distort the situation. You know, what I said after this recent horrible incident with the motorcycles is, NYPD will crack down, should crack down, on the spot. But also send a very clear message to all these organizations that anything they try in the future will lead to real consequences. Anyone who tries to slow down traffic on a highway, or create any situation that might endanger motorists, these folks are going to end up in jail. And I think that message needs to be given very sternly by our NYPD officers to these individuals. And, by the way, that’s a proven tactic. Not only does NYPD do great enforcement at the moment of a crime, they get out and make clear to people what the consequences will be if they ever engage in such activity again in the future.

The Lhota ad also makes the claim that “Bill de Blasio voted to take over 5,000 cops off our streets.” This claim is based on de Blasio’s budget votes as a city councilman between 2002 and 2009. The budgets were proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and they did lead to a workforce reduction in the NYPD. But the New York Times notes that “Mr. de Blasio did not personally propose those cuts, and the vast majority of City Council members also approved the city budgets, whose particulars were negotiated long before the floor vote.” The de Blasio campaign also said that the gradual reductions in manpower were endorsed by Bloomberg’s police commissioner, Ray Kelly, whom Lhota supports.

The election to replace Bloomberg will be held on Nov. 5.

— Robert Farley