Monday, October 09, 2006

Anatomy of a Melissa Bean TV ad lie

Jim Thacker, David McSweeney’s [R-Barrington Hills, 8th CD] campaign manager, said:

“Let’s put it this way: somebody lied. And, I don’t know if it was [Cong.] Melissa Bean or if it was her handlers, but somebody lied. The Bean TV ad lies.”

Bean’s television ad does misrepresent David McSweeney’s views, pure and simple. It’s too bad. The first term Congresswoman Bean [D-Barrington, 8th CD] could have taken the high road in this campaign.

Democrat Melissa Bean was swept into office in 2004 in large part by the distaste the 8th CD had developed for 35 year Republican incumbent Cong. Phil Crane, who had taken to hiding from and ignoring his constituents and opponents, as well as abusing his powers of incumbency. Bean had the opportunity to set an example for what politics should be like in her first re-election campaign for the 8th CD seat. Instead, Cong. Bean resorts, in this ad, to distorting the views of one her opponents, David McSweeney, on the issue of abortion. [Moderate Party candidate Bill Scheurer is Bean’s other opponent].

Winston Churchill said: ‘A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.’ That was in the pre-digital age.
Now we enjoy a 300-channel, ever-connected world. Today that lie is around the world and knocking at the door before the truth has even fetched the morning paper. In fact, before that paper is even printed, the lie has probably bounced around the TV, radio and Internet echo chamber for hours.
[See here].

So, it is up to the tough, but fair-minded media to set the record straight, even if Cong. Bean’s lie has what Churchill might call, “a leg up on the truth.”

A partial transcript of Bean’s broadcast television ad [See here], which started running last week, reads as follows:

Dave McSweeney in his own words. …The Wall St. Journal reports McSweeney opposes choice, even in cases of incest, rape or the life of the mother. He says, it is more important to protect the unborn in that case than it is to protect the exceptions…

I am Melissa Bean and I approve this message because you deserve an independent, mainstream voice in Congress.

What 8th CD voters deserve are candidates who will illuminate the issue differences, but take care to represent the views of their opponents accurately. Despite the conventional wisdom that Bean and McSweeney are quite close on the issues, there are sufficient issue differences between the two for voters to have a real choice, e.g., taxes, trade, terrorism, lawsuit reform, term limits, education, abortion and the war. The choice, of course, is expanded when third party candidate Bill Scheurer [I-Lindenhurst] is brought into the equation.

If Bean wants to highlight the differences between McSweeney and her views on abortion in an ad, that, of course, is fine—so long as she states McSweeney’s views accurately. Instead, Bean’s ad engages in a gross misrepresentation of David McSweeney’s views on abortion, and she cites to McSweeney’s December 11, 2005 appearance on “Public Affairs,” as the primary supporting source.

Anybody watching any of McSweeney’s numerous appearances on “Public Affairs,” in which he was asked about abortion would know his position on that issue. Candidate McSweeney would like to see court rulings and legislation that would result in a ban on all abortions in the United States except in “reported cases of rape and incest,” or to protect the life of the mother. [See here].

Perhaps to a fault, David McSweeney is consistent. He is not somebody who changes his public policy positions from campaign appearance to campaign appearance, or year to year, for that matter.

So, how did Congresswoman Bean and her media consultant, Eric Adelstein, misrepresent McSweeney’s views? They just chopped up a video and took statements out of context. Further, they took advantage of a Wall St. Journal (“WSJ”) article that they had to have known was erroneous.

The Bean ad is not unlike the one Adelstein produced in 2000, which resulted in Adelstein almost being run out of Chicago for his TV ad misrepresentations about Cook County Criminal Courts Presiding Judge Thomas Fitzgerald. [See here]. Adelstein, in that instance, worked on behalf of Appellate Judge Morton Zwick in Zwick’s failed run for an Illinois State Supreme Court seat. Then Judge Fitzgerald won that race over Adelstein's candidate and he now sits on the Illinois Supreme Court as Justice Fitzgerald [See here].

First, we’ll take a look, below, at what McSweeney said and then see how Adelestein and Bean have misrepresented that. Second, we’ll dissect the WSJ mistake and Bean’s intentional exploitation of that error.

The context of the “Public Affairs,” discussion with candidate McSweeney is that host Berkowitz was probing McSweeney to see just how Pro-Life he was relative to his March, 2006 Republican Primary opponents, in light of his favored exceptions for reported cases of rape and incest, and, of course, the life of the mother. [See here]. Host Berkowitz also knew that [proposed] Human Life U.S. constitutional amendments provide generally either for the return of the abortion issue to the Congress or to the state legislatures-- or provide for a federal ban on abortion, but with an exception to protect the life of the mother. [See here]. Thus, there was no need for host Berkowitz to keep repeating the exception for the life of the mother when discussing the Human Life Amendment, nor for McSweeney to keep correcting Berkowitz, if he left it out. This is the kind of short-hand that many TV political interviewers use in an attempt to cover a large number of topics in a short amount of time.

It is with the above in mind that McSweeney was questioned:

Jeff Berkowitz: …Are you less Pro-Life than Kathy Salvi and Bob Churchill?

David McSweeney: Dave McSweeney is Pro-Life. No. 1, I have the endorsement of the Illinois Federation for Right to Life and I am proud of that. I will talk about my position and I’ll contrast it with Melissa Bean. Melissa Bean voted against a piece of legislation on the floor of the House that would have made it a crime to bring a minor across state lines if the intent was to avoid parental notification laws. That was a terrible vote. I, of course, would have voted to make it illegal to cross state lines to avoid those laws. So, Melissa Bean has a terrible record. That’s who I am running against. And, that is what I am focused on.

Jeff Berkowitz: She [Cong. Bean] talks about herself as being Pro-Choice. She says she follows the “Law of the Land, Roe v. Wade,” and those views are consistent with that. Do you dispute that statement?

David McSweeney: Melissa Bean is definitely Pro-Choice. She got a lot of money from Emily’s List.

Jeff Berkowitz: She follows Roe v. Wade. That is the Law of the Land, right?

David McSweeney: I would like to see that overturned and that’s why hopefully with the Supreme Court justices in front of us right now, with Roberts on the Bench and hopefully, Alito, we’ll see that overturned.

Jeff Berkowitz: But, you wouldn’t want to see a Constitutional Amendment protecting the fetus because you would still want to have reported cases of rape and incest, as exceptions, right?

David McSweeney: No, I would support the Human Life Amendment; I have been on record on that.

Jeff Berkowitz: Even though those [types of Constitutional Amendments] wouldn’t fit within your reported cases of rape and incest exceptions.

David McSweeney: That is correct because it is more important to protect the unborn in that case than it is to protect the exceptions [for reported cases of rape and incest]. What I have said and let’s be specific on this, you have brought this up a couple of times in interviews and I don’t want to avoid the question. I want to answer it very specifically. Ideally, I would like to see exceptions for life of the mother and reported cases of rape and incest. What I've also said though is that I would vote for a final form of legislation that was pro life and prohibited abortions even if it didn't contain an exception [for reported cases of rape and incest], if that was the only choice. And, in the case of the Human Life Amendment, that is the choice. There is not the exceptions [for Rape and Incest] and it is better to protect the unborn than it is to be in a situation where we are allowing abortion to continue in this country [unless the life of the mother is at issue].
Public Affairs TV show, recorded December 11, 2005, and airing the weeks of December 19 and December 26, 2005 in the Chicago Metro area.
What did Bean and Adelstein take from the above?

“It is more important to protect the unborn in that case than it is to protect the exceptions.”

Bean and her media guru Adelstein, in their ad, wrap the WSJ article [discussed, below] around the “Public Affairs,” quote. They start the process by stating McSweeney is willing to forego the exceptions for reported cases of rape and incest, if he had to choose between the current law and a law which banned all abortions, except if the life of the mom is at issue. But, then they take the ball farther than intellectual honesty permits:

Bean and Adelstein state implicitly that McSweeney would let a mom die, even if an abortion would save her life. But, that simply is not the case. The author of this post knows that from interviewing McSweeney numerous times on Public Affairs over the last twenty months. Anyone watching the referenced episodes, above, of Public Affairs or others with McSweeney, or anyone reading this blog regularly knows that. But, more importantly, Cong. Bean, who said she approved that television ad, knew it was false when she approved it. That’s why McSweeney Campaign Manager Jim Thacker says the “Bean Ad lies.” And, that’s why Thacker is right.
The referenced Wall St. Journal piece was sloppy, inaccurate journalism and now its author apparently wants to forget about it, and let sleeping dogs lie.

Congresswoman Bean quoted the WSJ correctly, but she had to have known the quote misrepresented McSweeney’s views on abortion. Bean has heard McSweeney discuss his views on abortion during the campaign and candidate forums, as has McSweeney heard Bean discuss hers. The decision by Bean’s media guru, Mr. Adelstein, Melissa Bean and presumably others in Bean’s campaign to use the quote, nonetheless, demonstrates questionable ethics by Team Bean. Further, Team Bean’s decision to wrap the WSJ erroneous statement around Bean’s distortion of the McSweeney Public Affairs clip only compounds the Bean ethical lapse.

WSJ staff reporter Yochi Dreazen wrote:

Mr. McSweeney supports a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion even in cases of incest, rape or danger to the life of the mother [See here].

Although Dreazen spoke with McSweeney for his article about other issues, Dave McSweeney indicated that Dreazen did not speak with him about abortion. Instead, Campaign Manager Thacker got a follow-up call from Dreazen, saying that he had just one quick question and his quick question was whether or not McSweeney would support a Human Life Amendment or constitutional amendment on abortion, if it didn’t contain “the exceptions,” meaning, as Thacker understood it, the exceptions for rape and incest. Thacker said to this reporter there is no Human Life Amendment or Constitutional Amendment to ban abortion that does not have an exception for the Life of the Mother. It is just a given, said Thacker.

So, Thacker’s answer to Dreazen was that David McSweeney would support a Constitutional Amendment even if it didn’t have the exceptions [for rape and incest], although he would favor the exceptions being included. Thacker said that when people in political journalism discuss abortion and talk about giving up the exceptions for a ban on abortion, they mean exceptions for rape and incest because everybody assumes proposed legislation or constitutional amendments banning abortion will always have an exception for the life of the mother.

Dreazen wrote, based on his “I just have one quick question,” conversation with Thacker that the life of the mother was included in the exceptions which McSweeney would have agreed to omit from the Human Life Amendment. Thacker told this reporter, “I would have never said that Dave McSweeney would vote for something [a ban on abortion] that did not have a provision for the life of the mother.”

Thacker emphasized that Dreazen’s comment about McSweeney’s position is a characterization; it is not a quote; there are no quotes around the statement. Further, Thacker said, “you will never see a piece of legislation in the U. S. Congress that doesn’t have an exception for the life of the mother.” Indeed, in almost 450 episodes of “Public Affairs,” Host Berkowitz has heard only one guest, Jonathan Wright, candidate for the U. S. Senate in the 2004 Republican Primary, advocate a ban on abortion without an exception for the life of the mother. Wright received one per cent of the Primary vote, finishing 7th out of a field of seven candidates.

Further, McSweeney stated to this reporter last week, “I have never seen and I have never been asked to support a piece of legislation that does not contain an exception for the life of the mother. I don’t think it exists. I have never said anything but that I favor an exception for the life of the mother.”

McSweeney Campaign Manager Thacker stated that Yochi Dreazen conceded to him in the last week that there is no Human Life Amendment that does not have an exception for the life of the mother. However, Dreazen has not responded to this reporter’s email request for a conversation on this matter. Further, Dreazen has indicated to Thacker that his editors would not allow him to discuss the above issues with a “local reporter.”

Team McSweeney is not without fault on this matter. On seeing the erroneous report of McSweeney’s abortion position in the June 24, 2006 Wall St. Journal article, Team McSweeney should have fired off both a written and oral response to the WSJ, clarifying the record. Thacker indicated there was only an exchange of voice-mails with Dreazen until the Bean ad highlighted the importance of the error.

Nevertheless, that mistake by Team McSweeney does not absolve Team Bean from the ethical lapse represented by the Bean ad. Thacker, in discussing what the Bean campaign has done with this ad, said as professionals, campaigns do opposition research. But, his point was that you can’t take an article or two that clearly gets an opponent’s view wrong and go with that-- when you have a stack of articles, over a long period of time, that go the other way. Clearly, Bean would know this is not a flip flop by McSweeney but an error by the WSJ journalist.

Thacker said, “For this Melissa Bean ad, they actually had a tape and they chose to segment off a piece of that tape. Had they played an earlier part of that tape, people would have a very different view, from the Bean ad, of what Dave’s position is on abortion.”

In discussing Bean’s obligations on this ad, Thacker said “Bean said she approved this ad; she has been in candidate forums with Dave McSweeney, she should know what Dave’s position is [on abortion]… Let’s put it this way: somebody lied. And, I don’t know if it was [Cong.] Melissa Bean or if it was her handlers, but somebody lied. The Bean ad lies.”

Team Bean did not return phone calls from Public Affairs seeking comments on this matter.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at