Category Archives: Claim Check

Claim Check Redux: Tax Cuts and Committee Hearings

by Categorized: Claim Check, Data, Finance, Politics Date:

UPDATE, 9/12/2012: In the blog post below, we weigh in on a Spanish-language ad in which the McMahon campaign claims her tax plan will save “many Connecticut families” $500 a month. The savings figure requires more disclosure than the ad provides, but we did deem the phrase “many Connecticut families” less problematic than an earlier ad, which claimed that the $500 savings would be achieved by “the average Connecticut family.” That assertion is not supported by Census figures on average family income.

But this morning, the McMahon campaign aired an English-language version of portions of the Spanish ad, and “muchas familias” has morphed back to “an average Connecticut family.” For the reasons explained in our Claim Check of the original McMahon campaign ad, it is misleading, however the numbers are calculated, to assert that under McMahon’s tax plan, the savings for an average Connecticut family would be $500.


Original post:

All signs suggest we’re in for two months of withering on-air feuding in the race for Connecticut’s U.S. Senate seat, with Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Chris Murphy trading jabs at a blurring pace. That can make it tough to remember which claims are legitimate and which are on shaky grounds. So to help you keep up with the whirlwind of boasts and accusations, we’re going to combine two fact-checks into one here, looking briefly at ads containing assertions that each camp has made before. One relates to McMahon’s tax plan; the other to Murphy’s defense of his committee work. Neither gets high marks for accuracy. Continue reading

Claim Check: Linda McMahon Revisits Murphy’s Job Performance

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Finance, Health, Media, Politics Date:

Flip on the TV these days and it seems like every channel is airing the fierce cage match between Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy. It remains to be seen if either candidate is bruised by the slugfest, but there’s little question that accuracy in political ads has taken a few body slams.

In this column, we’ll break down a McMahon spot that revisits earlier attacks on Murphy’s attendance record at committee hearings and accuses the three-term congressman of voting to cut Medicare and raise taxes on the middle class.

Is it true? Depends how far you’re willing to stretch the language. Continue reading

Claim Check: Chris Murphy on Linda McMahon’s Business and Political Plans

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Finance, Health, Politics Date:

While Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon ran away with their respective primary wins in this year’s U.S. Senate race, the general election promises to be much, much closer. And if history is a guide, that means we may see plenty of ads on the airwaves for the next couple months that skate mighty close to  – and occasionally over – the edge of accuracy.

That, anyway, is the case with the latest ad from Murphy, the Democratic candidate, which stretches language to make points about McMahon’s business record and political platform.

The ad, titled “McMahon’s WWE Record Exposed,” begins with a pointed look at McMahon’s tenure as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, the successful if tacky enterprise that made her a multi-millionaire. But rather than focusing on the crass programming as past political foes have, Murphy takes aim at McMahon’s business decisions, saying her plan for the company included using offshore bank accounts (which the ad illustrates with an image of palm trees on a beach) in order to “shift profits overseas to avoid U.S. taxes.” The ad also says McMahon had a plan to deny employees health and disability insurance coverage to boost profits.

Neither claim is completely accurate. Continue reading

Claim Check: Chris Murphy Gets “Real” In Ad on Voting Record and Jobs

by Categorized: Claim Check, Data, Politics Date:

Now that we’re a solid week past the U.S. Senate primary, the two winners have had a chance to shake off their brief victory dances and get down to the business of airing nasty ads about each other.

Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate, was first out of the gate, with a spot asserting that U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, her Democratic opponent, “didn’t show up for the job you paid him to do.” Now Murphy has responded with an ad titled “That’s Real” in which he states: “Linda McMahon will do and say anything to get ahead.”

Those are perhaps the most memorable lines in each ad, and surely the pitches that most raise the ire of the target’s supporters. But as eyebrow-raising as they may be, those lines are mere noise for fact-checkers – worthy of note to gauge the tone of the campaign, but in the end, subjective assertions that do not lend themselves to verification or negation. Continue reading

Claim Check: Linda McMahon On Murphy’s Congressional Attendance Record

by Categorized: Claim Check, Data, Employment, Finance, Politics Date:

Years ago, I attended the annual conference of the Electronic Retailing Association – the fancy name the infomercial people gave themselves – and learned that when you’ve got 30 seconds to work with, the most successful pitches often ask viewers a simple and direct question with an obvious answer.

Linda McMahon, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, is advertising something far more consequential than egg peelers and Ginsu knives, but she utilizes the same direct approach in her latest ad, which targets Democrat Chris Murphy’s attendance record at Congressional hearings.

“If you skipped 80 percent of the meetings for your job, would you get a promotion?” a narrator asks rhetorically at the very opening of the ad, in a reference to Murphy’s bid to move from the House of Representatives to the Senate.

“During America’s financial crisis, Chris Murphy served on two committees trying to avoid a financial meltdown,” the narrator continues. “But Murphy skipped nearly 80 percent of those urgent hearings.”

To drive home the point, the ad shows a hearing room with an empty chair behind a nameplate reading “Mr. Murphy.” Continue reading

Claim Check: Elizabeth Esty Takes on Roberti’s Connections

by Categorized: Claim Check, Finance, Politics Date:

For the past decade, candidates for federal office have been required by law to take personal responsibility for their political ads, which now often close with cheery proclamations that “I approved this message.” The rule was put in place partly in an effort to rein in the vitriol in attack ads, figuring candidates might think twice about running negative spots that would end with their personal endorsement of the nasty message.

So was that the demise of negative advertising? Of course not. Instead, campaigns about to launch an attack have simply moved the candidate’s personal disclosure to the beginning of the ad, where it’s less likely to resonate once the guns start blazing. That is the case with a new spot from Democrat Elizabeth Esty, taking aim at the well-financed candidacy of Dan Roberti, one of Esty’s two opponents in the Democratic primary race for the fifth Congressional District seat. The ad, titled “It’s a Mess,” takes generic swipes at Roberti, saying he would make Washington worse and is already part of what’s wrong with national politics.

Those are statements of opinion and not subject to fact-checking. But the spot also makes four specific assertions about Roberti and his campaign. It claims that Roberti has no work history in Connecticut, that he is the co-owner of a “powerful Washington special-interest lobbying firm,” that clients of that firm are “bankrolling” his campaign, and that those same lobbyist clients have funded a Super PAC supporting his campaign. There is at least a partial factual foundation for all of those claims. But the ad stretches the typical definition of “bankrolling” to the point that it could mislead viewers, and there is a potentially important element left out of the assertion on the Super PAC. Combined, those issues keep the ad from earning a higher rating.

Let’s take the claims one-by-one. Continue reading

Claim Check: Dan Roberti on Donovan’s Campaign Cash

by Categorized: Claim Check, Law Enforcement, Politics Date:

When sitting legislators run for office, it’s always fair game for their opponents to point out the conflict of interest between a politician’s thirst for campaign cash and his or her role in passing or blocking legislation. But there is a difference between highlighting potential conflicts and declaring that a legislator actively intervened on behalf of a contributor. Make that latter charge without the goods to back it up, and you’re going to have some trouble with the Claim Check needle. Continue reading

Claim Check: Chris Murphy’s Buy-American Initiatives

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Finance, Politics Date:

Since heading to Washington 5 1/2 years ago, U.S. Rep Chris Murphy has made a name for himself trying to strengthen laws favoring U.S. manufacturers over foreign competitors in federal procurement decisions. “Buy American” is frequently described as Murphy’s signature issue – and, not surprisingly, it has featured prominently in his political campaigns, showing up in ads for his 2010 re-election bid, and more recently in his quest to step up to the U.S. Senate.

But persistence  is not the same as tangible, on-the-books success, and Murphy’s latest ad, while technically accurate, sidesteps the fact that his buy-American efforts have yet to yield concrete changes in federal rules on purchasing decisions. Continue reading

Claim Check: Linda McMahon and the $6,000 Tax Savings

by Categorized: Claim Check, Data, Finance, Media, Politics Date:

UPDATE: McMahon campaign economist responds to Claim Check analysis.

Each election season, politicians of all stripes engage in hard-core courting of the middle class — that vast swath of the American electorate capable of swinging a vote any which way. That love fest is fully evident in a pair of ads from Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign that mention the middle class six times in 60 seconds.

“Middle class families are really struggling right now,” Brandi, from Naugatuck, says in both ads, one of which also features cable-news clips of dismal unemployment figures. “If the middle class gets back on its feet, then you’re going to see we’re going to have a very strong economy.”

Both spots hit their mark in portraying McMahon as focused on job creation and cutting taxes for the middle class. But the ads’ one specific assertion — that McMahon’s tax plan “would save the average Connecticut family $500 a month” — fails under scrutiny. The problem is in the campaign’s definition of “savings” and its definition of the average Connecticut family, one of which is misleading and the other incorrect. Continue reading

Claim Check: Pornography, TV Ratings, and the WWE’s Curious Campaign

by Categorized: Claim Check, First Amendment, Legal Affairs, Media, Politics Date:

I’m beginning to think Brian Flinn, the freshly hired marketing whiz at World Wrestling Entertainment, is involved in a supremely crafty publicity game with his unrelenting campaign against pundits and politicians who dare suggest that WWE’s TV fare is anything but wholesome entertainment.

His protestations, principally to Chris Powell, the feisty managing editor of the Journal-Inquirer of Manchester, are not likely to prompt any editorial revisions, nor to make criticism of the faux-wrestling empire off-limits in the Senate race involving former CEO Linda McMahon.

But Flinn’s thin-as-air threat of legal action has succeeded in generating hundreds of mentions on news websites, blogs and other Internet spots – all repeating his insistence that not only is WWE neither pornographic nor violent, but that anyone who offers an opinion to the contrary is breaking the law.

Is it all a publicity stunt? Or is it possible CEO Vince McMahon secretly doesn’t want his wife trotting off to Washington, D.C.?

Whatever the motivation, Flinn could use a refresher course in pornography, libel law and television ratings.

The current dust-up was prompted by a Powell column shortly after the Republican nominating convention, opining that McMahon’s qualification for office “did not extend beyond her fantastic wealth, and that wealth derived from the business of violence, pornography, and general raunch.”

That put Flinn’s keyboard on overdrive, and prompted an angry letter stating that Powell’s assertion was objectively and maliciously false. Flinn demanded a retraction, and floated the possibility of a libel suit if one weren’t forthcoming. The letter, of course, made Powell’s day.

WWE’s performances are choreographed, Flinn explained, so they’re not really violent. (By that logic, Flinn would presumably consider it a lawsuit-worthy fib to describe Natural Born Killers as a violent movie.) Most of Flinn’s irritation, however, is aimed at claims that WWE is, or ever was, in the business of pornography. But in making his case, he misstates the relevance of WWE’s TV ratings, and confuses reasonably well-defined obscenity laws with thoroughly undefined notions of what can be described as pornographic.

“Since 2008, all WWE broadcast programming has been rated TV-PG and prior to that some of our programming had a rating of TV-14,” Flinn wrote in a statement issued Wednesday. “According to the TV Parental Guidelines established by the television industry and adopted by the Federal Communications Commission, neither TV-PG nor TV-14 content would be considered pornography or anything close to it. In addition, the FCC would not permit our content to air on network or basic cable television if it were pornographic.”

Well, that’s not quite true. In fact, under the formal FCC-approved guidelines, “sexual situations” are permissible in both TV-PG and TV-14 programming. (Even “intense sexual situations” for TV-14). Intense sexual situations in the absence of actual nudity might reasonably fall outside Flinn’s definition of pornography. And they might fit within Chris Powell’s. The WWE photo above of Trish Stratus — who famously stripped and barked like a dog during a 2001 WWE television show – might fit one person’s definition of soft-core pornography and not another’s.

Courts have tried to develop a meaningful legal definition of “obscenity” – to cover material so offensive and so lacking in artistic merit that it can be banned from the airwaves. That’s not the issue here. Instead, Powell’s assertion that WWE’s programming fits his definition of pornography is clearly an opinion. And as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1974 case (before Trish Stratus was even born): “Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas.”

Translation: Write a letter to the editor, Brian.

Flinn surely knows he cannot sustain a libel or defamation suit, and he is sorely and naively mistaken if he thinks someone like Chris Powell would ever be spooked by a heap of legalese.

But if it’s all just a stunt to keep WWE’s name in the media – Brilliant.