Where’d the puppies go?
Weeks after airing what might be the feel-good ad of the 2014 campaign season, featuring hordes of tail-wagging dogs, Mark Greenberg has returned to the airwaves with a considerably harsher message aimed at 5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty.
In “Disturbing Patterns,” Greenberg, the Republican challenger, draws historical parallels to portray Esty as a politician who supports higher taxes and lobs false attack ads. In firing that salvo, Greenberg stays mostly — but not entirely — within bounds.
“It’s a disturbing pattern,” the hush-toned narrator declares as the ad open. “After supporting higher property taxes, Elizabeth Esty told seniors if they didn’t like it, they could move.”
The spot then plays video of Esty delivering her now-famous line at a Cheshire Town Council meeting years ago: “You’re always welcome to move to one of our neighboring towns.”
Those are indeed Esty’s words, and while her comments weren’t directed specifically at “seniors,” the tax dispute at the time did reportedly pit parents of school-age children — including Esty — against older residents who opposed increasing the education budget.
From there, the ad makes a connection to Esty’s position on Social Security. “Continuing her pattern of raising taxes, Esty wants to increase Social Security taxes,” the narrator states, while the words “Higher Taxes on Social Security” appear on the screen.
This is where Greenberg’s ad gets in trouble, with muddy language that could leave voters with a misimpression. The line “Esty wants to increase Social Security taxes” is mostly likely to be understood as supporting an increase in the current 6.2 percent Social Security tax rate. And the on-screen graphic — “Higher Taxes on Social Security” — would technically seem to suggest that Esty favors higher income taxes on Social Security benefits paid to retirees. But neither reflects Esty’s position.
The ad cites an Oct. 18 news story in the Danbury News-Time, which accurately reflects Esty’s preference for raising the $117,000 cap on income subject to Social Security taxes.
From taxes, the ad turns to Esty campaign spots from 2012 and this year, in support of a claim that “once again, Esty’s running negative ads everyone agrees are false.” That assertion is a reference to spots two years ago that painted challenger Andrew Roraback as an extreme right-wing Republican, and an ad from this season that gave the impression Greenberg wanted to eliminate guaranteed Social Security benefits.
The 2012 ad was criticized in an editorial by the Torrington Register-Citizen, and the recent ad was rated as “False” by Claim Check. Those newspaper rebukes do not amount to “everyone” declaring the ads to be bogus, but viewers are likely to understand that line as hyperbole, and the Greenberg ad does accurately reflect that the ads were challenged by journalists.
Greenberg’s language around the Esty campaign spots — “false attacks,” “lies” — is unquestionably harsh. But it is the treatment of Social Security that crosses the line. While the campaign may argue that raising the cap on Social Security taxes will in fact result in an “increase [in] Social Security taxes,” the casual viewer could easily interpret this ad as indicating that Esty supports raising Social Security taxes on all workers — including the more than 85 percent of the 5th District who make less than the current $117,000 cap.
Greenberg’s ad could have explicitly explained, and challenged, Esty’s talk of raising the income cap (although he recently seemed to warm to the idea himself). Instead, the language chosen here is open to interpretation — and misinterpretation. As such, we rate this ad “Somewhat Misleading.”