In her first run for the Senate two years ago, polls showed Republican Linda McMahon fared particularly poorly with women, trailing opponent Richard Blumenthal by as much as 25 points. That gap has virtually vanished this time around, which likely explains a new ad from Democrat Chris Murphy, taking shots at McMahon’s business and political relationship with women.
“As CEO, Linda McMahon demeaned women to make millions in her business,” says a woman in the ad, followed by another who goes on to accuse McMahon of “targeting children with violent images and toys.”
On the political side, the ad states that McMahon “would support a Republican proposal that would allow my employer to deny me coverage for contraception.” The ad then makes a more specific claim, stating that McMahon “will deny coverage for mammograms.”
That last line is where the ad gets in trouble. But let’s start with the business accusations.
McMahon, of course, was CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, and while “demeaned” is a subjective term, it’s certainly not an outrageous description. Likewise, “violent” is in the eye of the beholder. And while WWE’s wrestling fights are simulated – in the same way Hollywood action movies are – they involve plenty of pretend head-smashing and low blows and it’s fair game for Murphy to describe them as “violent.”
WWE’s current toy line is a little softer, generally marketing their brand-name performers and even offering a variety of plush dolls. But there are also toys designed to act out wrestling fights, including the “WWE Rumblers Blast and Bash Battle Ring” that allows kids to “blast your figures across the ring in this fist-poundin’ face-off!”
As for the assertion that violent images and toys are “targeted” to children, there’s ample evidence that youths make up an important part of WWE’s audience, and children are obviously the target for the company’s toy line.
The ad also says that McMahon is now “trying to hide” WWE’s record. That’s a reference to a recent announcement by the company that it was renewing efforts to have certain “edgier” clips pulled off YouTube and other Internet sites. The company specifically cited its objection to the political use of the content – clips have shown up in ads targeting McMahon – and the timing certainly benefits McMahon. But it’s not clearly established that McMahon herself is involved in the effort to scrub those explicit clips from the Internet, and WWE insists there is no coordination, making the ad’s wording looser than it ought to be.
The ad’s assertions on healthcare take substantially more liberty with the language. First, some background: During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt introduced an amendment that would allow employers to exclude insurance coverage for certain medical procedures deemed morally objectionable. The issue had largely centered around churches and other faith-based groups that objected to providing coverage for birth control. But the Blunt Amendment was broadly worded such that it would have permitted an employer to opt out of covering any service contrary to the employer’s “religious beliefs and moral convictions.”
Critics seized on the open language to charge that the amendment would allow employers to deny coverage for a vast array of medical need, including HIV treatment, pre-natal services to unwed mothers and even mammograms. The amendment was defeated last March.
Earlier this month, McMahon told the Greenwich Time newspaper that she would have “reluctantly supported” the Blunt Amendment.
“This is not a question about contraception,” she told the newspaper. “This is about separation of church and state. I just think that was an overreach and an overstep by government.”
In the interview, it was not clear that McMahon was fully aware of the breadth of the amendment. In fact, the healthcare law already excluded churches from the requirement to cover contraception, and when told the Blunt Amendment applied to all employers, and not simply churches, McMahon replied: “I’m not sure of that. I just know that the issue that was being addressed was the fact that the government was trying to force religious institutions to be engaged in something that went against their beliefs.”
Regardless, McMahon did go on the record expressing support for the amendment, and that gives the Murphy camp the green light to link her to the provisions of the legislation.
But the ad goes somewhat off-track in using prospective language for a dead bill, saying: “As Senator, McMahon would support a Republican proposal” permitting coverage exclusions. That gives the impression that there’s a specific Republican proposal on the table that will come up for a vote next year.
At the same time, after the amendment was defeated last March, Blunt indicated he wasn’t giving up the fight and would continue working with colleagues in the Senate to “protect the rights that make our nation great.” And that may be just enough cover for the Murphy camp to suggest that the bill could come up again and that if did, McMahon is on record as saying she would vote for it.
More troubling, though, is the line that follows, which declares of McMahon: “She will deny coverage for mammograms.”
Getting to that inflammatory statement requires an overly circuitous linguistic route. It doesn’t make for pithy ad copy, but what the Murphy campaign could legitimately allege is that, based on McMahon’s declared support for the Blunt Amendment, “She would vote for legislation – if it were proposed – that theoretically would allow an employer to exclude from insurance coverage a wide variety of otherwise-mandated services, and among those mandated services are mammograms.”
Condensing that to the declarative statement, “She will deny coverage for mammograms” takes too many shortcuts. Moreover, mammograms were never the real issue in the debate over the Blunt Amendment, and became primarily a Democratic talking point, along with assertions that the amendment jeopardized all of the other specific services for women mandated by the Affordable Care Act, from gestational diabetes screening to annual checkups.
In reality, the target was birth control. And asserting that McMahon “will deny coverage for mammograms” requires the same logical zig-zagging as it would to declare that she will deny coverage for car-accident victims or newborns.
In the battle for the votes of women, affordable access to breast-cancer screening may be an irresistible weapon. But particularly given the stakes with that hot-button issue, we deem this ad – and specifically the language on mammograms – to be “Somewhat Misleading.”