Campaign fundraising appeals have even-lower truth standards that campaign advertising. So it usually isn’t worth our time to try to fact check them. The audience, after all, is usually the already decided voter who might write a check (or another check).
But when the appeal uses language that not only claims accuracy but puts words in the opponent’s mouth, it makes it worth a look.
Like over the weekend when Republican U.S. Senate candidate Michael Bumgartner spun the results of what might be his only debate with incumbent U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
“Cantwell Embarrassed by Baumgartner Debate Victory,” read the headline. (I’m not going to fact check whether Cantwell was, in fact, embarrassed though I spoke with her afterward and she didn’t seem especially embarrassed.)
Baumgartner’s communications director said her candidate’s winning performance explains why Cantwell won’t agree to more debates and said her attempts to label him an extremist were false because he knows how to work with Democrats. Cantwell, she claimed, admitted during the debate that she has not interest in such bipartisanship.
” ‘She said it best herself: “You won’t find me standing in the aisle.” ‘ ” Jami Herring wrote in the letter.
Except Cantwell didn’t say that herself. More specifically, while she spoke those words, the words that came before and after offer a more-accurate interpretation of what she said. She was talking about the proposed cuts to Social Security that were proposed in the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan.
“So when we get back, we need to make sure that we don’t go over the fiscal cliff,” Cantwell said. “But you won’t find me standing in the aisle saying that I will vote to cut Social Security.”
I asked Herring about the partial quote.
“While that is the full quote, we took it to mean that she was talking about working with the advocates of reforming Social Security – you won’t find her in the aisle discussing whether or not she would even consider reforms. After all, we’re talking about a Senator who has voted with Democrats and President Obama 97% of the time.”
Cantwell campaign spokesman Kelly Steele wasn’t buying it.
“I mean, the use of the word ‘lie’ is a high threshold, but this isn’t some pithy little context issue. ‘She said it best herself’? Um, no she didn’t.”
Here’s the debate. This quote begins at 28:50