The fine print: when the ad doesn’t match the story

News & comment
Updated: Oct. 23, 2020 at 1:00 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - As we wind toward the end of the race for the north country’s seat in congress, both candidates have put out TV advertisements which use news stories as their basis.

But even allowing for the hyperbole that is political advertising, some ads just don’t match the actual stories on which they’re based.

Two examples, one from each candidate.

Tedra Cobb has a new advertisement in which she goes after Elise Stefanik in starkly personal terms. The ad calls Stefanik a coward.

And one of the claims the ad makes is “Elise Stefanik Failed To Stand Up For U.S. Troops.” It’s an argument Cobb has been making out on the campaign trail, and in this ad, underneath the words ‘failed to stand up’ it lists a WWNY/7 News story of June 30 as the source.

The truth is considerably more nuanced: our story of June 30 - which I wrote - reported “North country congresswoman Elise Stefanik has little to say so far about President Trump and a purported Russian plot to kill U.S. troops.”

The story was written the day after the New York Times revealed a Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban in Afghanistan for every U.S. soldier killed.

Our story never said Stefanik “failed to stand up for U.S. troops;" it only addressed what she said - or more to the point, didn’t say - in the immediate aftermath of the New York Times reporting. And while it’s true Stefanik said little initially, that was not the end of it. By July 9, she was attacking what she called “illegal leaks to the media.” And in mid-September, she pointed to a report that the U.S. General overseeing troops in Afghanistan said he was not able to prove such a bounty program existed.

Cobb’s ad rests on a story that - while it was accurate at the time it was written - has long since been superceded by new developments.

And here’s an example of an ad Stefanik produced where the ad doesn’t match the story. Aaron Cerrone, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise’s reporter on politics, did the reporting on this.

In an ad which ran earlier this month, these words appear on-screen: “Taxin Tedra wants a trillion dollars in new taxes” and below it, CNN 9/12/17.

But as Aaron reports, the actual CNN article from that date concerned Bernie Sanders, not Tedra Cobb, and doesn’t mention her. And setting aside the fact that no news organization would use a nickname like “Taxin' Tadra,” the nickname - which is the creation of the Stefanik campaign - didn’t surface until 2018, long after the CNN report.

And besides that, the overall point of the Stefanik ad is that Cobb supports “Medicare for all” health care, which she did at one time, but does not now.

Both candidates have made a habit of selectively highlighting those parts of their opponent’s record which works best for them. Voters should not assume they’re getting the whole story - even if there’s a claim that it came from a news report.

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