PolitiFact Ohio practices opinion journalism under the guise of fact-checking. They often get things wrong — particularly, we’ve noticed, in their coverage of U.S. Senate candidates Sherrod Brown (Democrat) and Josh Mandel (Republican). So we bring you PolitiFact or Fiction, a semi-regular review of pronouncements issued by PolitiFact Ohio, a blog run by staff at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and supported by Politifact.com.
By Jon Cassidy | Ohio Watchdog
COLUMBUS — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and his allies have already come up with $23 million this cycle to spend on his re-election campaign.
But PolitiFact Ohio is questioning the honesty of a state Republican Party spokeswoman who used a much more modest figure.
Our story begins when GOP spokeswoman Izzy Santa said earlier this month, “Sherrod Brown and his special interest allies in Washington are plotting to spend over $13 million, with no end in sight.”
Santa’s figure was for ad buys already made or planned for the Democratic candidate. All sides agree that number includes $5.9 million from Brown’s campaign, $5.1 million from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $2.4 million from outside groups such as unions and environmentalists.
In fact, Brown’s campaign has actually raised more than $16 million since 2007, according to Federal Election Commission records and his most recent quarterly report. That’s $10 million more than he’s spent on ads this year, and accounts for the difference between the $13 million and $23 million figure.
If Santa erred, it was, you’ll pardon the pun, on the conservative side.
But Joe Guillen, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter writing for PolitiFact Ohio, was determined to find fault.
“The claim is literally true because it includes both Brown and his allies,” Guillen wrote, and he should have stopped right there. If it’s literally true, are we supposed to worry it might be figuratively untrue? It’s a number, not a simile.
It turns out that Guillen’s beef is that Santa’s declaration changed the subject.
Democratic spokesman Chris Redfern had gone to all the trouble of holding a press conference to denounce some $10.5 million in outside contributions to Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel. Santa wouldn’t just let him have his narrative.
Santa said Thursday that her response—Brown is planning $13 million in ad buys—was a simple and legitimate matter of framing the debate, with total campaign contributions (wherever they come from) being the important thing.
After Redfern’s July 10 press conference, she sent out an email to reporters:
“Redfern is the least credible person to be commenting on outside spending when it comes to Ohio’s U.S. Senate race. Sherrod Brown and his special interest allies in Washington are plotting to spend over $13 million, with no end in sight. It’s clear that Brown and his supporters are having to spend this type of money because Brown’s out-of-touch record has exposed him to Ohioans as a 38-year politician and Washington insider who puts politics over people.”
That email is all Guillen has. “The dispute between the campaigns revolved around outside money, and Santa’s email, in fact, focused on outside money,” he wrote.
But her specific claim—the claim Guillen is supposed to be checking—is about money raised by “Brown and his special interest allies,” not “outside money.”
That’s what offends Guillen, who goes on to examine the meaning of “outside money” and whether Brown’s outside support counts as such.
In logical terms, it’s a basic fallacy called “begging the question.” That’s when you argue for a conclusion (that Santa was wrong about the “outside money” supporting Brown) that has already been assumed in the premise (that Santa was talking about “outside money”).
Because if she was talking about the $2.4 million in “outside money,” then she’d be wrong to say that $2.4 million was $13 million.
Guillen talks to a law professor about the meaning of “outside money,” but it’s all a show. There’s nothing to investigate. The thing Santa said was true, and the thing Guillen wants to put in her mouth is not.
Guillen may have a different opinion, but it’s no justification for defaming anyone.
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