Incumbent U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown launched a television ad titled “Pants on Fire” on September 6, leveraging the work of PolitiFact Ohio and other liberal journalists for an attack on opponent Josh Mandel. With the Senate race recently polling within the margin of error, Brown’s campaign is leaning heavily on Democrat reporters as “non-partisan fact-checking organizations.”
In a SherrodBrown.com release announcing the ad’s launch, the Democrat’s campaign staff wrote, “Despite being repeatedly called out by non-partisan fact-checking organizations and even earning the ‘Pants on Fire crown’ from PolitiFact Ohio for making more ‘ridiculous’ and ‘false’ statements than any other Ohio politician, Josh Mandel has claimed that he will repeat debunked falsehoods ‘again and again’ because he ‘sees no downside.’”
The TV spot – which is also being promoted online via Facebook and blog ads – focuses on PolitiFact Ohio rulings and journalists’ comments about PolitiFact Ohio rulings. As Media Trackers has reported, three of the six “Pants on Fire” rulings Mandel has received from PolitiFact Ohio were written by leftist Tom Feran between mid-June and mid-August of this year.
Brown’s campaign ad dedicates 13 of 29 seconds to trumpeting the supposedly unbiased work of left-wing PolitiFact Ohio, whose staff – including editors – is dominated by registered Democrats.
“Josh Mandel is Lying,” a Brown campaign website built for the “Pants on Fire” commercial, features extended quotes from The Columbus Dispatch, The Plain Dealer, The Washington Post, Akron Beacon Journal, and Associated Press. The quotes appear in the same order each story was cited in the commercial.
The August 19 Dispatch editorial cited by the Brown ad was written as a scathing letter to Mandel. Liberal reporter Joe Hallett opined, “You are becoming known as the candidate of the big lie, continually making statements and airing ads that stretch the truth or are patently untrue. PolitiFact Ohio, The Plain Dealer’s respected campaign truth-o-meter, has given you more ‘Pants on Fire’ ratings for false claims than any other candidate by far.”
Previous Media Trackers coverage has exposed the pronounced liberal bias of Plain Dealer reporter Tom Feran, who wrote the July 29 “Campaign attacks give Josh Mandel Pants on Fire Crown” story cited in Sherrod Brown’s commercial. For detailed analyses of the skewed rulings from Feran and other Plain Dealer “fact checkers,” see Jon Cassidy’s “PolitiFact or Fiction” series at Ohio Watchdog.
“Mandel has been pilloried by Politifact for excessive lying about Brown,” wrote left-leaning blogger Greg Sargent in the Washington Post story cited in Brown’s ad.
A Tuesday, September 11 Dispatch “Campaign Ad Watch” story about the “Pants on Fire” spot breezed past its use of a hyperbolic Hallett quote printed in the Dispatch. Jessica Wehrman wrote that the ad’s “key assertion” was that “[t]he rating of Ohio’s investment fund has not improved,” although the TV commercial spends roughly 4 seconds discussing Ohio’s investment rating only after devoting 13 seconds to liberal journalists’ claims that Mandel is a liar.
“A press release from the treasurer’s office announced that they had received the highest possible rating but doesn’t indicate whether this is a new development,” Werhman wrote. “More telling is an October 2011 email from Mandel to his supporters that says Mandel ‘just received the highest possible credit rating one of these funds can receive,’ which seems to imply that the high credit rating was a new development.”
In other words, several seconds of the Sherrod Brown commercial are accurate so long as a statement from Mandel is read in the harshest possible light.
The final point in Brown’s “Pants on Fire” ad is a claim that “[Mandel] hasn’t shown up for work,” citing a January 26, 2012 Associated Press story about Mandel failing to attend Board of Deposit meetings. In a January 25 AP story, Julie Carr-Smyth wrote, “Those familiar with the board say sending designees is common, and most of the board’s business is determined ahead of time.”
Carr-Smyth continued, “Democrat Kevin Boyce and Republican Jennette Bradley both attended the board’s monthly meetings less than half the time. Democrat Richard Cordray almost always went. Earlier treasurers Ken Blackwell, Joe Deters and Mary Ellen Withrow all attended at least occasionally, according to interviews and news accounts.”
Ultimately, the Sherrod Brown TV spot launched at the 60-day mark before the November election makes two arguments: Josh Mandel is a liar, and Josh Mandel has not done his job. The first relies almost entirely on the say-so of liberal journalists, and the second excludes the fact that it’s common for Ohio treasurers to send surrogates to Board of Deposit meetings.