Brad Bumsted: Distortion season
The TV ad was gripping: Former Lackawanna County Assistant DA Kathleen Kane went “soft” on two rapists; one went on to assault two other women. For a statewide candidate, it couldn't get much worse.
There was just one problem: They weren't Kane's cases.
Kane, Democrat nominee for state attorney general, faces Republican David Freed, Cumberland County DA, on Nov. 6. The ad was aired by the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee, a nonprofit that includes the Republican Attorneys General Association, in an $800,000 Philadelphia media buy.
It is the season of lies and outright distortions by Democrats and Republicans at the national and state levels. Yet negative TV ads, even the worst ones, are usually based on a kernel of truth, leaving viewers to sort out what's real.
The ad against Kane broke new barriers. The basic charges were false and dredged up disturbing memories for families that lived through despicable tragedies.
Kane's maiden name, Granahan, was on the cases' intake documents. But whoever did the negative research didn't look further or ignored the facts. The cases were handled from beginning to end by other prosecutors.
The ad “falsely disparages Kane's record as a prosecutor,” said her former supervisor, First Assistant District Attorney Gene Talerico.
“A simple review of relevant court records demonstrates the falsity of the claims made in the television advertisement,” he wrote, “and illustrates the reckless disregard — of those airing the ad — for the truth.” He called them “outrageous false attacks” and urged the nonprofit, which raises money for GOP state candidates across the country, to pull the ad.
The ad brought back bad memories, a victim's father said, but “what makes this advertisement even more offensive is it isn't even true.” His letter, released by the Kane campaign, also urged the committee to yank the ad. The father said he never dealt with Kane and the GOP committee “should be ashamed.”
Despite the protests, the ad ran for five days before it was changed.
A new version substitutes a third rape case, faulting Kane for “failing miserably” by winning a conviction on lesser charges, not rape, and a four- to 10-year sentence.
To be clear, these are not Freed's ads. But independent expenditures are clearly made to help specific candidates — in this case, Freed.
What did Freed say about this?
“David Freed is running his campaign in the way he's run the district attorney's office for the past seven years, with honesty and integrity. It's our sincere hope that our opponent, as well as any outside groups that are supporting our campaign or our opponent's campaign, conduct themselves in an honest and ethical manner,” said spokesman Tim Kelly.
In its defense, the Republican State Leadership Committee issued a disingenuous press release, a supposed “fact check” noting the charging documents contained the name Kathleen Granahan.
It is only going to get uglier.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).