A Screening Room With A Point Of View
If you think the election-year debate has descended to the level of a farcical B-movie plot, then On The Media has the campaign coverage for you.
Once again, the program produced by public media's WNYC in New York is using the trappings of the campy old cable TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, reimagined as "Media Scrutiny Theater."
Instead of involuntary astronaut Joel and his robot companions, we see illustrated silhouettes of On The Media hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield sitting in a classic movie theater. And instead of mocking low-budget horror and science-fiction movies, as the original did, Brooke and Bob focus on campaign ads and video.
These segments debuted during the 2010 campaign and continued during this year's primaries and caucus season. With the convention and fall campaign looming, animated Brooke and Bob are back in their theater seats, munching popcorn as they fact-check and heckle attack ads from Mitt Romney's campaign and an independent group backing President Obama.
The first new installment focuses on an ad by Priorities USA Action, an Obama superPAC. The ad features a former Missouri steelworker who holds Mitt Romney's Bain Capital responsible for losing his job and his health coverage and for his wife's subsequent cancer death. Except all that is "not quite true," Brooke says.
On The Media is not alone in knocking this 90-second ad. Fact-checking website PolitiFact ranked the ad "false." And an analysis by FactCheck.org said the ad is "misleading on several counts." (OTM's Bob also dinged the ad in a column he wrote for The Guardian.)
The Washington Post's Fact-Checker gave the ad four "Pinocchios" for using this particular worker's story (the Post also has profiled the worker, Joe Soptic, who has become a regular figure on the campaign trail). But the Post found that the larger story of Romney's connection to Bain and the particular Missouri plant in question "falls into a gray area" because "many key decisions" about the plant "were made while Romney was running Bain ... even if the denouement came when he was no longer in charge."
Update, Aug. 23, 4:45 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Washington Post gave this ad one Pinocchio on its four-Pinocchio scale of inaccuracy. That was Fact-Checker's grade for an earlier Obama campaign ad based on the same worker's story. (Thanks to the eagle-eyed commenter who caught this.)
The second feature in the Media Scrutiny screening room is an official 30-second ad from the Romney campaign that portrays Obama as a mealy-mouthed Israel supporter. Romney, the ad says, will be the kind of president "who stands by our allies" and "knows America holds a deep and cherished relationship with Israel."
Media Scrutiny Theater paused on the charge that Obama had not visited Israel as president, so Brooke and Bob could list other U.S. allies the president has not yet visited.
PolitiFact found that the Romney ad was correct on that point, but the truth-squadding site also pointed out that Obama visited Israel twice before his election. The Post's Fact-Checker also noted that seven of the last 11 presidents did not visit Israel as president. And two of the four who did make the trip — Richard Nixon and George W. Bush — waited until their second terms.
Another issue the Romney ad focuses on is official U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. PolitiFact rated the ad half-true on that point:
"As a candidate, Obama identified Jerusalem as Israel's capital. But as president since then, he has shied away from making statements that could be perceived as taking sides in the ongoing peace process. That's not so much a refusal on his part but a continuation of the line taken before him by previous presidents."
The ad also emphasizes Romney's pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Fact-Checker called that "a campaign promise waiting to be broken," especially given the number of previous candidates who have made and broken that particular vow:
"Like Lucy and the football, the pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is a campaign promise that is never fulfilled."
We'll post future Media Scrutiny Theater episodes here, or you can follow them on OTM's blog and on the show's YouTube channel. And if Tom Servo or Crow T. Robot shows up on Meet The Press, we'll let you know that, too.