Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 13, 2012

Truth Squad: Hyperbole isn't backed up

By the Michigan Truth Squad

---- — - Analysis: "Replacement Refs"

- Who: Hoekstra for Senate

- What: TV ads

- Truth Squad calls: Flagrant foul on Hoekstra

Questionable statement

"What's the most watched sport around here? It's the debate about Debbie Stabenow being the worst senator ever. All of the taxes she voted for and her dismal record on jobs. It can get pretty heated."

This ad takes place in a bar and mimics the old "Tastes Great, Less Filling" Miller beer commercials. It's another in a series of ads in which Republican challenger Pete Hoekstra labels Democrat Stabenow as the "worst senator ever" without comparing her record to that of any other Michigan senator.

Questionable statement

"How many more Michigan people are out of a job since Stabenow took office? Drum roll please. In your face!" One bar patron holds up a sign that says "196,587 more Michiganders unemployed." The number is correct, as measured by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics series.

Questionable statement

"Try this! These are just some of the times Stabenow voted to raise taxes on hard-working families. If you're married, have kids, run a small business, Stabenow has socked you big. Stabenow has even voted for the dreaded death tax!"

Another bar patron holds up a sign that says, "Debbie Stabenow voted to raise taxes 150 times. Against reducing the marriage tax. Against doubling the per child tax credit. To raise taxes on Michigan small business."

Viewers aren't provided with sources for any of these statements. They are instead directed to a website,, which also provides no background material for any of the claims made in the ad. The Hoekstra campaign did respond to an inquiry from the Truth Squad with a list of votes they used to get to the 150 total.

A note at the top of the list includes a variety of caveats in the calculation:

"The votes in this tally are votes against tax cuts as well as votes to raise taxes, votes in favor of reducing proposed tax cuts, votes for non-binding resolutions supporting taxes, votes to eliminate particular tax cut provisions while retaining others, etc. Because of this, the language must be votes 'in favor of higher taxes' to be accurate. Be aware that in certain instances in the votes below, a majority of Republicans voted the way Stabenow did. Please also be aware that these votes cannot be characterized in a way that implies that each one would have resulted in a tax increase; this would be inaccurate."

Stabenow, with most other Senate Democrats and two Republicans, did vote against the 2001 tax cuts, known as the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001. The act included a cut in the capital gains tax, a credit for married couples filing joint income tax returns, an increase in the child tax credit and a phase-out of the estate tax, which Republicans like to call the "death tax." But in 2012, she voted to extend the Bush-era 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for households with incomes of under $250,000.

Questionable statement

Referee: "After further review, the ruling on the field is, you're both wrong! The reason why Stabenow is the worst ever is because of her wasteful spending!" Bartender: "He's a replacement ref." No examples of wasteful spending are cited in the ad. The bartender casts doubt on the call, pointing out that the official is just a replacement ref.

Overall impression

This ad has some accurate claims. For example, there are nearly 200,000 more Michiganresidents counted as unemployed than there were at the start of Stabenow's Senate tenure in 2001.

But, in another instance, the ad clearly contradicts the source material on which it is based — and ignores warnings about accurate use of the source material. The on-screen claim that Stabenow "voted to raise taxes 150 times" is "inaccurate," according to the Hoekstra campaign's own source material, which urges, "Please also be aware that these votes cannot be characterized in a way that implies that each one would have resulted in a tax increase."

And it's a stretch to place the blame solely on the shoulders of a U.S.senator, as Hoekstra tries to do. Many others played a role. A Republican president led the country for eight of the nearly 12 years Stabenow has been in the Senate. AndMichigan's decade-long economic decline started in the final two years of Republican Gov. John Engler's tenure in office.

Stabenow voted against the 2001 tax cuts. She voted earlier this year to extend those tax cuts for "middle-class" taxpayers.

Hoekstra's claim that Stabenow is the worst Michigan senator ever is just meaningless name-calling.

Foul or no foul

Flagrant foul."Worst senator?" "Wasteful spending?" If you are going to use hyperbolic claims, you had better offer data to support the case. The Hoekstra camp with this ad is asking the viewer/voter to take the assertions at face value. Hoekstra also fails to explain how a single U.S. senator is personally responsible for the economic results of an entire state over an entire decade. Most seriously, the "voted to raise taxes 150 times" claim ignores and contradicts the very source material on which the claim is based.