How to invent a murder

How to invent a murder

August 17th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

President Barack Obama shields the spotlight from his eyes as he works the crowd after a campaign speech Tuesday in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The president wasn't born in the United States? His challenger is a rich elitist who can't feel your pain? The president wants everybody to be dependent on government? The GOP's presidential nominee-to-be didn't pay taxes?

Child's play.

Folks, if you really want to smear a candidate, accuse him of killing somebody. And if you can't prove that he actually put his hands around that somebody's throat and squeezed, then at least accuse him of causing the death somehow.

There's a left-leaning Super PAC out there called Priorities USA Action -- with the emphasis on the "Action." As for the "Priorities" part -- well, they don't seem to include telling the whole story. Or any parts of the story that don't mesh with the party line.

This outfit -- its slogan ought to be "Smears Are Our Specialty" -- put out a commercial that may have fooled more than a few of the gullible folks out there. The star of the smear was one Joe Soptic, a steelworker who was laid off at his Kansas City job in 2001. The plant had been taken over by Bain Capital in 1993.

Now you know where this is going.

Bain Capital had been run by a man named Mitt Romney, who's been in the news lately. In the commercial, Mr. Soptic says that after he was laid off, he lost his health insurance. Later his wife discovered she had cancer, and died from the disease. In the ad, Joe Soptic says Mitt Romney did it -- and didn't care.

BAM! That was some takedown. In fact, we're not sure we've ever seen an accusation quite as serious, as blatant or as wild as this one. Call it Murder One, or at least negligent homicide. It makes Dan Rather, the CBS anchorman who lost his job, career and reputation after his ax job on George W. Bush, look like a piker.

How could Mitt Romney be such a low-down, dirty dog? That's the kind of question an outraged press, after having seen this commercial, was supposed to ask a besieged Romney camp after it hit the airwaves.

Except the press dug a little deeper, believe it or not. CNN, a news channel not exactly known for its right-wing spin, ran the commercial through its fact-checkers and found it to be almost a total fabrication. For instance:

• The ad failed to mention that Mr. Soptic's wife had her own health care coverage through her company when Mr. Soptic lost his job.

• The ad failed to mention that she didn't lose that coverage until at least 2002, maybe 2003, when she lost her job, and Bain had nothing to do with that.

• The ad failed to mention that Mrs. Soptic wasn't diagnosed with cancer until 2006, five years after Mr. Soptic was laid off.

• The ad failed to mention that Mitt Romney had left Bain years before any of that happened -- even before the closing of the plant, which would come on others' watch.

Now you might think that some of these little details would be sufficiently relevant to mention in a campaign ad, especially one that accuses a presidential candidate of having blood on his hands. But then there wouldn't be much point in running such an ad, would there?

CNN's verdict was soon echoed by other news outlets. The Chicago Tribune called it a "vicious, shameful ad." The New York Daily News called the commercial "sordid" and "sick." Even a Democratic operative whose name you might recognize -- Lanny Davis, formerly a top adviser/apologist for Bill Clinton -- called the ad "disgusting." Soon reporters were peppering the president's spokespeople with questions about the ad, like whether the Obama campaign would distance itself from the super PAC that made it.

President Obama's people responded with a statement which said, roughly, -- and we're paraphrasing here -- "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" (To borrow a line from the late philosopher Gary Coleman.)

This non-response from the White House might be summed up as: What, us? We had nothing to do with that commercial. Federal law prevents campaigns from coordinating with super PACs.

To quote an Obama campaign spokeswoman, Jen Psaki: "The president's people don't have any knowledge of the story or the family." On the same day, deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter told CNN: "I don't know the facts about when Mr. Soptic's wife got sick or the facts about his health insurance."

Here's the gist of the Obama operatives' story/cover up: This ad is just the work of some crazy super PAC run amuck. Whaddaya gonna do? We don't know this Joe Soptic guy from Adam.

Except. . . .

Mr. Soptic participated in an Obama campaign conference call back in May, detailing the story he now tells in the commercial. And who presided over that conference call and strategy session? You guessed it: Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager.

According to dispatches, Mr. Soptic also appeared in an Obama campaign commercial about the same time. And he told CNN the Obama organization has asked him to appear at campaign events.

So much for Obama, Inc., knowing nothing about Joe Soptic and the ad he was going to star in.

Presidential politics has always been dirty. But the man in the White House today, the country was told, was going to be different. He was going to be above that sort of thing. He was going to bring hope. And change. He was going to lift our ethical standards. Instead he's lowered them, or at least his campaign has.

So this election year, we get the same-old, same-old. Only dirtier. Get your slickers ready. It promises to be a muddy fall.