Congressman, is this the best you've got?

Congressman, is this the best you've got?

July 29th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann speaks to the Hamilton County Pachyderms at the Hamilton County Republican Headquarters. He will Debate Weston Wamp in the GOP 3rd District primary race today.

Photo by Shawn Paik/Times Free Press.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, in person is deferential but guarded, earnest but reticent. Some of his negative ads are another thing entirely.

They're downright dishonest.

The worst one to date in the 2014 campaign is a mailer that portrays Weston Wamp, Fleischmann's opponent in the Aug. 7 Republican congressional primary, burning a passport over the words "Weston Wamp supports amnesty for illegal immigrants."

The issue aside for the moment, the ad was created by photographic manipulation. Wamp's head is placed on a photo of someone burning a passport, giving voters the idea Fleischmann's challenger actually took the opportunity to thumb his nose at the 3rd District and show them what he really thinks about people passing across the border.

The ad also includes the logo of WTCI, on whose airwaves the words by Wamp quoted on the ad were uttered in a debate earlier this month sponsored by WTCI and the Times Free Press.

However, a WTCI spokeswoman charged Friday the "unauthorized use of our logo and service mark is potentially misleading to the public. We want to be clear that WTCI does not endorse the campaign communications of any candidate in this race or any race and that the mailing does not necessarily represent the views of the staff or the board of WTCI."

It further says "the Chuck Fleischmann for Congress Committee did not seek permission to use WTCI's logo, and it was not granted. We've asked the organization to withdraw the mailer from circulation and cease to distribute it immediately."

Unfortunately, 3rd District voters can't unsee something they've already seen in their mail, and voters not paying good attention might believe WTCI is endorsing Fleischmann.

That wouldn't be the first time his campaign used an image to imply something that wasn't true. In the 2010 GOP primary, his campaign used an image of the seal of Tennessee in an attempt to portray an annual fiscal audit of the Tennessee Republican Party as an actual audit by the state, records show.

The use of the seal and the audit, which showed a low amount in only one of four party funds but attempted to make it look like the party was broke, was done to characterize then-challenger Robin Smith, immediate past chairwoman of the party, as a poor manager.

Another 2014 Fleischmann ad, also about illegal immigration, edits Wamp's words so that he appears to say, "We need to find a pathway for them to be legal ..." What you don't hear is the phrase before the quote, in which he says "there are a lot of people who are illegally working," or the rest of the quote, in which he says he wants them to be "legal but not citizens, but pay taxes. And, unfortunately, the Congress does nothing."

The same ad clips his words from another interview to say, "You'll rarely hear me criticize the president ...," but the rest of the quote, in which he explains there are already plenty of people doing that, are not used.

The ad then ends with an announcer saying Wamp "won't demand action from President Obama to secure our borders."

The truth is the challenger has been vocal in debates and elsewhere about the need to secure the border.

Still another Fleischmann spot says "some guys talk about why they're so great ... and do silly things to get attention" and later says "public service isn't about famous last names or looking cool."

"Talk about why they're so great?" "Looking cool?"

This isn't an election for middle school student council president. This is for Congress of the United States of America.

In a post-debate interview with WRCB-TV last week, Fleischmann defended the campaign's advertising.

"I wouldn't necessarily view it in terms of negative and positive," he said. "When we go out and we campaign, we say things. We say things on the record. I'm talking to you now. When we say things and advocate positions, people need to know about that. Sometimes, the advertisements are the way that, that gets out."

That's it?

Where is the dignity from the congressman who appeared to chokeup talking about the country at last week's Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute forum or who believes, as his ad says, the election is "about the country's future?"

Is this the best we can expect from a man who wants a third term in Congress, who is happy to talk about presiding over the House when it passed the recent water bill, his part in rescuing Erlanger hospital last winter and the veterans clinics that opened on his watch?

This, in fact, is why so many are turned off politics and Congress altogether. Intellectually, they see and hear the ads, recognize photo manipulation, hear how someone's words are edited, know there's likely little truth in them but shrug them off as "just politics."

It ought not be that way, and Fleischmann ought not be part of it.