Nethercutt fires back with newspaper ads
U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt fired back Tuesday at a Seattle newspaper that he contends deliberately distorted his comments about the aftermath of the war in Iraq.
In three-quarter-page ads in The Spokesman-Review, the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Washington, D.C.'s RollCall, Nethercutt said an Oct. 14 story in the P-I was "the equivalent of a negative political commercial against me."
The newspaper said it stands by its story.
A Democratic campaign consultant said the ad was an interesting but risky strategy, designed to show Nethercutt will stand up to the news media. A GOP consultant said it was a "gutsy move by Nethercutt to try and stop the bleeding on this."
The Spokane Republican is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Patty Murray next year.
At issue is a story about Nethercutt's Oct. 13 town hall meeting in Seattle, held after he had visited Iraq with a congressional delegation.
Nethercutt showed a videotape from the trip, then said the story of U.S. reconstruction in Iraq is not being told fully by the news media. On that much, the congressman and the newspaper story agree.
Near the start of its story, the P-I said:
"The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable," Nethercutt, R-Wash., told an audience of about 65 at a noon meeting at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.
"It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."
He added that he did not want any more soldiers to be killed, the story said before relating some background details of Nethercutt's committee assignments and support for President Bush's Iraq budget.
In his ad, Nethercutt published a transcript of his comments based on a tape from TVW, the state's public affairs network, which broadcast the meeting: "So the story is better than we might be led to believe in the news. I'm just indicting the news people, but it's, it's a bigger and better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day which, which heaven forbid is awful."
The ad called the newspaper's depiction of the event an "out of context fragment of a sentence" designed to make him look indifferent to U.S. casualties.
"This is an effort on the part of the P-I to start the campaign and take their hits," Nethercutt said in an interview Tuesday. "They had a story in mind when they went out there."
David McCumber, managing editor of the P-I, said the suggestion that a reporter went to the meeting with a preconceived story is "ridiculous on its face."
Accusing a newspaper of deliberately misquoting someone is one of the worst accusations a person can make, McCumber said.
"Obviously, we don't feel we did that," he said. "We quoted him accurately. We paraphrased part of his quote, but we paraphrased it in context."
Nethercutt's campaign requested a correction shortly after the story was published. The newspaper reviewed the story and concluded none was necessary. Nethercutt said the conversation wound up with the newspaper acting "defensive"; McCumber described the conversation as amicable.
The newspaper's story was widely circulated in the national media, and Nethercutt was criticized by columnists and television news analysts.
He decided to respond with the ad, he said, because the story created a false impression that had a "rolling effect" as it was repeated.
"To not respond would be to leave the false impression with people that's what I accept," he said Tuesday.
Cathy Allen, a Democratic campaign consultant at Seattle's Campaign Connection, said she would never advise a client to get into a public argument with a newspaper.
But the ad could send a message to potential supporters, Allen said.
"It's a good way to get out the message of `I'll stand up to anything because I'll take on the press,' " she said. "Most people think the press is filled with inaccuracies anyway."
Brett Bader, a Republican strategist at the Madison Group in Bellevue, said the decision of whether to respond is "a classic dilemma for a candidate" that has no single rule.
"To suggest that George Nethercutt feels no sadness or remorse (for American casualties) . . . it's necessary to respond to that," Bader said. The P-I story had been repeated so many times it had "taken on a life of its own."
The incident might also be a lesson for what lies ahead for Nethercutt in the Senate campaign, Bader said: "This is kind of the difference between running for re-election in the 5th (District) and running statewide."
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