Specter: Killer ad out of context

It's a devastating line in one of the most effective attack ads in memory, Sen. Arlen Specter saying, with a kind of leer, "My change in party will enable me to be re-elected." His opponent in the Democratic primary, Rep. Joe Sestak, had been ticking up in the polls beforehand (he had been little known until he started advertising) but the spot coincided with his recent surge.

Thanks to some nifty detective work by WGAL-TV, of south-central Pennsylvania, it turns out the senator was not quite as blunt as he sounds in the ad. The Specter campaign says the quote was taken out of context.

The full video, taken by FOX 29 on May 1, 2009 shows Specter talking to reporters in Philadelphia. He says, "My change in party will help me be re-elected, and I've heard that again and again and again from people on the street: 'Senator, we're glad you'll be able to stay in the Senate and help the state and nation."

Though he provides more explanation for his switch when the full quote is included, it does not change Specter's meaning significantly: He did jump parties in order to be reelected.  So the ad was accurate. Of course, Specter does go on to explain that he meant to stay in the Senate to help the state and the nation, not for selfish reasons. But as long as the ad does not tell a falsehood, is it the Sestak media consultant's obligation to spell that out?

Reflecting the closeness of the race, the Specter camp has taken to aggressively parsing words and claiming contextual violations in recent weeks.

They jumped on an April 28 Allentown Morning Call profile in which Specter was quoted saying he sometimes wondered if he could have accomplished more good for the country if he had stayed a Republican. The rest of the quote, Specter's people said, made clear that he was talking in the context of the health-care debate. However, the writer paraphrased that thought herself in the next paragraph, so readers could perhaps be excused for not getting what all the fuss was about. (Later, Specter himself confronted the writer at a press conference - despite the natural adversarial relationship between media and politicos, this kind of public calling out is rare.) Click on the link and decide for yourself if the senator was wronged.