Barack Obama demands stations pull misleading ad attacking Biden

The advert takes the audio from Obama's autobiographical commentary on white politicians and misapplies it to his former colleague Joe Biden

Michael Scherer,Anu Narayanswamy
Thursday 27 February 2020 15:16 GMT
President Barack Obama and then vice president Joe Biden share a laugh as the US Senior Men's National Team and Brazil play during a pre-Olympic exhibition basketball game at the Verizon Center on 16 July 2012 in Washington DC
President Barack Obama and then vice president Joe Biden share a laugh as the US Senior Men's National Team and Brazil play during a pre-Olympic exhibition basketball game at the Verizon Center on 16 July 2012 in Washington DC (Getty Images)

Former president Barack Obama on Wednesday called on South Carolina television stations to stop running an ad from a super Political Action Committee (PAC) supporting president Donald Trump that uses Obama’s words out of context in a misleading attack on former vice president Joe Biden.

The Committee to Defend the President, a pro-Trump group, circulated an ad that falsely suggests that words Mr Obama spoke in the narration of his own 1995 book were meant to describe Mr Biden.

The group, which placed a similar amount of anti-Biden advertising in Nevada earlier this month, reported to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday spending more than $250,000 (194k) in South Carolina to oppose Mr Biden.

“This despicable ad is straight out of the Republican disinformation playbook, and it’s clearly designed to suppress turnout among minority voters in South Carolina by taking president Obama’s voice out of context and twisting his words to mislead viewers,” said Katie Hill, Mr Obama’s communications director, in a statement. “In the interest of truth in advertising, we are calling on TV stations to take this ad down and stop playing into the hands of bad actors who seek to sow division and confusion among the electorate.”

Mr Hill said Mr Obama has “several friends” in the Democratic presidential primary, “including, of course, his own esteemed vice president.” She also said Mr Obama still has “no plans to endorse in the primary.”

Late on Wednesday, Patchen Haggerty, an attorney representing Mr Obama, wrote the pro-Trump group’s executive director, Chad Banghart, to say the ad’s unauthorized use of Obama’s “name, image, likeness, voice and book passage is clearly intended to mislead the target audience of the ad into believing that the passage from the audiobook is a statement that was made by president Obama during his presidency.”

The letter demanded that the group “immediately remove” the ad from public view.

An attempt to sway black voters in the state, the ad begins with a narrator saying “Joe Biden promised to help our community. It was a lie. Here’s president Obama.”

The ad then runs audio of a tape of Mr Obama reading an unrelated passage from his 1995 book, “Dreams from My Father,” about a conversation he had with a barber in Chicago when he was a community organiser.

The Obama passage, which describes the mistreatment of black voters by politicians, refers to complaints about “plantation politics” and the history in Chicago of Democratic politicians expecting black votes despite poor housing, poor job opportunities and police brutality.

The ad repurposes a similar attack the Committee to Defend the President ran last year in several states with many black politicians, including Georgia, Michigan and Louisiana, according to PolitiFact. Similar tactics, aimed at decreasing black turnout for Democrats, were used in a radio ad by another pro-Trump super PAC, Great America Alliance, in the 2017 special House election in Georgia.

“Donald Trump and his allies are absolutely terrified that Joe Biden will defeat him in November. Mr Trump even got himself impeached by trying to force another country to lie about the vice president,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden-campaign. “This latest intervention in the Democratic primary is one of the most desperate yet, a despicable torrent of misinformation by the president’s lackeys.”

Separately, Republican activists in South Carolina have boasted about a plan called Operation Chaos to encourage Trump backers to vote for Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent for Vermont, in Saturday’s primary. The South Carolina Grand Old Party (GOP) has canceled the state’s Republican primary this year.

The Committee to Defend the President, which grew out of a group called Stop Hillary PAC, traditionally raises its money in increments of $5,000 (£4250) or less, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records. The group has reported spending $655,285 (£508k)on television advertising, $279,800 (£217k) on voter phone contact, and $144,657 (£112k) on online voter contact since the beginning of 2020.

The group spent about $250,000 (£194k) on a Spanish-language ad before the Nevada caucuses attacking Obama and Biden on immigration reform.

“They separated families and put children in cages,” says the narrator in Spanish in that spot, appropriating a Democratic critique of Mr Trump’s immigration actions.

Ted Harvey, the chairman of the Committee to Defend the President, defended the ad in a statement on Wednesday.

“It took president Trump to lower black unemployment and create jobs for the African-American community, in addition to passing criminal justice reform,” Mr Harvey said in the statement. “Joe Biden, on the other hand, is simply giving lip-service for votes. That’s the point president Obama made in his book, and we have every right to use his own words — in his own voice — in the political forum.”

The Washington Post

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