On a conservative radio program Monday, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel let loose a provocative attack on U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, whose job he hopes to snag next year.
Mandel emphasized the overwhelming vote for a state constitutional amendment that registers opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care reforms. Democrats, meanwhile, have cheered the resounding repeal of GOP-backed restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees.
Over the course of a sometimes fawning 12-minute interview by host Howard Kaloogian, Mandel made several incendiary comments about the Avon Democrat. One particular statement caught PolitiFact Ohio’s ear.
Asked how Ohioans’ health care and labor votes foreshadow 2012, Mandel referenced the Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York two months ago and spread to communities across the country. Mandel specifically focused on reports of distasteful demonstrations that Republicans have sought to make representative of the entire movement.
Brown is "out there egging on a lot of these protesters who are spitting on policemen and going to the bathroom on policemen’s cars at these protests on Wall Street and other places," he said.
It was a bold accusation -- one that had us eager to find evidence of Ohio’s senior senator encouraging such offensive behavior.
But we didn’t, because no such evidence exists.
We first tried Joe Aquilino, a spokesman for Mandel’s campaign who pointed PolitiFact Ohio to emails and a website posting in which Brown offers supportive words for Occupy protesters.
"It’s time to fight back," reads a page on Brown’s campaign website that asks visitors to stand with him as he fights for working families. "Sherrod Brown is a senator for the 99 percent of Americans who play by the rules and have had enough of Wall Street running the show."
The web plea does not refer directly to Occupy Wall Street or to protesters, but the sentiments are the same. While some of the words might be seen as inflammatory, nowhere does Brown suggest that angry citizens spit on law enforcement officials or defecate on a police car.
There have been reports of both types of behavior. A photograph that went viral after being obtained by the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail shows a man squatting over an NYPD cruiser.
Brown, in case you were wondering, is not in the picture.
Aquilino also referred us to a video, posted to YouTube, in which a band at an Occupy Portland rally jams to a repetitive chorus of "F--- the USA."
Brown was nowhere near that protest.
Brown did appear on the MSNBC program "Hardball with Chris Matthews" on Oct. 7. In the interview, which Mandel cited when asked about his claim, Brown praised the protesters.
"I think the energy coming out of the Wall Street protesters is always a good thing," he said.
Brown then seemed to immediately amend the "always" by clarifying: "When people nonviolently speak out and stand for something, it’s good to challenge authority when they do that."
There was no call for such physical forms of protest -- quite the opposite, in fact.
Asked about Mandel’s claim, Brown spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak offered an emailed statement stressing the senator’s support for police officers. Brown, she added in a subsequent telephone conversation, does not condone the type of behavior Mandel specified.
But while none of the provided examples proves Brown encouraged protesters to attack police officers with their spit or stool, Aquilino maintains Mandel never implied otherwise on the radio.
Mandel was "referencing the protesters in general," Aquilino said. "It’s a bigger-picture view of the movement. We’re not saying Sherrod Brown is out there saying to do these things."
Aquilino also wrote in an email that "Josh was saying that Sherrod is supporting the protesters … who in some cases have decided to defecate on cars and spit" on police officers.
But for PolitiFact Ohio, words matter. If Mandel was, as Aquilino claims, speaking "in general" and with a "bigger-picture view," why, then, did Mandel dwell on two very specific story lines?
And "supporting" is far more passive than "egging on," which according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is "to incite to action."
As a public official, Mandel knows words matter. And given the incendiary level of other comments he made in the interview (he says at one point that Brown has "vilified capitalism" and views anyone who creates jobs as "the enemy.") his clear meaning was that Brown was encouraging protesters who are "spitting on policemen and going to the bathroom on policemen’s cars."
That statement is not accurate and also makes a ridiculous claim.
On the Truth-O-Meter, that rates Pants on Fire.