U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, seeking the Republican nomination for governor, unleashed a TV commercial Feb. 4 casting Gov. Rick Perry as beholden to special interests and lobbyists, including two who served as his top gubernatorial assistants.
The ad flashes what look like seven ominous newspaper headlines about Perry before a narrator says: "There are two ways to get things done in Austin. Hire a lobbyist and donate to this governor. Or elect a new one."
We wondered if Hutchison’s "New One" ad accurately reflected original headlines and news stories. (For this Truth-O-Meter item, we are focusing on Hutchison's use of the headlines — a common campaign technique. We are not assessing the accuracy of those articles or her overall Perry critique.)
Hutchison spokesman Joe Pounder initially said every headline in the ad matched original published headlines. He later said the ad presents "pull quotes," meaning excerpts from articles and not necessarily the original headlines.
Using Nexis, an electronic news retrieval service, we found that four of the quotations presented in Hutchison’s ad were identical to published headlines on news stories. Hutchison’s campaign showed that a fifth also was correct. The correctly quoted headlines are: "Perry to Name Lobbyist As New Chief of Staff;" "Lobbyists Revolving In, Out of Perry Staff Positions;" "Perry Shakes Down Special Interests, Lobbyists;" "Companies That Gave to Perry Got Road Contract;" and "Perry’s Top Donors Get Business."
We noticed, though, that the headline about Perry shaking down special interests topped an editorial—not a news story—published in The Houston Chronicle about Perry in July 2000. At the time, Perry was lieutenant governor. He succeeded George W. Bush as governor in late 2000.
The Chronicle editorial questioned a Perry letter asking lobbyists to buy $1,000 tickets to an upcoming political fund-raiser. Perry, the newspaper opined, "has just made it abundantly clear that he knows no bounds when it comes to shaking down special interests with business before the Texas Legislature."
According to the editorial, Perry's letter asked lobbyists to specify how much money each of their corporate and group clients would be sending the lieutenant governor's way—potentially fostering illegal corporate donations or encouraging lobbyists to see links between donations and state business, the newspaper said. "With his latest fund-raising letter holding legislative lobbyists responsible for money contributed by their clients, Perry explicitly links campaign money to business before the Legislature," the editorial states.
Two of the headline-like quotations in Hutchison’s ad were not previously published headlines on news articles: "Perry’s Former Chief of Staff is A Lobbyist for Merck" and "A Shroud of Secrecy Has Descended on the Governor’s Office." (The published headlines for those articles: "Reluctant governor yields on HPV shots; Calling a veto useless, Perry chides legislators for reversing his vaccination order" and "Perry refusal to release memo nothing new, He cites attorney-client privilege, this time in the execution controversy.")
We confirmed, though, that the two quotations presented to look like headlines accurately reflected portions of the related news articles.
It’s not unusual for campaign ads to present excerpts from newspaper stories as a stream of headlines. It’s also not rare for a candidate to quote an editorial as news reportage, even though editorials are opinion pieces.
Still, a voter could conclude that Hutchison’s ad consists entirely of genuine clear-cut news headlines. That’s not so.
We give her use of the headlines a rating of Mostly True.