Ron Barber, a former aide to Gabby Giffords who was wounded in the mass shooting that nearly killed her, now holds her seat in Congress. The Republican he narrowly defeated in 2012, Martha McSally, is running against him again this year, and it's a close race again. McSally doesn't believe in closing the gun-show loophole, so Giffords's gun-control PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, began running this ad in the district last Tuesday:
The editorial board of The Arizona Republic is disgusted that a woman whose life was ruined by gun violence might respond to another brutal act of gun violence by denouncing a political candidate who wants to enable yet more gun violence:
Vile ad bounces off McSally, sticks to Gabby GiffordsNo, but McSally is unswervingly opposed to closing the gun-show loophole -- as an Arizona Republic fact check noted last week.
... The ad is a nasty piece of work. Demagoguery in heart-rending tones.
A mother with sorrowful eyes appears on screen and tells the real-life story of a family horror. "My daughter was just 19 when she told her boyfriend their relationship was over. And he got a gun and shot her and my husband."
Portraits emerge of the two victims -- a pretty young girl and her father in military dress. The mother tears up. Her voice cracks. "He (the stalker) had threatened her before, and I knew, I just knew."
Then appears the face of Martha McSally, with words both spoken and superimposed on screen: "Martha McSally opposes making it harder for stalkers to get a gun."
The ad waves the bloody shirt. Takes the tragic killing of two innocents and drops it at McSally's feet, as if she were responsible. A murder indictment implied.
But, of course, McSally had nothing to do with these deaths....
In March 2012, McSally was specifically asked about the gun-show loophole during a debate hosted by the Sabino Teen-Age Republicans at Sabino High School....("I have the right as a private citizen to sell my possession to anyone I want to"? Anyone? So a law preventing me from selling a gun to a minor, or a convicted felon, is unconstitutional? And if any "possession" is mine to do with as I please, I suppose it's OK if I sell my unused prescription painkillers to some schoolkids, right?)
McSally responded by saying that the question is flawed because "it's not a loophole."
"It's the law," she said. "I mean, the law is clearly based on the Second Amendment that we all have the right to keep and bear arms. And I have the right as a private citizen to sell my possession to anyone I want to. It's my lawful right. So, just like I can sell my car, I can sell my gun. And so, that's the law, and that's not a loophole. It's freedom. And absolutely, it needs to stay that way, because any restrictions on that, at gun shows or other places, is just absolutely unconstitutional."
When the ad first went on the air, it didn't seem to alarm anyone at the Republic. Columnist EJ Montini wrote, "It doesn't matter which candidate you're voting for, we should talk about this. Good for Giffords for trying to start a conversation."
Similarly, when Politico's Alex Eisenstadt saw the ad in the first week of September, before it went on the air, he wrote a very neutral story about the ad buy. This particular spot wasn't even called "tough" or "hard-hitting." But yesterday, all of a sudden, Eisenstadt published a piece for Politico focusing on the very same ad campaign, under the title "Gabby Giffords Gets Mean."
The former Democratic congresswoman, whose recovery from a gunshot wound to the head captivated the country, has unleashed some of the nastiest ads of the campaign season, ... with attacks even some left-leaning commentators say go too far.Gosh, what changed? I'd say it's the fact that McSally is pushing back hard at the ads. She says she herself has been stalked, and therefore tying her to a stalker's crime is offensive. She says she wants the ad taken down.
Also, she's very, very important to the GOP.
Republicans love McSally because they clearly believe her presence in Congress would help them narrow their current gender gap with Democrats. If you wanted to build a right-wing feminist in a lab, you'd probably come up with someone much like McSally. She was the first female Air Force pilot to fly in combat and the first woman in the Air Force to command a combat aviation squadron. In 2001, she sued the Defense Department to overturn the requirement that women serving in Saudi Arabia wear abayas while off base.
She was named one of the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Young Guns" in 2012 and this year. Politico has called her "the House GOP's top recruit." If she wins, the GOP star-maker machinery is going to make sure that she's on TV as often as possible. It's easy to imagine her being groomed for John McCain's Senate seat.
So if she decides to do a basketball/soccer-style "flop" -- if, in other words, she claims she's been grievously fouled, when the attack she's complaining about is really within the rules -- then the party apparatus is going to send the word to the media that she really is a victim and that the Giffords ad is simply beyond the pale.
And the press, of course, is going to retransmit whatever it's told by the GOP.
All of this reminds me that Matt Bai, in his new book, is wrong:
If Nixon's resignation created the character culture in American politics, then [Gary] Hart's undoing marked the moment when political reporters ceased to care about almost anything else. By the 1990s, the cardinal objective of all political journalism had shifted from a focus on agendas to a focus on narrow notions of character, from illuminating worldviews to exposing falsehoods. If post-Hart political journalism had a motto, it would be: "We know you're a fraud somehow. Our job is to prove it."No, "the cardinal objective of all political journalism" is not to reveal politicians' character flaws. The cardinal objective of all (or at least most) political journalism is to define the political center on any issue, usually with the assistance of entrenched conservative political interests. That's what's going on here. The GOP wants to frame the response to this ad so the public ignores the message and is outraged at the attack on a Republican candidate. And the press is all too happy to help the GOP do the framing.