SPRINGFIELD – A campaign ad from the Republican candidate for Illinois governor is being called into question for tailoring – and even making up – headlines from news stories to make them appear more negative about his opponent.
Businessman Bruce Rauner's 30-second commercial called "Headlines," released this week, overlays what appear to be newspaper headlines over black-and-white images of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and criticizes his record on jobs, an income tax hike, education funding and a federal probe into a troubled anti-violence program. The commercial then cuts to Rauner, standing in a sunny front yard, promising change in Springfield if elected.
But a review of the commercial, as first reported by the Chicago Tribune, finds several cases where the so-called headlines don't accurately reflect the source cited.
Using articles and editorials is a relatively commonplace practice by campaigns, though many ads feature pulled quotes showing where the text appeared in various newspapers and websites – a tactic the Rauner campaign did not use in the "Headlines" spot.
Rauner's campaign defended both the practice and its ad. "The TV ad does not say everything that appears on screen was a headline," spokesman Mike Schrimpf wrote in an email. "Due to time and space constraints, some of the phrases had to be condensed."
Quinn told reporters Thursday that the ad was an example of "a pattern of dishonesty" his challenger has displayed.
The commercial indicates that an April 11 report by The Associated Press on an Illinois Education Association debate between Quinn and Rauner featured the headline "Quinn education cuts lead to teacher layoffs and larger class sizes." The full AP headline on the story was "Quinn, Rauner spar over education in 1st meeting of 2014 Illinois governor campaign."
Rauner's ad also cites an AP story from June 20 as saying, "Pat Quinn. Pay to Play." The full AP headline was "Breakfast fundraiser 'honoring Pat Quinn' raises 'pay to play' questions in Illinois."
Other "headlines" attributed to the Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and Crain's Chicago Business were shortened from their original versions. A March 26 Crain's Chicago Business story titled "Quinn doubles down on tax hike gamble" was cut to, "Quinn doubles down on tax hike."
Chicago-based political analyst Thom Serafin said conveying the authenticity of the news outlets quoted in such advertisements is vital and described the Rauner commercial as "very sloppy" and "counterproductive."
He suggested the campaign consider editing the ad "so there's no mistake that what we're talking about is the opponent, not the construction of the ad."
But Pat Brady, a political consultant and former Illinois Republican Party chairman, defended the ad.
"The policy positions that Quinn took were accurately portrayed and that's what matters," Brady said. "There was no attempt to mislead."
The commercial comes amid other accusations of falsehoods in the nationally watched governor's race. Late last month, both campaigns were sharply criticized for issuing fake news releases from one another.