By Daniel Dale and Andrew Kaczynski, CNN
A super PAC supporting Mehmet Oz, the celebrity surgeon and prominent candidate in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary, has released an attack ad that wildly distorts the past remarks and positions of Kathy Barnette, a party rival who is surging in late-campaign polls.
The super PAC, American Leadership Action, tries to depict the right-wing Barnette, who ran unsuccessfully for the US House of Representatives in 2020, as a “crazy” advocate of liberal positions. To do so, though, the super PAC misleadingly truncated Barnette’s past comments about race and policing and added inaccurate introductions to these shortened clips.
The primary takes place on Tuesday. The super PAC did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Barnette’s views on systemic racism among police officers
The ad’s narrator suggests viewers are about to hear Barnette speak on the subject of “violence.” The ad then shows a clip of Barnette, who is Black, saying, “Black Americans feel disenfranchised.” After a quick cut, the ad shows her saying, “Systemic racism. Specifically among police officers.”
Facts First: This segment of the ad is deceptive in two significant ways. First, it completely reverses Barnette’s position on systemic racism among police officers: These short clips were snipped from a May 2020 YouTube commentary in which Barnette explicitly rejected the idea that there is systemic racism among officers. Second, in this same YouTube commentary and in other remarks, Barnette has repeatedly denounced violence, rioting and looting.
Here are Barnette’s actual comments about systemic racism and police officers in the YouTube commentary:
“Listen, there is a reason why many Black Americans feel disenfranchised in America. And I will never try to minimize the reasons why many of them feel that way. And yet a lot of what we see is manipulation. It’s the stoking of the flame of the tensions of the history of this nation. For example, many are saying today that what we are experiencing — what happened to George, George Floyd — is systemic racism in our justice system, specifically among police officers. They would have us to believe that there is a police officer like Officer Chauvin, who had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, around every street corner. And that everywhere we go, there is a police officer waiting to shoot a Black man. I reject that. And I don’t reject it because I feel like that’s not true. I reject it because it is — statistically is not true.”
She went on to cite various statistics she claimed proved her point.
Nothing in Barnette’s remarks was an endorsement of violence in general, or protest violence in particular. In fact, at other moments in the YouTube commentary — which she titled “On the Issues: Justice vs Rioting” — Barnette criticized Pennsylvania Democrats for, in her opinion, not doing enough to condemn or stop rioting.
Barnette’s views on Black Lives Matter and social unrest
The ad’s narrator introduces a Barnette clip he describes as a comment “on Black Lives Matter.” The ad then shows Barnette on camera saying, “The reason for so much unrest in the Black community is because of White racism.” The narrator then says in an incredulous tone, “White racism?” The ad again shows Barnette saying, “White racism.”
Facts First: This segment of the ad is also deceptive in two significant ways. First, Barnette’s comment about White racism causing unrest in the Black community was not about the Black Lives Matter movement and not even about the present day: The full YouTube video shows she was paraphrasing the findings of a Lyndon B. Johnson presidential commission that looked into the causes of rioting in 1967. And though the ad vaguely hints that Barnette is a supporter of Black Lives Matter, she has actually been a vocal and repeated critic of that movement — at one point likening it to “a bad case of herpes.”
Here’s what Barnette actually said about “White racism” in the 2020 video from which the ad snipped:
“So listen, in 1960 (sic) the Kerner Commission provided a report to Lyndon B. Johnson to help him understand why there was so much unrest in the Black community. They spent, I’m sure, a ton of money, to point out the obvious — and that is White racism. That is what the Kerner report highlighted — was the reason for so much unrest in the Black community, is because of White racism. Specifically discrimination in home ownership, education and employment, that there was huge disparities between White community and the Black community, and that’s the reason for the unrest. Now, many of us could’ve told them that without spending all that money.”
Barnette went on talk about the present, saying “not much has changed” in terms of the Black home ownership rate. But she then argued that Democratic leadership was responsible for the present racial gap in home ownership rates — and defended former President Donald Trump’s controversial “what do you have to lose?” 2016-campaign question to Black voters.
Barnette’s comments were a little vague. But the book she authored and was promoting in the video — called “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America” — made clear that she does not think “White racism” is the cause of current unrest. She argued in the book: “Welfare policies of the 1960s, not racism or a lack of jobs or the legacy of slavery, is the cause of the dysfunction in black communities.”
She has also expressed her opposition to Black Lives Matter on social media. In a July 2020 Facebook comment, she said of Black Lives Matter: “I do not support the organization.” In an emotional Facebook video that month, after a 1-year-old was shot and killed at a New York City park, she criticized various proposals supported by Black Lives Matter activists and said, “Black Lives Matter Global Network Incorporated does not care about my Black life.”
In September 2020, she wrote on Facebook, “Overwhelmingly, my black life does NOT matter to these white liberals who litter their yards with BLM signs.” In December 2020, she included “BLM” on a Facebook list of examples of how Democrats had unleashed “literal hell” on the country. And she offered the herpes metaphor in a Facebook video in February.
Barnette’s proposal for an Obama statue
The ad’s narrator also says, “And Barnette wants to erect a statue of Barack Obama.”
Facts First: This needs context. Barnette has been a critic of Obama for years; during his presidency, she tweeted that she “can’t stand” him, described him as a tyrant and spread the false conspiracy theory that he is Muslim. In 2020, however, Barnette proposed erecting an Obama statue, along with a statue of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, as a unifying alternative to tearing down existing statues, an idea she and many other conservatives oppose.
Barnette started an online petition saying that instead of removing the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, DC that depicts a freed slave crouching in front of President Abraham Lincoln, as some activists were demanding at the time, statues of the Obama family and Douglass should be erected in symbolic positions near that existing memorial. Barnette wrote on Facebook and Twitter: “SIGN: Please sign our petition to STOP the toppling of our history and to find a meaningful path to uniting our nation.”
In the petition, Barnette argued that taking down representations of the past is “not the answer for our nation’s future.” She said that a statue of Obama and his family — which she suggested positioning so that the statue of the freed slave would appear to be looking at the Obamas — would serve as a testament to US race relations having gotten better.
The petition said: “This will serve as an example of how far we have come as a nation and how we stand today on the shoulders of those who have come before us. This is an endorsement of the people of this nation, both black and white, who elected the first black president. This is a historical fact that testifies to the heart of this nation and specifically to how far the black community has come. Racial relations are not as it was in 1619, 1776, 1863 or 1964…our nation continues to move forward. To pretend otherwise is beyond disingenuous.”
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