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Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny are vying for the Republican line in the 21st Congressional district.
Elise Stefanik and Matt Doheny are vying for the Republican line in the 21st Congressional district.

NY-21: Negative attack ads manipulate media coverage

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The Republican candidates for the North Country's seat in Congress continued their campaigning this weekend. Elise Stefanik was going door to door in Warrensburg and Fort Edward. Matt Doheny crisscrossed the district from Chaumont to Inlet to Warrenburg.

The two are careening towards an early primary on June 24, just 15 days from today. Voting in party primaries is usually low; the two candidates are doing their utmost to get the rank and file voter's attention.

Meanwhile, the ad war hit a new level of nasty, drawing complaints from the local media in the process.

David Sommerstein and Martha Foley sort through what's going on with the ads and the developing race.

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David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Martha Foley: So last week, ads were released on behalf of both candidates – both of them pretty vicious and both of manipulating local media reports to their own ends. What happened?

David Sommerstein: First, American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-led Super PAC bought a massive $240,000 buy for an ad they call "Mistakes." It attacks Matt Doheny, the Alexandria Bay businessman who made a lot of money on Wall Street.

Doheny ran for this seat twice against Congressman Bill Owens and lost both times. He also wanted to run in the special election in 2009, but GOP leaders chose Dede Scozzafava instead.

Doheny himself struck back with an ad called "The Truth" against Elise Stefanik, a political newcomer who worked for Paul Ryan's Vice Presidential run and in the George W. Bush White House. She moved last year to Willsboro in Essex County.

As you can see in the ads, there are accusations of lying, of being "Washington" and "Wall Street" insiders, and ominous music. You definitely get the sense of viciousness going on in this race right now.

Both ads contain a mixture of falsehood, fact, and the murky middle.

MF: And both of them manipulate reporting done by local media, including North Country Public Radio.

DS: Yes, this is one of the big thru-lines to come out of this batch of ads. The Watertown Daily Times, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and North Country Public Radio are all cited in these ads. Small pieces of reporting are taken out of context or misrepresented or misattributed.

The Times pushed back and said what was quoted in the American Crossroads/anti-Doheny ad was actually a reference in a two year-old blog to another publication.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise called for anti-Stefanik ad to be pulled because it quotes a freelance blogger who doesn't even work for the paper.

And North Country Public Radio called for both campaigns to scrap their ads. NCPR particularly called out the Doheny campaign's anti-Stefanik ad because it uses actual audio from our reporter, Brian Mann. The argument is the use of that audio violates the legal concept of "fair use."

This argument appears to be very much a gray area in political law. Many other media organizations have tried to make the same case, including Tom Brokaw and NBC in 2012.

Most media outlets covering this race are aiming for balance, impartiality, and fairness. They get very upset at the possibility that potential voters would think they've taken sides because of their inclusion in these ads.

MF: So the campaign goes on. And there is at least a less unfiltered way to judge the candidates coming up this week.

DS: Debate number two! Matt Doheny and Elise Stefanik face off at the studios of WWNY in Watertown on Thursday. North Country Public Radio and Mountain lake PBS are co-sponsors. I'll be one of the panelists. We'll be airing that debate Thursday night at 7 right here.

During the first debate, both candidates were trying to claim the higher ground, repeatedly accusing the other of being more negative. Now that these attack ads are out, it'll be interesting to see how that narrative evolves.

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