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Selective editing distorts an attack on a pro-gun lawmaker

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“Shame on you, Congressman John Barrow . . . Tell Congressman John Barrow to Reject NRA Blood Money”

— video ad by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

There is something about the gun debate that inspires heated rhetoric on both sides.

Last week we looked at a National Rifle Association ad that made misleading claims about security at Sidwell Friends School, which President Obama’s children attend. Now let’s look at a tough anti-NRA ad sponsored by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, an umbrella organization of 48 religious and other organizations.

The target of this ad is Rep. John Barrow of Georgia — the last white Democratic member of Congress from the Deep South. The CSGV video intercuts scenes from a campaign ad that Barrow ran in 2012 with television footage of the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It certainly packs an emotional punch — but is it fair and accurate?

The Facts

Barrow’s original ad was part of an ad campaign that The Washington Post’s The Fix lauded as “novel” and “one of a kind.” The Fix noted that the ad was cleverly designed to appeal both to white conservative voters and liberal African-American voters. Here’s the ad, and then the full text.

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“I’m John Barrow, and long before I was born, my grandfather used this little Smith & Wesson here to help stop a lynching.
“And for as long as I can remember, my father always had this rifle real handy, just to keep us safe.
“That’s why I support the Second Amendment. And that’s why I am proud to be endorsed by the NRA. I approve this message because these are my guns now. And ain’t nobody going to take them away.”

Barrow was indeed endorsed by the NRA, which issued a statement in October saying that “voters in Georgia can trust that John Barrow will protect our Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage.” The congressman has an “A” rating from the organization.

Now, here’s what the anti-gun violence group does with this ad, intercutting sections of it with news footage of the Sandy Hook tragedy:

“I’m John Barrow…”
[images of breaking news about Sandy Hook]
“And long before I was born…”
[images and voiceover—“20 children targeted”]
“My grandfather used this little Smith & Wesson here...”
[images of people crying, President Obama speaking: “beautiful little kids between five and 10 years old”]
“And for as long as I can remember, my father always had this rifle real handy...”
[three images of Barrow cocking the rifle bolt. scenes and voiceover—“three weapons and begins a massacre”]
“That’s why I am proud to be endorsed by the NRA.”
[image of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre speaking: “The guys with the guns make the rules.” images of slain children]
“I approve this message because these are my guns now. And ain’t nobody going to take them away.”
[words on screen as the names of slain children are read: “Shame on you, Congressman John Barrow…Tell Congressman John Barrow to Reject NRA Blood Money.”]

Pretty slick, huh? Just by exercising a few words, the group manages to completely change the tenor of Barrow’s message. Here are the missing words noted in bold face:

“I’m John Barrow, and long before I was born, my grandfather used this little Smith & Wesson here to help stop a lynching.
“And for as long as I can remember, my father always had this rifle real handy, just to keep us safe.
That’s why I support the Second Amendment. And that’s why I am proud to be endorsed by the NRA. I approve this message because these are my guns now. And ain’t nobody going to take them away.”

In other words, the group removed all of the language that Barrow used to explain why his family had such weapons — to deter crime and for protection. It also removed a reference to the Second Amendment, which President Obama has said he supports.

What do such weapons have to do with Sandy Hook? After all, these are fairly antique weapons; a bolt action rifle is traditionally used for hunting. According to police, the Sandy Hook shooter carried into the school a Bushmaster rifle with high capacity 30-round clips, a Glock 10 mm handgun, and a Sig-Sauer 9mm handgun.

Ladd Everitt, CSGV director of communications, defended the ad, saying that Barrow deserved to be a target because he was “hamming it up” with the rifle and “bragging about” his NRA endorsement. Moreover, he argued, Barrow’s line that nobody was going to take his guns away is “classic insurrectionism and a direct threat to democratic government under our Constitution. And that insurrectionist idea is also actively promoted by (and popular with) the NRA’s leadership.”

Everitt also defended removing the reference to the lynching, saying that an “Internet search” did not turn up any evidence that Barrow’s grandfather had prevented a lynching. “The notion that it was privately-armed white citizens who vindicated the civil rights of African-Americans in the Deep South in the 20th century is obviously a false narrative and contrary to actual history,” he said.

Richard Carbo, a spokesman for Barrow, said the group did not contact Barrow’s office to confirm the story, and, in any case, he was not commenting on the video.

We could find no instance when Barrow had previously spoken of his grandfather’s alleged bravery. But Barrow does come from a family closely identified with the civil rights movement; his father was a judge who played a pivotal role in implementing civil rights laws and in investigating acts of terror against African Americans. “Even before the 1960s, Barrow had earned a reputation in Athens’ black community for fairness, as someone who treated all people with respect — still an unpopular notion in the 1950s South,” said one obituary.

Barrow’s grandfather hailed from Clarke County, which actually had few lynchings. “If lynchings were not infrequent in Georgia, they were rare in Clarke County,” one history says. If lynchings were rare, then that raises the possibility that a man with a “little Smith & Wesson” might actually have prevented one. Or maybe not. In any case, it is likely this story is family lore that can never be proven or unproven.

Moreover, while it is true that Barrow is one of the top recipients of NRA money among House Democrats, those funds were a relative pittance in the $2 million or so he raised for the 2012 campaign. His biggest donors included Blue Cross/Blue Shield, General Dynamics, Comcast Corp. and Home Depot, according to OpenSecrets.org.

How has Barrow reacted to the Sandy Hook shooting and Obama’s gun-control proposals? “I support the president’s call for stronger enforcement of existing gun-crime laws, because that’s been the real problem,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But I strongly disagree with proposals that would deny law-abiding citizens their Second Amendment rights.”

The Pinocchio Test

Readers of this column know that we take a very dim view of political ads that use selective clips, or take quotes out of context, to create a misleading image.

In this case, removing the references to lynching and safety completely changes the tenor of Barrow’s words.

Barrow was endorsed by the NRA, but that is not a reason to slam him with horrific images from the Sandy Hook killings. Barrow’s ad, promoting the use of firearms to deter crime, appeared long before the tragedy in Newtown. But the anti-gun violence group, with its misleading editing, leaves a distinctly different impression.

Three Pinocchios






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