The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Anti-impeachment ad twists Ocasio-Cortez’s words

An ad campaign launched Nov. 18 isolates a quote from Ocasio-Cortez, creating a false impression that she confirmed a partisan impeachment theory. (Video: Sarah Cahlan/The Washington Post)

“ ‘This is about preventing a potentially disastrous outcome from occurring next year.’ Now, it’s crystal clear their partisan impeachment is a politically motivated charade.”

— voice-over in television ads titled “Clear” and “Focusing” by the American Action Network, released Nov. 18, 2019

A just-launched digital and television ad campaign from the center-right advocacy group American Action Network (AAN) embraces a new iteration of an ongoing partisan theory: Democrats want to impeach Trump because they are afraid if they don’t, he will win reelection.

The evidence? A clip of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” on Nov. 13, after the first day of public impeachment hearings. (Note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly said the interview was on CNN’s State of the Union.)

It turns out this is a classic example of what the Fact Checker’s guide to manipulated video calls isolation — sharing a brief clip from a longer video to create a false narrative that does not reflect the event as it occurred.

The Facts

Targeting more than 20 congressional districts, AAN released multiple versions of an anti-impeachment ad the day before this week’s public impeachment hearings were set to begin.

The ads all begin the same way: in a stark room with a clip of Ocasio-Cortez on television, saying, “This is about preventing a potentially disastrous outcome from occurring next year.” The next few seconds show images of Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Cortez and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) over an ominous voice-over: “Now, it’s crystal clear their partisan impeachment is a politically motivated charade.”

The second half varies by district. If a member is supportive of the impeachment inquiry, the ad criticizes them by name, saying they “promised to be different.” If they oppose it, the ad thanks the member for believing that “the voters should be the ones deciding elections.”

In both variations, Ocasio-Cortez’s quote seems to be positioned to serve as evidence that the impeachment hearings are a partisan sham.

The problem is, that isn’t what she said.

In the last minute of the interview, Blitzer asked whether wider issues — President Trump’s conduct during the Russia investigation, potential emoluments violations — should be included within any articles of impeachment the House of Representatives might pass. Ocasio-Cortez responded that she believed they should be but added, “at the end of the day, we have to be able to come together as a caucus [on impeachment]. … We also need to move quite quickly because we’re talking about the potential compromise of the 2020 elections.”

She concludes with these remarks (we highlighted the snippet used in the ad in bold type): “This is not just about something that has occurred; this is about preventing a potentially disastrous outcome from occurring next year.”

From the context of the interview, it’s clear she is not referring to Trump’s reelection, as the ad suggests. Instead, it seems she is arguing that the inquiry needs to move quickly to prevent foreign interference in the upcoming 2020 election.

Any ambiguity left by the interview is irrelevant. By the time these ads were released, Ocasio-Cortez had already clarified what she meant by “potentially disastrous outcome.”

After her CNN interview, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) tweeted on Nov. 14: “Rep. Ocasio-Cortez admits Dems are using impeachment to rig 2020 against @realDonaldTrump. Take her at her word → “This is about preventing a potentially disastrous outcome from occurring next year.” Make no mistake: This is about power for Dems. Nothing else.”

Ocasio-Cortez responded: “Rep. Scalise, the only way you’d conclude this is if you thought foreign interference is Trump’s main strategy to win in 2020. Letting our elections be subverted by hostile actors *IS* disastrous.”

In other words, she was pointing to the danger of foreign election interference. The Fact Checker asked Ocasio-Cortez’s office to comment on the AAN ad but did not receive a response.

The Fact Checker asked AAN for comment on the editing decisions but received no response. We will update if we receive an explanation.

The Pinocchio Test

AAN isolated one part of Ocasio-Cortez’s longer conversation to create the false impression that she had confirmed the inquiry was aimed at preventing Trump’s reelection. This is nowhere close to what she said, nor was it what she meant.

While this strategy is nothing new in political advertising, it has been used more frequently in the past few election cycles. Readers and viewers should be wary of sound bites that seem to pack political punches for the opposing party.

For blatantly misleading voters by excluding key context, particularly after Ocasio-Cortez called out a GOP lawmaker who misrepresented her words, AAN earns Four Pinocchios. We will also add this clip to our collection of manipulated video.

Four Pinocchios

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