“But before he ran for office, he was a big fan of Terry McAuliffe and his record as governor.”

— voice-over of ad released by Democratic Virginia gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe, posted to YouTube on June 17, 2021

A 39-second spot titled “C’mon Glenn,” posted by Terry McAuliffe’s official YouTube page in June, seemingly shows Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin praising the former Virginia governor’s handling of the economy while hosting a wide-ranging 2017 panel discussion, engaging in an apparent flip-flop.

However, a review of the source video shows that the ad oversells the amount of praise Youngkin heaps on McAuliffe. Below is a breakdown of each claim.

The Facts

The ad seeks to portray Youngkin as two-faced, decrying in the campaign that “our commonwealth is in the ditch” while actually praising McAuliffe years before the investment guru decided to enter politics. While the McAuliffe campaign can point to moments when Youngkin approved of the economy under the current Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, the ad relies on selective editing to suggest Youngkin was equally praiseworthy of McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018.

The main source material is a somewhat dry April 2017 panel discussion titled “The Competitive Landscape: Prospects for Growth in 2017 and Beyond,” held during the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s annual conference. Clocking in at close to an hour, the panel centered on a variety of business topics. Youngkin served as moderator, steering the discussion of four panelists, including McAuliffe.

Let’s run through the clips that are shown in the ad. We included in boldface the words that were used in the ad. The video above also puts the cuts into context.

“We have one out of 50 states that’s doing very well, and particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The ad is crafted to make it appear as if Youngkin said this as a complete sentence. But he made these remarks nearly 30 minutes apart during the 50-minute panel — which is misleading.

The first half of the quote: “We have one out of 50 states that’s doing very well” appears at approximately 8:18. The second half of the quote: “and particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia” appears at approximately 35:51, and is part of a different line of questioning.

Youngkin made the first comment in direct response to a spiel from McAuliffe touting his record, essentially echoing it as a moderator in an effort to keep the conversation going. The second comment came when Youngkin offered to summarize the discussion so far, again repeating McAuliffe’s point. The main effect of the editing is to pair an explicit mention of Virginia with the earlier phrase “doing very well.”

In response to our concerns about the editing, a McAuliffe campaign aide insisted there was no attempt to deceive and that the two quotes in the original video make the same point that Virginia’s economy was growing. He argued that Youngkin choose to make a positive statement about Virginia’s economy and that was properly reflected in the ad.

“If you want to put the new, if you want to put a new plant down, that’s the place to put it.”

The ad suggests that Youngkin is touting Virginia as a place to invest because of McAuliffe. Instead, the full context shows that Youngkin made clear he said that, lightheartedly, because he’s a native of Virginia.

YOUNGKIN: “That’s a good pivot point, because what we’ve said, just to summarize a little bit, is while not 100 hundred percent agreeing that we’re in a full recovery, I think there’s a general sense of the U.S. economy doing okay and particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

MCAULIFFE: “Yeah, well, I hope you’re all thinking about coming to Virginia.”

YOUNGKIN: “There we go. If you want to put the new, if you want to put a new plant down, that’s the place to put it. By the way, I’m a native Virginian, so I’m doing just a little recruiting.”

The McAuliffe aide noted that this is a direct quote from the event and there was no editing involved.

“Governor, I want to come back to the role you’ve played in developing Virginia’s economy. How do you do it?”

Here again, quick editing leaves out the context of Youngkin’s remarks, which are made in his role as a moderator. The ad leaves the impression that Youngkin is admiring McAuliffe’s handling of the economy. Instead, the “how do you do it” line is part of a line of questioning to help listeners understand how a governor does his job. In full context, the comment isn’t as admiring.

YOUNGKIN: “Governor, I want to come back to the role you’ve played in developing Virginia’s economy. And I just want to kind of head off and have a little bit of a practice session with you. So how do you do it? You know, here you sit as a governor and you’ve got a state that has gone through some economic turmoil. How do you plan where to go? How do you pick the companies you’re working within the sectors?”

The McAuliffe aide again insisted that there was no attempt to deceive and the context of the statement was not lost in the editing.

“Before Glenn Youngkin decided to run for governor, he repeatedly praised Virginia’s economy under Terry’s leadership,” said Renzo Olivari, a McAuliffe campaign spokesman. “Any way you slice it, Glenn’s meaning is clear: Virginia’s economy thrived during Terry’s administration, and no amount of posturing by Glenn now can change that.”

In defending the ad, the McAuliffe campaign pointed to other comments that Youngkin has said, such as those quoted in a recent Business Insider article. “In an interview with McKinsey & Company, the businessman noted that the state — then under the leadership of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam — had a ‘high-growth tech industry, a growing health care sector, and an established manufacturing presence,’” the article said. “Back in 2019, when Virginia Tech announced it was building an innovation campus in Northern Virginia, Youngkin was equally enthused.”

These remarks could be offered as evidence that Youngkin now is criticizing the state of Virginia’s economy for political purposes. But it is not evidence that he was ever a “big fan” of McAuliffe and his record as governor. These comments in 2019 and 2020 were made when Virginia had a different governor.

The Youngkin campaign noted the Virginia Tech remarks were made in the context of Youngkin’s role as advisory board member of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus. The McKinsey quote is actually truncated. The reference to “manufacturing presence” made clear Youngkin was referring to “the marine industry, particularly shipbuilding and ship repair.”

“Terry McAuliffe’s campaign has failed to produce a shred of evidence that Glenn Youngkin was a ‘big fan’ of McAuliffe’s poor performance as governor,” said Matt Wolking, a Youngkin campaign spokesman. “That’s why they’re resorting to lying to Virginians about what Youngkin actually said — because that’s what failed, 40-year career politicians like Terry McAuliffe do.”

The Pinocchio Test

Regular readers know that we are tough on campaign ads that rely on manipulated video to make their point. This ad slices and dices Youngkin’s comments to misleadingly claim that Youngkin praised McAuliffe’s tenure as governor. But instead, Youngkin was merely a moderator at a business panel, making benign comments and offering no indication he was a “big fan” of McAuliffe.

This is a good example of video we label as “missing context — isolation.” The McAuliffe campaign earns Three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios

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