What others say: Obscenity on the campaign trail

  • Wednesday, September 17, 2014 8:30pm
  • Opinion

As part of a court case in 1964, U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart was asked to determine whether a film was pornographic or not. “I know it when I see it,” Stewart wrote in part, thus enshrining a phrase in America’s lexicon.

Over Labor Day weekend, Sen. Mark Begich unveiled a new campaign ad for television. In it, a narrator identified as an Anchorage police detective stands in front of an Anchorage apartment building and describes the murder of two seniors and the sexual assault of their granddaughter.

The crimes were allegedly committed by a man who received a shorter sentence than he should have for a previous offense committed when Begich’s opponent, Dan Sullivan, was attorney general.

Had that man received a proper sentence, the ad concludes, those two seniors would still be alive.

The problem is the ad isn’t true. Sullivan wasn’t attorney general when the mistake was made, and Begich’s stumble means the mud he meant to sling is now trickling down the front of his shirt.

We know politics is a messy business. We know candidates will dig up dirt on each other. But, as justice Stewart said, we know an obscenity when we see it.

Distorting the truth is obscene. Using a family’s suffering for political gain is even worse.

At the request of the victims’ family, Begich’s political campaign pulled the offensive ad. Similarly, Sullivan’s campaign pulled a response ad.

In the next month, we expect to see Sullivan try to tie Begich closely to President Obama. We expect to see Begich try to tie Sullivan to unpopular decisions he made while attorney general.

We don’t expect to see much discussion of the issues facing the next U.S. Congress.

That, unfortunately, is the biggest obscenity of them all.

— Juneau Empire,

Sept. 11

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