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Analysis: It’s not surprising that San Diego mayoral candidate Bob Filner’s 2007 run-in with a baggage clerk at Dulles Airport near Washington D.C. has reared its head in the election.
When a sitting congressman gets a crime on his record, it’s news. When the circumstances surrounding that crime fit the narrative that the congressman has a combative personality, it’s going to be used against him.
In August, we dinged Filner with a Misleading rating for badly distorting the nature of the incident in a radio interview. He made the episode sound much less serious than it was.
Now in a new advertisement, Filner’s opponent, Carl DeMaio, has misrepresented the incident as well. DeMaio makes it sound more serious.
Here are the facts of the case:
In August 2007, Filner was cited for misdemeanor assault and battery after a United Airlines baggage clerk complained that the congressman pushed her during a tirade about delayed luggage. He later pleaded to a misdemeanor trespassing charge for entering a restricted area in the airport, paid a court-ordered fine and wrote a letter of apology to the clerk.
But here’s what a narrator intones at the end of DeMaio’s ad:
Most shockingly, Filner was arrested for assaulting a female baggage handler. The woman called him scary and hostile. Filner pleaded no contest.
DeMaio’s ad distorts the record in two key ways. First, Filner wasn’t arrested. Police interviewed him at the airport, but he was allowed to leave. Filner later received a summons to show up in court after the clerk pressed assault charges. Second, by not mentioning that Filner ultimately pleaded to trespassing, the ad implies there’s an assault on Filner’s record. That’s not true. Filner also has vociferously argued that he never struck the clerk. DeMaio’s ad is correct that the clerk described Filner as “scary” and “hostile.”
(A lesser point is that Filner didn’t actually plead no contest. He entered what’s known as an Alford Plea. It’s similar to a no contest plea in that a defendant does not admit guilt. But a conviction of guilty is recorded.)
DeMaio’s campaign disputed our analysis. Spokesman K.B. Forbes said the issue of Filner receiving a summons instead of being arrested was a distinction without a difference. And he said plea bargains usually involve someone copping to a lesser charge to avoid a public trial.
“Our belief, based on public statements from the victim of his assault, is that Congressman Filner received special treatment and was only allowed to plead to a lesser charge due to his stature,” Forbes said.
DeMaio’s campaign might believe that Filner received special treatment, but no one’s proven it. A court did say that Filner pleaded to misdemeanor trespassing, not assault, like the ad implies.
Our definition of a Misleading statement is one that takes an element of truth and badly distorts it or exaggerates it giving a deceptive impression.
In this case, DeMaio distorts the record to imply that the results of the incident were worse than the ultimate legal resolution.
Here’s the DeMaio ad in full:
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Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects.
Please contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.550.5663.
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