A standard quote from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday has quickly turned into a prime political weapon for Democrats — but it only happened thanks to confusion from a media that spread the misinterpretation all over the Internet.
On Tuesday morning — “Equal Pay Day” — McConnell came to the Senate floor after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who had just launched into another spirited assault on the Koch brothers, Democrats’ favourite election-year target. Reid’s office’s own press release even says his speech was meant to blast Senate Republicans for their “ongoing defence of the Koch brothers.”
McConnell then delivered his remarks, saying the proverbial “left” had found a new “bizarre obsession.”
“Instead of focusing on jobs, he launched into another confusing attack on the Left’s latest bizarre obsession,” McConnell said.
“Just think about that: The percentage of Americans in the workforce is at an almost four-decade low — and Democrats chose to ignore serious job-creation ideas so they could blow a few kisses to their powerful pals on the Left. At a time when so many Americans are desperate for a good job. At a time of fewer opportunities.”
With the help of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, McConnell’s comments quickly became construed as referring to a “bizarre obsession” with a legislative agenda including equal pay. The Hill took that angle. So did Talking Points Memo. Combined, the two were the source of most of the Democratic emails that followed.
The Democratic National Committee emailed out a link to The Hill’s piece, with the subject line “let this sink in.” EMILY’s List sent out an email promoting a National Journal piece linking to the TPM story. By Thursday, the nonprofit advocacy group Organising for Action was emailing out the quote in an attempt to get Americans to sign onto a petition to “stand with women for equal pay.”
“It appears that some members don’t think addressing this issue is necessary. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even referred to it as a ‘bizarre obsession,'” the fundraising email read.
McConnell’s office said it was clear he was referring to Reid’s “bizarre obsession” with the Koch brothers, not with equal-pay legislation.
“As is crystal clear to anyone who actually read or heard his remarks, Senator McConnell was referring to an ‘attack’ that Senator Reid had made the previous day on two private citizens who disagree with him,” McConnell spokesman Brian McGuire said in a statement. “Only someone who believes that Senator Reid was ‘attacking’ pay equity could conclude that Senator McConnell was doing so himself.”
Judging from that part of transcript and the flurry of corrections and clarifications that followed, it’s hard to disagree.
Correction: April 10, 2014
An article on Wednesday about efforts by Democrats to use the equal pay issue to gain more women’s votes misidentified the target of criticism by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, as the Senate prepared to vote on legislation meant to close the pay gap between men and women. When he referred to “the left’s latest bizarre obsession,” he was criticising Democrats’ attacks on David H. and Charles G. Koch, conservative billionaires whose political organisations have spent more than $US30 million on ads so far to help Republicans win control of the Senate. He was not referring to the pay-equity issue.
The Daily Beast, which jumped on the TPM story:
Talking Points Memo previously incorrectly reported that the “bizarre obsession” referred to closing the gender wage disparity.
National Journal, which also picked up the TPM story:
Update: An earlier version of this story contained a comment from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that Talking Points Memo had construed as criticism of the Democrats’ focus on pay equity issues. As TPM is now reporting, McConnell’s office has since said that TPM misconstrued his comments and that he was actually talking about the Democrats’ focus on the Koch brothers. As a result, McConnell’s comment has been removed from this story.
The Hill, meanwhile, added this line into its story: “This article was corrected at 2:02 p.m. to clarify McConnell’s remarks.”
The DNC and OFA didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
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