Julie Boonstra, a Michigan resident with leukemia, appeared in an Americans for Prosperity ad that attacked Rep. Gary Peters — a senate hopeful — and implied that Obamacare was making her out-of-pocket costs unaffordable. Actually, her overall costs are exactly the same, but could potentially be more erratic (her premiums are lower, but her out-of-pocket maximum is higher). The ad was criticized for being misleading by fact-checkers. Peters' lawyers wrote to television stations airing the ads and demanded they substantiate the claims in them, which detractors of the healthcare law called an attempt to "muzzle" her. Reid called the ads false.
As explained in The New York Times, Boonstra and Americans for Prosperity are fighting back, meaning the Koch Brothers are fighting back, with a new ad (right) released Tuesday. “We are completely comfortable about the accuracy of every item in our ads,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. Reid said last week that ads like Boonstra's are "untrue," "absolutely false" and a distraction from the good work the law is doing. “Despite all that good news, there are plenty of horror stories being told,” Reid said on the Senate floor last week. “All of them are untrue, but they are being told all over America.”
The problem is, there's a distinction between untrue and misleading, one that Americans for Prosperity has toed very carefully. By implying certain details (she might lose her doctor) and leaving out others (her premiums are way down) the initial ad leveraged emotions more than facts. As Jonathan Chait at New York noted last week, "the whole economic structure of the law reorders the market in a way that’s more favorable to people with preexisting conditions." Healthy young people benefit the least from the law, but aren't sympathetic. The melancholy music, Boonstra's emotional appeal to the viewer and the fact that it's much easier to empathize with a woman with cancer than a politician mean the ad doesn't have to be accurate to be effective. "I just want Congressman Peters to help me, to listen to me," she says. "Instead, he's trying to silence me."
And so we don't think this war going anywhere. Reid's options are to follow Peters and try to discredit the ads — and Boonstra — for being misleading, or try to stop a pair of conservative billionaires from funding his opponents. Good luck with that.