Right-Wing Group Airs False Ad, Uses Cancer Victim as 'Human Shield'

Julie Boonstra's plight with cancer was badly exploited by the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) in their new ad attacking Gary Peters. AFP didn't much care that they'd done this to her, they were only interested attacking Gary Peters and Obamacare.

Then the media started pointing out the flaws in the argument made in the ad. The Washington Post fact checker gave it two pinnochios, then even the state's political media were forced to pay attention. Conservative media, rather than pointing out how terrible it was for AFP to exploit Boonstra's cancer in the first place, simply exploited her all over again, using her as a human shield against charges that AFP lied in its ad.

Here's a fairly typical response, from Red State. It links to and quotes an AFP press release masquerading as a blog post about Gary Peters trying to "silence" Julie Boonstra by asking that TV stations pull the ad. The rightwing media echo chamber picked up this line of attack, and repeated it and repeated it and repeated it and repeated it and repeated it. Did I share this one? Or this one?

A few other outlets put a twist on the story, saying that when Peters asked TV stations not to air a factually inaccurate ad that he was trying to silence her. Fox New's Andrew Napolitano, who the other day accused Abraham Lincoln of unnecessarily fighting the Civil War, said so. According to Napolitano, asking TV stations not to air factually inaccurate ads is censorship of the kind only a strongman like Vladimir Putin would try. 

Here's the thing about all of it: it's shameful hogwash.

First off, Julie Boonstra didn't create the ad. Americans for Prosperity did. She's not responsible for the content of the ad. They are. If the ad comes under fire, it's actually the Americans for Prosperity that are under fire, not Julie Boonstra. The AFP has drawn criticism not just for creating a truth-free ad, but also by exploting a cancer patient while doing it. Did anyone with AFP think to explain to her that her out-of-pocket costs are capped annually, that she can't be dropped from coverage and that her premiums were cut in half? Did anyone at AFP stop to think that they were allowing a woman to go on Tee Vee and make claims about her health care that were so factually flawed? Criticizing the ad is criticizing the conduct of AFP, not Boonstra.

Not to put too fine a point on it, here is the documentation sent around to justify the claims made in the ad. It's terrible, resting on a report in Politico based on someone's speculation. But, it's got the name Americans for Prosperity at the top, not Julie Boonstra.

As for the free speech issue, that is also utter baloney. Somewhere in the coverage, you'll actually find Boonstra telling people that she won't be silenced. No one is trying to silence her. They're trying to get factually inaccurate ads pulled from stations that someone else paid for. She is still free to speak and write letters and do what she wants.

By the way, there's been quite a lot of coverage of this ad from national mainstream reporting outfits (very little from Michigan outlets). However, nobody in any of the coverage has thought to ask a pretty simple, straightforward question: whether Julie Boonstra was compensated by AFP for appearing in the ad. The entire ad – because of how misleading it was and because of the way it's being defended – is open for scrutiny. The public is entitled to know if the person whose cancer AFP has exploited is being compensated by AFP for her appearance.

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