Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Attack ads are one thing, but blatantly erroneous attack ads should be exposed for the political tricks they are. One such ad is Democrat James Webb’s current “Steer” commercial alleging financial misdeeds by Sen. George Allen — which Mr. Webb should promptly retract. The ad wrongly claims that Mr. Allen “tried to steer government contracts to a company that paid him in stock options,” wrongly claims that Mr. Allen “hid those options for years” and wrongly claims that the options are worth $1.1 million. None of this is true.

First, the alleged “steering” of contracts — it never happened. We’re not sure what Mr. Webb’s campaign is talking about here; nothing of the sort has ever even been alleged, except for this new ad. All anyone can find to support this charge is a single letter Mr. Allen wrote to the Army in 2001 which asks it to hurry up and make a decision on business sought by the Virginia high-tech company Xybernaut, on whose board Mr. Allen sat as a private citizen after he left the governorship in 1998 and left before he became senator in 2001. The Army decided against Xybernaut. That’s where the matter ended. There was no “steering.”

Second, the alleged “hiding” — this also never happened. In 2001, Mr. Allen disclosed the stock options given to him by the company Commonwealth Biotechnologies — on whose board he also sat as a private citizen. Soon those options were worthless, so he stopped disclosing them. This, it turns out, could be a mistake under the current rules. It is hardly some calculated transgression. Once Mr. Allen realized it, he asked the Senate Ethics Committee for help to resolve the question. A pretty routine affair in sum.

You wouldn’t understand any of this from Mr. Webb’s ad, of course, which intones dark deeds by Mr. Allen and claims that the options are worth $1.1 million. Even this is just plain wrong. The options were worth that much on March 23, 2000 — a record high for the company — and have plummeted since.

How could the Webb campaign think people wouldn’t detect all this? They probably think voters are just too distracted by the flurry of charge-counterchange to understand and really care about the truth. Don’t be fooled by such election-year tricksterism.

We had better not hear Mr. Webb or his campaigners complain about “negative advertising” after this. They’ve proven themselves masters of the art.

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