Fact-checking an anti-Filner ad that calls his character into question

Expert asked whether Filner attacks fair

SAN DIEGO - A local expert has fact-checked a campaign ad accusing San Diego Mayoral Candidate Bob Filner of verbally attacking a child and assaulting a baggage handler.

It's no secret Filner and his opponent, Carl DeMaio, are engaged in a fierce contest to be the next mayor.  But are these attack ads true?  

One campaign ad accused Bob Filner of having poor character and cited three examples.  The first accusation was: "Filner verbally attacked an 11-year-old girl in a public forum." 

The charge referred to an incident in 1982 when Filner was president of the San Diego School Board.  During a hearing he called an 11-year-old girl as a truant when she appeared to oppose a Filner-backed policy.

"There's no context, so what does it mean?  That he wondered why this girl's not in school?" asked John Beatty, a judge on the Campaign Civility Project, which scrutinizes television ads for their accuracy, relevance and fairness.

Filner reportedly apologized for the incident later.  

The ad also stated: "Filner's relationship with Mayor Maureen O'Connor was called vindictive."

The ad cited a Los Angeles Times article from 1991 where the former the former mayor's relationship with then-councilman Filner was called vindictive by former City Councilwoman Linda Bernhardt who had just lost a recall election.

"It's easy to pop these things into a commercial," said Beatty, "It's mostly for effect."

Finally, the ad stated that "Filner was arrested for assaulting a female baggage handler."

Technically, he wasn't arrested, but charges were filed in 2007 after witnesses said he pushed aside a female airline employee at Dulles International Airport.  Assault charges were later dropped.  Filner pleaded no contest to trespassing.

"Looks like he committed a major crime, which didn't happen," said Beatty who calls the ad uncivil, negative and he says it goes way beyond what actually happened.

The ad then stated , "Character defines leadership."

But were the three examples in the ad fair?

 "No," said Beatty, "Citing three things over 20 to 30 years doesn't show any real pattern."

 Beatty said that while he disagrees with the trend in negative campaign ads, he also knows negative ads in general can be effective.  it's no coincidence attack ads have been increasing in number and in negativity in the final weeks before the election.

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