President Barack Obama‘s campaign resorted to truth-telling Aug. 9 as it sought to calm the uproar caused by its support for a controversial attack ad that suggested Mitt Romney had caused a person’s death by cancer.
Spokeswoman Jan Psaki admitted Thursday that Obama’s campaign had used misleading comments from Joe Soptic, a former union organizer at GST Steel, after she had denied any connection to Soptic.
The controversy over Soptic’s comments had put the campaign on the defensive, fired up Romney’s stump speeches and obscured valuable coverage of the president’s two-day tour through Colorado.
Soptic, via an Obama campaign slideshow and a controversial video broadcast by the Obama-allied Priorities USA super PAC, had suggested that Romney was responsible for his wife’s sudden death from cancer.
Her death came five years after Bain shut down the money-losing, low-tech steel-company, and seven years after Romney left Bain to manage the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Soptic’s wife had health insurance after GST was closed down.
On Tuesday the misleading ad was condemned by Romney’s allies and even by media outlets normally sympathetic to Obama.
The super PAC’s founder Bill Burton denied any impropriety on Wednesday, and the Obama campaign initially denied any connection to Soptic.
However, reporters quickly found that the campaign had invited Soptic to talk to reporters, and had propagated his claim in an Obama campaign slideshow.
The media and GOP pressure forced Obama’s spokeswoman to revise and extend her earlier denials.
“No one is denying that he was in … one of our campaign ads,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday.
“He was on a conference call telling his story, which speaks to what many, many people in this country have gone through as there have been layoffs and they’ve had their benefits reduced,” she claimed during a short press conference in Colorado.
The admission is damaging, partly because it might constrict fund-raising by Burton’ super PAC, and partly because it promotes skepticism by the public — and even the establishment media — about the president’s campaign-trail claims.
The Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee gleefully touted the turnabout.
“The Obama campaign has now admitted that it lied to the media and the American people in a disgraceful attempt to conceal their connection to this shameful [cancer-death] smear,” said a statement from Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman.
“Americans deserve better — they deserve a president who’s willing to run an honest campaign and be honest about his own record,” he said.
The RNC also put the boot in.
“Jen Psaki is now admitting the campaign DID have knowledge of the Soptic family’s cancer story despite telling reporters yesterday the campaign didn’t,” said a Aug. 9 statement from RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.
“Yet Team Obama still won’t condemn Priorities USA for trying to smear Romney by tying him to a woman’s death,” she said.
Joe Pounder, the RNCs research chief, also used the backtrack to portray Obama as deceptive.
In an Aug. 9 stump speech, “Barack Obama decried Republican Super PACs but again refused to speak out against the widely condemned ad from his own Super PAC,” Pounder said in a statement.
“We guess Barack Obama is only offended by outside ads if they are from Republican groups and isn’t willing to stand up to Bill Burton and his liberal friends,” Pounder said.
However, Obama’s aide, Psaki, tried to go on the offensive.
She told reporters Thursday that Romney should be put through the same media wringer. because one of several anti-Obama super PAC had broadcast ads questioning the president’s birth in Hawaii.
“No one is asking the Romney campaign about that ad and what they think about that ad. So as we talk about apples and oranges, that’s the apples-to-apples comparison I’ll leave you with,” Psaki said.