Fact Squad: John James skips details in ad claiming Peters ‘downplayed’ COVID

A new attack ad from Republican challenger John James uses a February Fox News interview to accuse Michigan Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of “downplaying” the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy photo)

LANSING — A new attack ad from Republican challenger John James accuses Michigan Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of “downplaying” the coronavirus pandemic.

The 30-second ad, which began airing across the state on Tuesday, uses Peters’ own words against him, but it takes his comments out of context, inflates his role in pandemic oversight and makes other claims without supporting evidence. 

It’s the latest salvo in what is expected to be a fierce race as James, a Farmington Hills business owner who lost to Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018, faces Peters, a first-term incumbent from Bloomfield Hills.

The claims 

The James campaign ad repeats a short clip of Peters during a Fox News interview saying, “The risk right now to the United States is very low.”

“That’s Sen. Gary Peters in February downplaying the pandemic,” a narrator says. 

“Worse, Peters leads the committee that oversees the pandemic response,” the narrator continues, referencing the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, a Republican-led panel on which Peters serves as the ranking Democrat. 

“It’s his job to be on top of this.”

The commercial also claims Peters “skipped hearings” and “ignored reports” without providing any details or footnotes.

The Facts

The ad uses two seconds of footage from a three-minute Fox News interview on Feb. 12. At the time, the United States had confirmed 13 cases of COVID-19, and the virus was battering parts of Asia. Peters noted that escalating case counts in Singapore undermined early hopes that warm weather would slow the spread and “may mean we’re in for a bigger threat.”

“We think the risk right now to the United States is very low, but we need to keep our eye on it,” Peters said in the unedited interview. “But really, the focus is trying to contain the infection as much as possible.”

While hindsight shows the virus did pose a grave risk to the United States, which now leads the world in cases and deaths, Peters’ comments were consistent with expert testimony he’d heard that same day in the Homeland Security Committee.

Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding told lawmakers: “I don’t think we’re alarmed at this point, but we need to be leaning in to what will the next step be if we can’t contain it.”

Fox News host Neil Cavuto asked Peters whether fears of a COVID-19 explosion in the United States were “unfounded,” but the senator replied: “I don’t think we can get to that conclusion just yet. We still need to know more about the virus.”

Peters had expressed concern about the virus weeks earlier, saying in a Jan. 25 interview on CNN that “protecting folks” from COVID-19 was a Homeland Security issue. 

By claiming Peters “skipped hearings, ignored reports, downplayed the risk” in an ad focused on the pandemic, the commercial leaves the impression he missed hearings and reports on COVID-19.

That is not the case. 

In defending the ad, the James campaign pointed to committee attendance records and reports on pandemic preparedness from 2015 and 2016 — years before the novel coronavirus was discovered — arguing Peters should have done more to prepare the country for the current outbreak.

The ad also inflates Peters’ role, and therefore his responsibility for pandemic oversight, by claiming he “leads” the Homeland Security Committee. That’s actually Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Peters is the top Democrat on the GOP-led panel.

Johnson and Peters in January co-wrote a letter asking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to explain its strategy for containing the spread of COVID-19.

The conclusion

Knowing what we know now, Peters was clearly wrong in February when he said the virus posed a low risk to the United States. 

But the James ad plucks that clip from a longer interview in which Peters noted how little was known about the virus at the time and echoed comments from public health officials about the importance of containment. 

The ad also appears to suggest Peters skipped hearings and ignored reports on COVID-19, which is false. 

Clearly, federal officials like Peters could have applied lessons from Ebola and past viral outbreaks to better prepare for COVID-19, but the ad doesn’t make that claim clear.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 08/11/2020 - 4:09pm

The people who are in favor of John James are the same people who either distrust fact checks as "liberal propaganda" or they are the type of people who don't care if the information they are being fed is wrong so long as it fits their agenda so this ad should be a hit among his supporters.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 8:50am

It is my hope that The Bridge will be fact checking all ads that will most certainly be false or at best misleading on both sides of the political spectrum. Again, it is a hope or maybe I should call it a wish.

I call BS
Fri, 08/14/2020 - 9:09am

Be honest, you really only wish Bridge could find something equally reprehensible being done on the part of Democrats, but you wish because it's unlikely to be true.

So irked
Mon, 08/17/2020 - 7:33pm

I totally agree. This deceitful John James ad is STILL being aired!!! If James is so deceitful now, what are we to expect if he were elected. Shame on you, John James. You wear your religion on your sleeve while you choose to deceive. It's sinful.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 8:51am

John James is not alone. Generally speaking, all politicians use "clips" to suit their political needs. The argument would be he used true information, just not complete information...like most political ads. This is why I don't pay attention to political ads and do thorough research on each politician . Everyone should do the same.

James lacks scruples
Fri, 08/14/2020 - 9:18am

You can't unsee or unhear lies. Unfortunately these BS ads are effective for political scoundrels like our president who lie 24/7 with impunity. John James clearly lies in this ad and then puts his face and the face of his little son in the ad, at the end. It's good that voters can clearly see this corruption with the candidate's face and vote against it. We'll never make America better as long as we tolerate and reward blatant habitual liars. For Trump, lying is the same as breathing. He literally can't exist without lying constantly. This ad reflects very poorly on James, yet he's still airing it. He's outrageously devoid of scruples RIGHT before our eyes. We aren't talking about things he did years ago. We are talking about who he is today and it's a bad look.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 9:18am

also they are trumps Sheeps believe the lies from their godking!!

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 9:42am

OK. Why do you believe the fact checkers at this website??

Dennis M Bierlein
Wed, 08/12/2020 - 10:02pm

Because he watched the full 3 minutes of the interview.

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 4:27pm

Because they provide the actual evidence to support their conclusions. It might sound crazy but there's actually more to an article than a headline. In the case of fact checking articles, there's even more to the article than what the author wrote. If you disagree, Bridge provides links so you can review the source material yourself and make your own conclusion.

William C. Plumpe
Sun, 08/23/2020 - 11:58am

The fact checkers at Bridge have proven themselves again and again to be fair and unbiased and interested in reporting the facts and not pursuing a biased political perspective.
I have not encountered any Trump supporters who were not obviously pursuing a political agenda. They think Trump speaks Gospel truth and that's that. Who can reason with a fanatic?

Mary Ruth Parsons
Fri, 10/02/2020 - 7:59pm

Because Bridges has checked the statements in this add. They give you the reasons for their decision. Why don't you trust fact checks. What is your basis for disbelieving this fact check. Give us your facts.

middle of the mit
Tue, 08/11/2020 - 4:48pm

The biggest fact check missing in this story is what policy has Mr James and President Trump followed?

It seems as though they are projecting their policy onto Senator Peters. Trump still says he will be proven right and the virus will just go away.



And that is recently. Mr James was waxing on about wet markets back in March.


Although I don't know why, most conservatives told us we need to be exposed to viruses so that we can build up an immunity to those viruses. Were they pulling our leg?

Are they now?

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:33pm

John James is slimy.

Enough said
Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:34pm

John James will say anything to get elected, says he supports Trump 2,000%.

creek of trout
Wed, 08/12/2020 - 8:23am

Well, if you can't win on the issues, sling mud, shade the truth and tell some lies.
So, Mr. James, how do we stop the virus?
What's your record on this pandemic since January?
How come you're not running ads on your plan to stop the virus?

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 8:52pm

Easy, James is a show horse. Peters is a work horse.

Judy Crane
Wed, 08/12/2020 - 8:23am

I considered this news source as being fairly honest but now wonder if they will attempt to do the same to the democrat ads that are being shown. Like reporting facts not siding with a political party,

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 8:34am

I have not seen James stake out any position on anything in his ads. He tells us he was in the Army and focused on teamwork. He pals up with his dad to tout their entrepreneurial skills. He will give 5% of contributions to charity. Not one position any issue of social importance. This only works when people think in terms of "liking" a candidate for their personal attributes (even though these attributes are also "projected" by the candidate and may not have substance). John James's politics are superficial and he is trying to get elected by being inoffensively bland.

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 8:55pm

We do know he's anti-choice and that he loves Trump. That's it.

Almighty Dollar
Wed, 08/12/2020 - 8:36am

Peters said something alright. But in the statement published herein, there was a comment and then much more, which was conveniently left out. So, it was a lie of omission at best. This from the straIght arrow Mason member and his approved ad? I'd hate for him to lay the foundation of my house.

Always remember, Johnson is against coverage for pre-existing conditions, as is his party. They are currently getting ready to dismantle the entire ACA in court, in order to get the Supreme Court do what they were unable to do when they held the House, Senate and Presidency.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 9:14am

Still waiting for James to state a position - on anything! It's all 'I'm a vet', 'I'm a nice guy', 'We should love each other', 'Here's my dad'. What does he stand for?
Does he agree with everything Trump has done?
I guess it's: 'Elect me and I'll vote the way Mitch McConnell wants me to.'

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 10:58am

"Does he agree with everything Trump has done?"
Well, he said he agrees with Trump 2,000%, so I believe him.

John James Was “2000%” Behind Trump. That Might Cost Him in November. President Trump threatened to withhold funding to Michigan during a pandemic. That might make John James’ campaign harder.

I'm thinking Trump will replace Pence with James as VP to combat Biden/Harris. James will declare his love for Trump at Trump's Gettysburg convention while they wave confederate flags.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 9:18am

This ad is blatant distortion and misrepresentation. Why are you down pedaling it? Tell it like it is. Please.

Bryan Bickford
Wed, 08/12/2020 - 9:40am

John James skips details in a lot of his ads. Like the fact that he's not an Army Ranger. He's Ranger-qualified, which is great, but he is has not served as an Army Ranger, a distinction he is aware of and notes on his campaign page bio: “After graduating from West Point in 2004, he became a Ranger-qualified aviation officer.” Is it picking nits? Perhaps, but it is just as likely intentional on his part to skip that detail in order to appear more qualified and experienced than he is. But the Republican party keeps trotting him out there as their great Black hope, not realizing that Black, white, Ranger, or Ranger-qualified, their platform doesn't play very well with the majority of Michigan. It's a different story when Republicans can gerrymander congressional districts and state legislature seats, but for the Senate, the detail that gets left out every time is they're not wanted by the majority of us.

George Hagenauer
Wed, 08/12/2020 - 10:42am

The future of Social Security and Medicare and frankly the post office's ability to deliver the mail is far more important to me than the issues usually covered i n these ads. It is pretty obvious that Trump and people who support Trump 100% like John James are not for maintaining Social Security, Medicare or the post office so ads are pretty nonessential in my voting decisions. My hope is most people are lookingat their core interests and not what is floating around on social media or TV advertising. However that maybe expecting a lot.

James/Trump hat...
Thu, 08/13/2020 - 8:59pm

Without the post office troops can't vote, vets can't get meds.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 11:01am

I agree with James. The federal government failed us on coronavirus, Trump.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 11:24am

John James is probably among the cleanest politicians out there and served with distinction. Ranger qualified is pretty nitpicky. Logistics company and service are pretty solid. Peters on the other hand had a pretty interesting past as a financial advisor during the early 2000s when a lot of people lost their life savings and his company had some pretty interesting settlements related to high cost products, churning and suitability.

Same ol' Schit
Thu, 08/13/2020 - 9:01pm

James' logistics business would have failed without the auto-bailout. Capitalize the profits, socialize the losses!

Too bad
Thu, 08/13/2020 - 9:05pm

if he were such a great politician, he'd have a record, maybe start on city council or PTA. No, he's going with no experience or track record right for a six year term, longer than any other term of office. What a way to discover what his views are, AFTER the election. That didn't work so well for us with Trump. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. NEVER AGAIN will I vote for an inexperienced newby for such an important job.

Mon, 08/17/2020 - 8:05pm

The ad says otherwise: John James is a blatant liar. We've had enough liars with the current president. No more first time politicians with no track record.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 1:10pm

John James is probably among the cleanest politicians out there and served with distinction. Ranger qualified is pretty nitpicky. Logistics company and service are pretty solid. Peters on the other hand had a pretty interesting past as a financial advisor during the early 2000s when a lot of people lost their life savings and his company had some pretty interesting settlements related to high cost products, churning and suitability.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 10:56am

I agree that most political ads pick & choose content which would serve the purpose of the promoting party. But it should be pointed out that the ban on travel to/from China was on Jan. 31st. Sen Peter's remarks were two weeks later. He should have known by then how crazy this virus was going to be. Homeland Security Agency did. It could be that he missed the memo or meeting about China travel. (not that far fetched)

I call BS
Thu, 08/13/2020 - 9:09pm

Gimme a break, I bet you can't think of a SINGLE thing Trump has done wrong, you know, the guy who is in charge, the guy in the majority party. These aspersions against Peters are complete nonsense and based on pure partisan fantasy.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 11:01am

I'm sorry, but the words "Fact" and "Bridge MI" do not belong on the same website.

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 9:10pm

I guess that's true in your reality. Otherwise you make no sense.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 11:15am

Just remember that James is loyal to Trump. Keep in mind, too, that Trump's MAGA logo now means "Make alota Graves Available."
James and Trump just love to lie.
And, I hope Bridge keeps up fact checking on any political party especially now that we know Russian disinformation is unstopping given the news about the so-called Bible burning.

Shame on GOP
Thu, 08/13/2020 - 9:12pm

Especially when you are fighting in court to take away healthcare during a pandemic.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 5:40pm

Really can't believe a news article about fact checking a candidate's ad is here. If you are fair and unbias you should do all the candidates ads then. But to pick just one makes this a bias site for sure. I feel let down really. I thought I found a place that just put out news that wasn't slanted. This sucks. I would feel the same way if it was just a one-sided fact check on Peters also.

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 9:13pm

Why are you so afraid of the truth?

T Lee
Wed, 08/12/2020 - 9:47pm

Thanks for fact-checking politicians. We need more of this.

In order to keep your bipartisan reputation, though, you need to check Democrats as well as Republicans. There’s plenty of opportunity there for uncovering obsfucation and misdirection, too.

Mon, 08/17/2020 - 8:07pm

Maybe after John James, the fraud, pulls this incredibly deceitful ad.

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 11:27am

Well.......the experiment is over.
I had genuine hope that Bridge was going to be different.
The signs were starting to show......but Bridge has now officially exposed itself as another biased news site, masquerading as a non-partisan source.
There was nothing wrong with this article specifically......but you have only "FACT CHECKED" ads from those on the right side of the spectrum.
That you are picking and choosing which ads to fact check is as an odd choice anyway. There are SO MANY ads from both sides that unfortunately are full of misleading info...........that to be balanced you would need to start "fact-checking" a LOT of them. Instead you've exposed yourself by just picking a very few of them......all from the right. So, YOU ARE GOING TO START "FACT CHECKING" Peters' ads now, right? Right?

A darn shame.
You simply cannot be a non-partisan website/news source.....but only "Fact Check" one side of the partisan divide. You don't see that?

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 9:18pm

Why don't all you whiny Republicans just tell us which Democratic ads are false and misleading? You don't get it. Sometimes there really AREN'T good people on both sides. Sometimes you have good people and the others are klansmen. I bet you can't even use Democratic as an adjective. Go ahead, provide the offensive Democratic ad that no one knows about.

Fri, 08/14/2020 - 9:21am

They have always fact checked both sides including a Gary Peters fact check published the same day you made your comment.