Fact Squad | Truth blurred in John James ad claiming Peters is ‘invisible’

John James Peters ad

LANSING — A new TV ad from Republican challenger John James calls Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters the “invisible man” and accuses him of “doing nothing” in Washington D.C. except double his own personal wealth. 

The commercial uses verifiable facts but omits relevant context and makes broad generalizations to reach conclusions that are subjective at best.

The 30-second ad, which the James campaign began airing last week in Detroit, is the latest in a string of Republican attacks against Peters, the first-term incumbent from Bloomfield Hills who served six years in the U.S. House before winning election to the Senate in 2014.

The Claims


As Peters fades from a series of shots, leaving only his outline, a narrator says the senator has been “invisible for Michigan,” doing “nothing to prepare us for COVID… nothing for our economy" and "nothing to protect workers.” 

The commercial claims Peters "does not show up for work." He skipped 84 percent of small business hearings and 89 percent of hearings on China, the ad claims.

"But Peters has done one thing: get rich in public office," the narrator says as an apparent running tally of his net worth flashes across the screen . "Doubled his wealth.”

The Facts

While it’s fair to ask whether Peters did enough to prepare the United States for COVID-19, improve the national economy or protect workers, the claims that he did “nothing” are obvious exaggerations. 

As Bridge has reported, this year Peters voted for a $2 trillion economic relief package, for instance. And as the top Democrat on the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he teamed with Chairman Ron Johnson on a January letter asking the Trump administration to explain its preparedness for COVID-19.

The ad makes two claims about committee attendance to bolster its argument that Peters is a do-nothing. Both are presented without citation or context. 

The first assertion, according to the James campaign, is based on attendance records from before Peters was elected to the Senate and missed 84 percent of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business in 2011 and 2012. The hearings covered broadband access, environmental regulations, the death tax and capital access for small firms .

Once in the Senate, Peters was appointed to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which does not set policy but was created by Congress to monitor human rights and the rule of law in the communist country. 

When he was appointed to the panel, Peters said it would help him “work to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices and currency manipulation, so that American companies and American workers can compete on a level playing field.” 

Records show he was present at two of 18 hearings between 2015 and 2019.

The Peters campaign notes he has strong attendance records on the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services committees that also help oversee federal China policy. And he’s missed 13 floor votes since joining the Senate in 2015, according to Gov Track, which is less than 1 percent of the 1,686 roll call votes.

Likewise, it’s true that Peters has doubled his wealth since taking office, according to personal financial disclosure reports filed as a candidate, congressman and senator.  

While those forms only list a range of possible values, it’s reasonable to estimate the stocks, mutual funds, bonds and other assets that Peters and his wife reported in October 2008 were likely worth about $1.8 million. By 2019, his assets were worth an average of $4.5 million. 

The wealth claim is factual but again lacks context. Peters’ investments generally kept pace with the stock market, which dropped precipitously in the fall of 2008 during the Great Recession but has grown considerably over the past decade. The Dow Jones Industrial Average roughly tripled between October 2008 and the end of 2019.

The Conclusion

Missed committee hearings are fair game in elections, and the public deserves to know whether elected officials show up for assignments they boast about. 

But ads should also be honest about their ammunition. 

Criticizing Peters for missing hearings in an ongoing commission he bragged would help American workers is valid. Dredging up attendance on a committee that was nearly a decade and another job in the past is less so.

Overall, the ad blends some facts with hyperbole and skips context that would allow voters to decide Peters’ effectiveness as a senator.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 08/25/2020 - 9:37am

It is a real shame that this political ad might have traction.
$1.8 million becoming $4.5 million over eleven years is just about average for the growth of the stock market over those eleven years. A stock market calculator estimates a 2.37 to 2.78 change which puts Sen. Peters at about average. Either Mr. James doesn't know this, and/or is counting on this to inflame an innumerate electorate.

Better Question
Tue, 09/01/2020 - 10:29am

Will John James submit tax returns or pull a Trump?

Tue, 08/25/2020 - 10:11am

Since when does fact checking involve obvious political leaning. Bridge...get back in the middle before you are viewed as politico.

Thu, 08/27/2020 - 10:45am

Does being "in the middle" mean overlooking the lies on any given side to appear "fair and balanced"? Serious question.

Tue, 08/25/2020 - 1:22pm

Seems the sole purpose of the Bridge "fact check" feature is to bolster the Peters' campaign. Hope he's paying for the service.

Free public service
Wed, 08/26/2020 - 11:48am

It seems the sole purpose of John James ads are to lie. I hope he doesn't really believe in hell because lying is really bad.

I call BS
Tue, 08/25/2020 - 1:38pm

John James is a phony with absolutely no scruples. I care about PFAS and our Great Lakes. Peters has been a steady force to a better environment in Michigan and delivered millions to combat the problems. If James will lie to get elected, what will he do once he's in office? He is so 2,000% behind Trump that it's hard to tell which is which. James has no policies other than to do the bidding of Trump. Other than military service, which Peters also has, James has no history of caring for anyone, but himself. Yet he claims a lifetime of public service. What is he talking about???????

Tired Mom
Wed, 08/26/2020 - 12:08pm

I'm troubled by people who say they walk in the Word and not only lie, but unequivocally support all of Trump's behavior, like Mike Pence and John James. While one may argue the president has changed his long history of adulterous ways, clearly he has an ongoing penchant for casual prolific lying. I was mortified by the RNC showcasing his fornicating son and his Evita inspired mate who was dressed like a showgirl. I thought I was watching a Las Vegas show rather than a national party convention when she spoke, or should I say screamed. I can't help but wonder how Mike Pence and mother can support such filth. I'm tired of explaining to my kids that our family doesn't follow such "role models" who seem to be so revered as celebrities. Call me judgmental, but these people should not be exulted and rewarded as our elected leaders. I abhor such offensive behavior and do not want these people representing me, because they don't.

Tue, 08/25/2020 - 2:03pm

Well we have learned that John James has learned to lie at the feet of Trump. James probably loves that nearly 200,000 people have died of the coronavirus just as polls show that Republicans are comfortable with that number.
Republicans like James have become the "death party" and remember that Trump's MAGA motto really means "Make alota Graves Available." Trump and his toadys like James salute that will all their lies.

Worst Admin Ever
Wed, 08/26/2020 - 12:22pm

We have become immune to the grave covid19 threat under Trump.
Remembering all the scary forecasts back in June, June 24, 2020 to be precise. Back then we were told there could be 180,000 covid19 deaths by October...

The reality is FAR worse than we could have ever imagined as we have over 180,000 covid19 deaths in TODAY in AUGUST!!!!

Yet Trump and his sycophants claim SUCCESS, boldface lies. Why isn't the media reporting how the number of deaths have far exceeded projections??? We have far more death in the USA than any other country in the world. Trump sucks and we need to retire him come November. PERIOD. John James, we do not want any more lying sycophants in the senate. When you stand with Trump, you stand against us, We the People.

New IHME COVID-19 Model Projects Nearly 180,000 US Deaths

Ben W Washburn
Tue, 08/25/2020 - 9:11pm

Thanks for the fact checking, no matter who it helps or hinders. That's one of the main reasons that I send you $50 each month. Keep trying to report the truth.
It's actually very hard to judge the performance of any U.S. Senator or House member. They are legislators, not executives. They can only have a very indirect influence on any specific current problem or issue, such as unfair competition to cherry farmers, or taking some leading role in response to COVID. I would hope that in future articles of this kind, that you remind your readers of what they should reasonably be expecting of incumbents.

Ethics matter
Wed, 08/26/2020 - 12:28pm

Well, the Republicans and Democrats in the house have passed hundreds of bipartisan bills. So I think we can credit all of those who worked together and got those bills passed with doing a great job. We also can unanimously condemn Moscow Mitch and ALL the Republicans serving in the senate with the lone exception of Mitt Romney for their complete lack of ethics and for their total obstruction.

Invisible Cash
Wed, 08/26/2020 - 2:55pm

Follow the money: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is sabotaging the Postal Service, threatening the election, and causing Michiganders to experience delays on postal deliveries of everything from paychecks to prescription drugs. But failed politician John James has refused to call out DeJoy as he undermines the USPS after taking thousands in contributions from him. And now James won’t answer whether he’ll return DeJoy’s campaign cash.

Lot's more about John James, GOP, and the USPS:

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 2:45pm

The truth is that Peters has proven himself time and time again to be a party first politician where he puts the will of the Democrat party over the needs of his constituents. If you doubt this then please list some examples of where Peter's went against the party line on anything?

Tue, 09/01/2020 - 10:38am

The Democrats put people before party. Maybe you like drinking PFAS. The rest of us don't, nor to our children. Peters supports the Democrats because the Democrats are for the people. I would be upset if Peters didn't care about the people. Ask yourself this, who are the constituents of the Republicans, lobbyists in other states? They don't care about the people of Michigan.

Pat Carson
Sun, 08/30/2020 - 2:38pm

James Johns may contend that he will not take away health insurance but the truth is that he is a strong supporter of Trump and will vote with Trump's wishes. Additionally, he is a super conservative and will vote to take away the right of women to choose. Otherwise, he is good looking and articulate but look beyond that and what he stands for-Trump.

NO J James!
Tue, 09/01/2020 - 10:40am

All true, but let's not forget that he would take away Medicare and Social Security too.