Lies, Damn Lies, And Statistics Get Pro-Rand Paul Ad Pulled In KY

October 07, 2010 9:17 am ET — Alan Pyke

If a statewide task force on drug crime doesn't lead to an uptick in arrests, it's probably not a very good task force. But according to a recent ad from the First Amendment Alliance, Attorney General Jack Conway (D-KY) doesn't deserve your vote for Senate because there were more meth labs busted by law enforcement in 2009 — the year he announced a statewide drug task force — than in any previous year.

The ad claims Conway took years to create a task force he promised to found on day one; Conway's campaign maintains that "he began working on forming the task force on his first day in office but didn't announce it until nearly midway through his term." That argument could go on all day.

The insidious lie at the heart of this ad — the assertion that Jack Conway let Kentucky's meth problem double — is the kind of statistical manipulation that can be quite effective in a 30-second TV spot. Here's the relevant freeze-frame from the ad:

First of all, no responsible statistician would call this a "chart" because it doesn't even have a scale. (That's how they get away with placing "589" and "405" — a difference of 185 — in the same part of the screen, but putting "716" — which is only 127 units away from 589 — in the top third of the screen.) The dishonest presentation is no doubt part of the reason a Louisville television station has pulled the ad:

WDRB-41 in Louisville pulled an ad by a conservative political action group, saying it could not substantiate some claims it made.

Bill Lamb, president and general manager of the station, said in an interview, "We're not saying they were deliberately misleading, we're just saying that we and they weren't able to verify them."

An honest chart, like this one from the Kentucky state government's 2008 crime statistics (the last year available on their site), would also include data from earlier years that shows Kentucky's meth problem in full (we sketched in the 2009 statistic in red):

This graph still shows a dramatic uptick in meth lab busts during Jack Conway's tenure as Attorney General, so why manipulate the data? Maybe because more meth lab busts are, arguably, evidence of more effective enforcement strategies. Some of those strategies rely on federal funds to educate civilians in how to spot meth labs, as a column in the Louisville Courier-Journal by David Hawpe pointed out last summer (via Nexis):

While the rest of the state was seeing that downturn in meth busts a couple of years ago, the numbers in Louisville were going up. But that's both good and bad.

The good news is that Louisville received a $450,000 federal drug-fighting grant in 2007, most of which was to be used for educating folks about the meth business, including telltale signs that suggest the presence of a meth lab in the neighborhood. About 80 percent of the funds have been spent on awareness efforts, including public service announcements and billboards. Special emphasis has been placed on educating first responders and others who have reason to be out in the community.

As a result, says Louisville Metro Police drug specialist Sgt. Stan Salyards, 'We're identifying more meth labs, due to the public's help. The last three years we've been No. 1 in the state in meth labs found and cleaned up, and we will be No. 1 again this year.'

He's proud of that progress.

Those federal funds are liable to dry up if the First Amendment Alliance gets its way; Rand Paul is opposed to federal funding for drug enforcement.

This ad is cleverly engineered to steer public opinion against Jack Conway, and its sponsors surely paid good American money to run the spot. WDRB-41 in Louisville deserves praise for refusing that money when Conway's campaign brought the spot's inaccuracies to their attention. Other Kentucky stations should follow suit.

Read our full fact check of the ad HERE.