Endangered Pennsylvania GOP congressman launches Willie Horton-style smear ad

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) attacks Scott Wallace for donating to a program that aired interviews with Mumia Abu-Jamal.

A new smear ad from Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) attempts to tie Democrat Scott Wallace (left) with "convicted cop killer" Mumia Abu-Jamal (right).
A new smear ad from Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) attempts to tie Democrat Scott Wallace (left) with "convicted cop killer" Mumia Abu-Jamal (right). CREDIT: screenshot.

Back in 1988, an outside group supporting George H.W. Bush ran an infamous ad tying Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis to Willie Horton, a convicted black man who had received a life sentence for murder but was to commit more crimes through a prisoner weekend release furlough program.

A new ad released Tuesday by vulnerable Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania’s 1st congressional district makes the Dukakis attack appear tame by comparison.

The ad is entitled “Uncle Phil,” but it is no Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reference. The first-term congressman invokes his late uncle, Philip Fitzpatrick, an NYPD officer killed in the line of duty in 1947 (16 years before Brian’s birth) as the inspiration for his own career as an FBI special agent.

But halfway through, the ad highlights a clip from a local Fox affiliate — citing a Fox News report — suggesting Fitzpatrick’s Democratic opponent, Scott Wallace, is “under fire” for “donations he made to a liberal organization that has given a voice to the convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

The connection: Wallace served as one of the leaders of a nonprofit grant-making foundation called the Wallace Global Fund for 15 years. Among the organization’s many recipients (alongside groups fighting against female genital mutilation/cutting and for democracy in Zimbabwe) was Democracy Now!, an award-winning independent news program that airs on public television and radio and elsewhere.


Fox News has deemed Democracy Now! to be “sympathetic” to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a radio journalist and co-founder of Philadelphia’s Black Panther Party who was convicted of murdering a police officer in 1982 and is currently serving a life sentence in prison. Their tenuous connection to Wallace is that his foundation gave millions of dollars to support the news program and the news program “gave platform at least 20 times” to Abu-Jamal.

Under this logic, Fox News must also be “sympathetic” to the people it has hosted repeatedly, like former Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Dennis Kucinich (R-OH) . And a donor to ThinkProgress could be blamed for supporting Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) because it has frequently interviewed him over the years. This is not, however, how journalism works.

The race-baiting ad concludes with quotes from Fitzpatrick-supporters from local law enforcement officials suggesting that Wallace’s support for the news program was “reprehensible”  and “just too dangerous.”

Ironically, Fitzpatrick promises on his campaign re-election site: “No more finger pointing.”