Obama Campaign Tries to Have It Both Ways in Death of Steelworker’s Wife

The Obama campaign has been roundly criticized for an adproduced by the Super PAC Priorities USA Action that appears to link Mitt Romney’s former firm, Bain Capital, with the cancer death of a steelworker’s wife.

US President Barack Obama answers questions during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, August 20, 2012.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
US President Barack Obama answers questions during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, August 20, 2012.

So at a news conference on Monday, the president sought to distance himself from the ad.

“I don't think Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman portrayed in that ad,” the president said. “But keep in mind, this is an ad that I didn't approve. I did not produce.” (Related: Romney Hurt by Democratic Attacks: Poll.)

There is just one problem.

The same steelworker — and the same dubious connection — are featured in a slideshow entitled “Romney Economics” on the Obama campaign’s official web site.

CNBC Investigations Inc.
CNBC Investigations Inc.

The ad — and the slideshow — discuss GST Steel, which was taken over in 1993 by a group led by Bain Capital, and went bankrupt in 2001 under a heavy load of debt.

Bain nonetheless profited handsomely from the deal, but 28-year employee Joe Soptic was among 750 employees who lost their jobs and their health insurance.

“A short time after that, my wife became ill,” Soptic says in the Super PAC ad, but he says she did not seek medical attention initially because of the lack of health insurance. When she eventually did go to the hospital, she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

“She passed away in 22 days,” Soptic says. “I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone.”

But the ad fails to point out that Soptic’s wife was diagnosed with cancer several years after he lost his job, and that she had health insurance under her own job. CNN first reported the additional details on August 7, citing a telephone interview with Soptic. (Related: Romney Claim on Obama Welfare Doesn't Hold Water.)

In his news conference, the president said that not only was he not responsible for the ad, but that it had only aired once. Priorities USA Action has defended the ad as factual and claims it does not directly link Romney to the woman’s death.

But the Obama campaign slideshow appears to do just that.

It displays a purported quote by “Joe Soptic, employee for 28 years, whose wife died of lung cancer after he lost his GST health plan.”

“I worked hard all my life and played by the rules, and they allowed this to happen,” Soptic is quoted as saying.

—By CNBC's Scott Cohn