McGrath Blurs Out Coal Miners After Legal Threat

Miners wanted ad taken down after they were unknowingly included

Amy McGrath / Getty Images
September 10, 2019

Days after two coal miners suffering from black lung accused Senate hopeful Amy McGrath of exploiting their plight for political gain, the Kentucky Democrat released a new ad in which the pair's faces are obscured.

The move comes after the McGrath campaign pushed back on allegations that it misled the miners, insisting that all involved knew the campaign intended to use the footage.

The ad, released in late August, depicted a group of coal miners traveling to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about black lung. Two of the miners, Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall, said they were told the footage would be used by the Black Lung Association and did not consent to their presence in McGrath's political attack ad against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).

The miners' lawyer sent a cease and desist letter to McGrath's campaign asking it to pull the ad from the air. The letter says the miners were "shocked and outraged" when they saw their images featured prominently in the ad.

"Randy and Albrow did not and do not consent to the use of their images in this campaign advertisement," the letter said. "Moreover, they do not believe that black lung is or should be made into a partisan political issue."

The letter was sent to the McGrath campaign last Wednesday and set a Friday deadline for response. Though the campaign did not meet the deadline, a McGrath spokesman previously told the Washington Free Beacon the miners were "fully informed that they were being filmed for an ad." The spokesman did not respond to request for comment about the revised ad.

The Associated Press appeared to contradict this assertion, writing that although the McGrath campaign provided emailed copies of the signed release forms, the forms "did not mention McGrath by name."

The McGrath campaign refused to pull the ad, and instead released a revised version that blurs out Robbins and Hall. The McGrath campaign doubled down on the politicization of black lung, telling the Associated Press that the complaining miners "shouldn't distract" from incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell’s "callous disregard" for the health of miners.

The miners' cease and desist letter challenged this claim as well, stating that Robbins and Hall "deeply appreciated the warm receptions they received from a number of elected representatives who took the time to meet with the group, including Senator Mitch McConnell."

While the McGrath campaign criticized McConnell in the ad's description for only giving the miners "one minute of his time" during their trip to Washington, Robbins and Hall "felt the trip was a success" and were "personally offended at seeing their images being used in a political attack ad that does not reflect their personal feelings or beliefs."

A failed House candidate in 2018, McGrath has faced near-constant criticism since announcing her senatorial bid due to mistakes characterized by Kentucky Democratic representative John Yarmuth as "pretty significant."