‘Defund the Police’ Digitally Altered Attack Ad

On September 25 2022, a screenshot of a popular tweet apparently showed a dishonest attack advertisement against Rep. Ricky Hurtado (D- North Carolina):

In the tweet, North Carolina Sen. Jeff Jackson (D) shared two side-by-side images of Hurtado, describing a “comically dishonest political attack.” In a color photograph to the left (labeled “The Original Photo”) Hurtado wore a campaign shirt with his name on it.

Fact Check

Claim: North Carolina political activists digitally altered a shirt worn by Rep. Ricky Hurtado (D) to read “defund the police.”

Description: A screenshot shows an attack advertisement in which a shirt worn by Rep. Ricky Hurtado (D- North Carolina) has been digitally manipulated to read “defund the police.” The original image featured Hurtado wearing a campaign shirt with his name on it.


Rating Explanation: An overview of the source material and content shows that the image of Rep. Ricky Hurtado was indeed digitally altered for a political attack advertisement to include a “defund the police” slogan, which never featured in the original photo.

A cursory look at the color image compared to the black-and-white version hinted that the latter version had been altered. Elements such as the wrinkle pattern on Hurtado’s right shoulder were identical in both versions.

On the right side of the image, text read “Latest attack ad from Ross and his GOP allies.” A much grainier version of the same image appeared on the left, but Hurtado’s shirt had been changed to read “defund the police.”

On September 25 2022, a Reddit account shared the images to r/NorthCarolina:

Hurtado acknowledged the edited image on Twitter:

Hurtado also addressed the mailer in a September 23 2022 Facebook post, explaining:

Picking up trash isn’t glamorous.

But one early morning in March [2022], I joined hundreds of participants in the annual Haw River Clean-A-Thon. Together, volunteers removed more than 250 bags of garbage from the waterways and trails that lead to the Haw River, taking care of one of Alamance County’s most precious resources.

Why am I writing about this today?

Recently, a picture from that day was mailed to thousands of voters in our district. You wouldn’t know it, though, because my opponent Stephen Ross and his GOP allies had taken liberties with the photo to spread fear and lies in our community.

Talk about trash.

This won’t stop me from focusing my energy where it needs to be: serving our community. Finding real solutions for working families. Earning votes with facts and vision, so we can keep on fighting for a brighter future for NC.

Its sad to see these tactics used—that’s not leadership. Leadership is showing up and doing the work. It’s what I’ve done every day since I took office, it’s what I was doing on the banks of the Haw in March, and it’s what I’ll continue to do when I am re-elected this November. We don’t have time for these games—there is too much work to be done for our community.

The controversy was similar to misleading anti-abortion robocalls made in Kansas on the eve of the state’s August 2022 abortion referendum. On September 26 2022, the Twitter account @ForwardCarolina shared three additional printed advertisements with similarly altered images. Two of the additional prints attacked other North Carolina politicians:

A search for “Hurtado” and “Haw River Clean-A-Thon” led to the lawmaker’s own March 19 2022 Facebook post about the event and his participation in it. Of the three images Hurtado shared in the post, only one had the entirety of the original campaign imagery visible (and thus likely had the best template for editing).

A September 25 2022 Imgur post showed a tweet about a North Carolina attack advertising mailer which displayed an edited image of Democratic Party Rep. Ricky Hurtado. Hurtado’s campaign shirt was obscured and the image quality degraded, and a “defund the police” slogan was added to the shirt. Hurtado verified the existence of the mailer in a September 23 2022 Facebook post; he had originally shared the photograph in a set on March 19 2022. @ForwardCarolina located three additional attack advertisements with altered or misleading images after the Hurtado “defund the police” mailer began circulating.