With more than $1.3 million now spent in the 35th district Senate race pitting GOP-aligned state Sen. Tim Sheldon against a Democratic challenger, an avalanche of campaign mailers was inevitable. So was stretching the truth in this battle for which party might control the state Senate next year.
The editor of the Kitsap Sun newspaper says his political reporter, Steven Gardner, is the latest victim of the loose use of facts in the campaign by independent groups and the campaigns. A mailer going out to thousands of households this week from Thurston County Democrats claims Gardner is personally backing Democrat Irene Bowling against Sheldon.
That’s just not true.
It appears the “quote” in the mailer was actually something the Bowling campaign wrote on its own web site adjacent to a link that takes readers to recorded interviews that Gardner did with the candidates.
Sun editor David Nelson goes into detail about this in a column published Wednesday that also points up the perils this kind of error poses to independent journalists:
“It’s very clear from reading the website that the statement did not come from Gardner,” Nelson writes. “Bowling’s campaign manager, Henning Larsen, confirmed as much to me. He said his campaign ‘absolutely’ was the author of the line. Larsen said that neither he nor Bowling had seen the mailer, and he didn’t know about the Thurston County Democrats’ plan to use Gardner in literature or even any plan to do a mailer on behalf of Bowling. He said the county parties and outside groups typically have not sent their advertising by Bowling’s campaign for approval, unless she is being asked to contribute information.
“The Thurston County Democrats didn’t respond to my phone call or emails Wednesday to explain how this happened, though Larsen acknowledged that he had spoken with the party’s director about the issue. I’ll follow up with a post on the Kitsap Caucus blog if we get an answer about why a line was cut-and-pasted without confirming with the source about whether he was the author.
“So why is this so important? Because Gardner’s credibility, and our paper’s, is now in question to a few thousand voters in Thurston County. They were given the mistaken impression that a professional journalist, one who covers politics, would personally endorse a candidate. He wouldn’t, as none of us should. In fact, here’s our company policy on the issue: ‘Journalists and others who are involved in news decisions or policies, or who work in the newsroom, must adhere to a more restrictive standard than other employees, given the neutrality from which news organizations must work and the standards to which they are held.’ “
I was able to catch up with Roger Erskine, chairman of the Thurston Democrats, Thursday morning. Erskine initially said the party volunteer who worked on the mailer is “a very responsible person” and he cited a July date of publication to suggest he believed the quote – “After listening to the candidates, there is no doubt that Irene is the right kind of leader for the 35th LD!” – was legitimate. But he hadn’t seen Nelson’s column.
“I’ll keep checking,” Erskine said. And after he did, he sent Nelson a note acknowledging the error. In it, Erskine said the quote “should have been attributed to a campaign supporter in the Bowling campaign. The Bowling campaign had no input in the mailer. Our apology to Mr. Gardner and the Kitsap Sun.”
Falsely attributing mailer claims to news articles is becoming common in this election cycle, and this is perhaps the most flagrant misfire in attribution.
As noted in our 35th district Senate race profile on Sunday, which unwound a few truth-stretching claims in the Senate race, the Sheldon campaign falsely cited The Olympian for a non-existent quote about Bowling’s interest in a luxury tax, which Bowling says is among possible way to raise funds for transportation projects instead of raising the gas tax. A consultant for Sheldon's campaign later claimed his staff preparing the mailer “transposed” the information and that it should have referred to a taped interview in the Kitsap Sun, but the audio link provided by Sheldon’s consultant revealed no such quote from Bowling.
Other factually flawed claims in mailers, which the article mention, attack Bowling and Sheldon.
Faulty claims also are cropping up in the 35th district House races, which include claims about Dan Griffey and Kathy Haigh that are questionable.