With just over three months until the 2022 general election, fabrications, half-truths, omissions and utter lies will dominate political discussion from now until November. It is the same song, just at a different tempo.
We live in a post-truth political world.
Misleading characterizations have always been a part of the political world. More than two decades ago, during one of the first campaigns I ever worked on, the campaign manager would regularly put together fundraising letters that stretched credibility but terrified a significant portion of the intended target. He knew he could count on the credulity of voters — particularly those who were on his candidate’s “side” — to override any small detours he took from objective reality.
The scarier the spin, the more money his candidates raised.
Consequently, it did not come as a shock when I saw 9News anchor Kyle Clark taking Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold to task for a misleading fundraising letter. Griswold’s letter noted that election deniers won a majority of the votes in the GOP primary but did not clarify that her opponent — who won a plurality in that primary — is not among them.
To the contrary, Pam Anderson is one of the few Republican candidates who never wavered or waffled in her defense of election integrity in our state. Even when the inconvenient truth earned her a primary from Colorado’s foremost election denier, Anderson held firm to her convictions.
Anderson doubled down by advocating for the efficiency and security provided by universal mail balloting and drop boxes. These positions put her at odds with a significant portion of her party, many of whom have actively worked to limit ballot access in states across the country.
But that doesn’t matter much in a post-truth political world. What does matter is how fired up Griswold can make her base and how well she can drive them to volunteer time and effort to fuel her campaign.
Clark earned more enmity from the left when he challenged Gov. Jared Polis’ attempt to rebrand the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) refunds — which Democrats voted to move up to a few weeks before Election Day — as the Colorado Cashback program.
It must be an odd feeling for a newscaster more accustomed to barricading against bombardment from the right. Due to both his popularity and refusal to accept disinformation from Republican candidates, Clark has even earned a Twitter parody account.
Maybe that is the new mark of broadcasting excellence?
Regardless, reporters demanding accountability is precisely what Colorado and our country need right now. Thankfully, Clark is not alone.
More than four years ago I authored a column in the famous “News Matters” editorial page edition that highlighted the importance of local journalism (a framed copy still hangs in my office). My simple query was “Who will ‘be there’” to hold elected officials and candidates accountable if not local journalists?
Since then, publications like the Colorado Sun have flourished and given a home to investigative reporters with the institutional knowledge to recognize misleading statements and the skill to expose it.
That is a critical component of a functioning democracy.
While misleading statements and omissions in political mailers do not pose a threat equivalent to the election lies and legal manipulations laid out by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, they are nonetheless deleterious to public trust. Absent the investigative work and reporting provided by journalists, they likely would go unchallenged.
Unchallenged untruths have a habit of becoming erroneous “facts” for far too many people.
The next few months will see plenty of misleading statements issued by campaigns on all sides. The best way to make sense of it? Keep following your local reporters.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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