Politico Science Experiments: Will This GOP Lie Work? What If We Help It Along, Will It Work Then?

Politico ran an impressively bad piece Tuesday on the New Mexico special election to fill Deb Haaland's former congressional seat, now that Haaland's become secretary of the Interior. The piece asks what seems like an important question: How will Democrats respond to Republicans who accuse them of wanting to eliminate the police and let all the bad guys out of prison, huh? Rather than highlighting that the Republican talking point is bullshit, the story frames the two candidates as simply offering different perspectives.

Melanie Stansbury, the Democratic candidate in next week's special congressional election here, spent last weekend touting Joe Biden's agenda, vowing to strengthen infrastructure and fight climate change, drought and hunger.

Her Republican opponent used the same preelection push to warn that she would be heading to Washington to "defund the police" and back legislation to close all federal prisons within 10 years, releasing infamous criminals out on the street.

"Think about who's in federal prison right now: El Chapo, the co-founder of al Qaeda, the Oklahoma City bomber, the Unabomber," state Sen. Mark Moores told a luncheon of three dozen Republican women on Friday. "That is how radical this agenda is, and we have to stop it." [While Timothy McVeigh was executed 20 years ago, Terry Nichols is still in Supermax. — Dok]

As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman points out on the Twitter box, there's a bit of a problem with that third paragraph: It's not true, but Politico only explains that it's false some 14 paragraphs later, and then "only vaguely."

Instead of calling attention to the lie, Waldman notes, Politico only asks, "Is this clever gambit going to work?" And when political reporting reduces lying to a clever tactic, he says, that simply encourages more lying. Well sure, if it works!

The story is framed not as a contrast between a Democrat who's running on the Biden administration's successes and plans versus a Republican who's falling back on the same lies and distortions that they deployed in 2020. Instead, it's all just about how "both parties are using next week's race in this central New Mexico district to test their messaging," and if one of the messages isn't especially grounded in reality, why would Politico's horse-race coverage reflect that? Nobody asks if one of the horses in a real horse race is lying, do they?

And so we get a paragraph that explains that for Democrats, the messaging goal involves "selling a vision of post-pandemic economic recovery attractive enough to defy historical odds against keeping their narrow majorities." Republicans, on the other hand, aren't bothering with Biden, presumably because he's dangerously popular, and are instead "doubling down on their 2020 strategy, accusing Democrats of supporting policies that would make residents less safe amid an uptick in violent crime."

Especially if there's no truth to those accusations.

Now, none of that bullshit is likely to make much difference in the deep blue Albuquerque-anchored district formerly represented by Haaland. Biden won by 23 points there in November, and state Rep. Stansbury is expected to win the seat easily. But Politico finds a very interesting story here, which again it discusses without using the word "lie."

But the margin still could be telling. And if this race is any indication, Democrats are still grappling with how to address the GOP's attempt to paint them as radical on issues of policing.

For her part, Stansbury has said that New Mexicans aren't so easy to fool, and that their top issues are "our economy, pandemic relief, education, and community well-being."

And Mark Moores, the Republican? If there's something he's actually in favor of doing in the unlikely event he somehow goes to Congress, you wouldn't know it from the Politico piece. Instead, we learn that he's trying to portray Stansbury as a radical, citing an April tweet in which she called for passage of the BREATHE Act.

That BREATHE Act sure has some scary ideas in it, says Politico, multiple paragraphs before the article ever gets to noting [spoiler!] that Stansbury isn't actually in favor of every part of the proposal. Instead, we're treated to Moores's excellent attempts to portray her as criminals' best pal:

On the stump, he implores voters to go to breatheact.org — and, in case they don't, he's happy to rattle off some of the bill's contents. It calls for the elimination of Border Patrol and ICE, the dismantling of local police and the emptying of federal prisons. At a recent debate, he brought the husband of a murdered woman, Jacqueline Vigil, as his guest.

And at campaign events he passes out a flier that on one side notes he is "standing tall for law enforcement" — the 6-foot-6 Moores is a former lineman for the University of New Mexico. On the reverse, Stansbury's picture is surrounded by crime-scene tape.

Not a hint there that there's anything dishonest in portraying Stansbury as someone who thinks murders are just peachy. Eventually, several paragraphs later, Stansbury is given a chance to say, "We need to be talking about systemic racism and how that interfaces with policing in our criminal justice system," and that she supports police reform.

Oh yes, and long after the details of how Moores is attacking her, we're informed that Stansbury doesn't actually support parts of the BREATHE Act proposal like "the emptying of prisons," but that she is in favor of ending the use of private prisons, same as that old commie President Joe Biden. Oh, so the attack from the third paragraph of the story, which has been repeated throughout the piece, isn't at all what Stansbury supports? Thanks for mentioning that.

And a kicker: While the article waits several hundred words to give Stansbury a chance to state her actual position, that's immediately followed by a rebuttal from Moores, who insists Stansbury isn't allowed to back away from any part of the proposal because she just isn't, OK?

So yeah, it's a heck of an analysis: How are Democrats going to handle Republican disinformation, especially when lazy journalism keeps repeating the dishonest Republican talking points about things Democrats don't actually support? Truly, it is a puzzle. Hope those Democrats figure something out.

[Politico / Paul Waldman on Twitter]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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