Voters beware of misleading political ads.
Do your homework, dear voters.
Collecting the dispatches from your mailboxes, watching cable television and daring to listen to your voicemail could subject you to all manner of deception — all ostensibly in the name of democracy. Campaign season is in full swing with the deadline for your primary ballot Tuesday.
Case in point: The Washington State Republican Party is running a video advertisement against Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s re-election that deliberately misrepresents a Seattle Times editorial board position. The ad suggested The Seattle Times accused the governor of criminal behavior.
Do your homework
Seattle times election endorsements:st.news/endorsements
Secretary of State 2016 Primary Voters’ Guide (in four languages):sos.wa.gov/elections/research/2016-Primary-Voters-Guide
Bottom line: The editorial board did not accuse the governor of criminal conduct. And we have asked the party to correct the ad. Party officials so far are doubling down.
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What is true: We — like many others, including federal and local judges — are deeply troubled by the Inslee administration’s handling of Western State Hospital’s management problems. The practice of not admitting patients in dire need of treatment is untenable and results in actual human anguish, not to mention opening the state to massive fines because it is violating court orders.
In the ad called “Don’t Take the Risk,” the Republican Party cites a number of statistics about patients who have left the hospital without authorization over a series of grainy images of patients and the hospital.
One quote attributed to The Times editorial board is accurate. We criticized Inslee for vetoing bipartisan reforms passed by lawmakers frustrated over the administration’s indolence.
But what the voiceover says is not: “The Seattle Times called his negligence criminal.”
The video shows a partial quote from columnist Jonathan Martin’s column about Western State Hospital: “If anyone should go to jail … it’s Gov. Jay Inslee.”
The quote is accurate, but crucial context is missing. Martin’s column was about a Pierce County court commissioner who threatened to throw the hospital’s CEO, Cheryl Strange, in jail for contempt if she did not admit a patient that had been languishing on a waiting list for weeks.
Using a rhetorical device that apparently is lost on Republican Party officials, Martin was making the point that the Inslee administration was more at fault for the ongoing problems than Strange. While Martin’s powerful column laid out a case for stunning mismanagement, he did not seriously suggest Inslee should go to jail or that he was guilty of criminal conduct.
I asked a state party spokesman for an explanation on Wednesday afternoon, and was told by email, “I’ve referred your comments to our attorney.” Then crickets, until I emailed again Friday morning asking that the advertisement be revised.
Mike Tiufekchiev from the state party responded:
“Contempt of court is defined in RCW 7.21.010 as including ‘Disobedience of any lawful judgment, decree, order, or process of the court.’ It is certainly reasonable to assume that an article which argues at length that the Governor’s mismanagement is responsible for that disobedience is implicitly calling said mismanagement ‘criminal.’ Any reasonable person could interpret Mr. Martin’s words in this manner. If Mr. Martin did not intend to imply criminal actions on part of the Governor he should not have written an article which suggested the Governor was responsible for the crime of contempt.”
So, there you go. As the editorial page editor of The Seattle Times, I am stating again that this was an unreasonable and misleading take on Martin’s column.
What’s the big deal? Some people might dismiss this as just politics, but the editorial board takes very seriously when our positions are misrepresented — by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Ask John Lovick of Mill Creek, a Democratic candidate for state House who last year used a 2013 Times endorsement of his candidacy for Snohomish County executive on a 2015 widely mailed campaign brochure — even though we had endorsed his opponent. We wrote an editorial about that misquotation.
Or ask state Senate candidate Chad Magendanz, a Republican state representative from Issaquah. At an event to promote his 2016 Senate candidacy there was a banner with an indication of a Seattle Times endorsement. True, we had endorsed Magendanz for his House seat in 2014, but we have yet to endorse either him or his Democratic opponent in the current race. When I called Magendanz on it, he apologized and said the banner was burned.
The editorial board has interviewed and researched more than 130 candidates for federal, statewide, legislative and judicial races for the primary. A second round is about to start for the general election. In our recommendations, we often encourage promising candidates who did not get our endorsement to stay involved in politics. Sometimes, those bon mots show up in brochures, implying an endorsement.
But you can check our recommendations for yourself. Our summary is on the facing page, and you can read the full endorsements online.
However you vote, please do it by Tuesday.