Here’s a lesson from the budding campaign over Proposition D that shows how quickly political spin can become accepted fact.
Last week, journalists received an e-mail blast from opponents of Proposition D, the sales tax measure on November’s ballot. The opponents announced a meeting with “over 300 business and community leaders” for the “launch of (a) grassroots effort.” They took a stab at Proposition D supporters, too.
Proponents of Prop D will have $1 million or more from labor unions and special interests to spend in their campaign … We cannot match that special interest money. Fortunately, our “No on Prop D” campaign has the support of the grassroots in San Diego — a broad spectrum of hardworking small business owners, neighborhood activists and community leaders.
KUSI covered the meeting live and reported the campaign’s claims to its audiences as fact. Here’s one excerpt from the exchange between anchor and news reporter (emphasis is ours):
Anchor: I understand the Prop. D campaign has quite a bit of money behind it to see it through.
Reporter: They do. They have about a million dollars for those supporting Proposition D, for their campaigns. Some of that is funded by some of the unions around San Diego city and county as well. The campaign here, the No on Prop. D campaign, does not have that kind of money. This is a purely grassroot effort. This is a fundraiser tonight so they’re actually trying to get some people to donate to their campaign, but what they’re to do is get as much support behind this as they can. They’ve already got a substantial portion of the business community supporting the No on Prop D campaign.
Anchor: Sounds like they’re putting up a pretty good fight, though. Alright, Tom, thank you.
In those four highlighted sections, the reporter presented the same talking points about unions, special interests, business and grassroots efforts that came from the anti-Prop. D press release. He claimed the pro-Prop. D campaign had $1 million, which actually went a step further from the press release, which only forecasted that sum.
Proposition D supporters have given a wide range of fundraising goals — from a few hundred thousand dollars up to $1 million — but how much they can actually raise remains to be seen. The campaign isn’t required to first disclose fundraising efforts until the beginning of October, though it’s clear that unions will be a major supporter.
Earlier this month, Tom Shepard, a campaign consultant for Prop. D supporters, predicted that fundraising would be less than half a million and Prop. D opponents could match that amount. “I would be flabbergasted if it’s more than that,” he said.
And describing the opposition as a “grassroots effort” is political spin. It includes some of the region’s largest political institutions, such as the Lincoln Club of San Diego County and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Like labor unions, these groups fit the definition of special interests as well.
As the city moves closer to the November election, and the debate really starts to heat up, keep a watchful eye on campaign propaganda. If you see or hear anything that merits a Fact Check, let us know. You can always contact us by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
— KEEGAN KYLE