The worst information always seems to seep out in the final days of campaigns, and this year is no exception.
City Council candidate Matthew Howes was slimed when a political action committee that’s largely financed by the Spokane firefighters union distributed flyers falsely suggesting that Howes’ pizza restaurant was an unhealthy place in which to dine. From this smear, voters were supposed to infer that Howes would be a sloppy elected official, too.
In fact, it was the PAC – laughingly called Spokane For Honest Government – that was slapdash in attempting to torch someone’s reputation and directly affect his livelihood. The Spokane Regional Health District said the claims didn’t jibe with its records.
The PAC defended itself by saying it was just putting information out there.
The same level of insincerity was found in the smear against Breean Beggs posted on Facebook by Spokane County GOP Chair Stephanie Cates. She said she was just a “concerned citizen” trying to start a discussion when she implied Beggs was somehow an advocate of “rape culture” and hate speech based on a 20-year-old First Amendment case.
In that case, Beggs stood up for the rights of a bookstore owner to sell a satirical magazine. An overzealous prosecutor called it pornography and charged the owner with obscenity. A jury disagreed, and the prosecutor ended up paying a fine for violating the civil rights of the businessman.
A simple search of the internet would’ve provided the context needed for a sincere conversation.
Voters have to navigate a minefield of misinformation each election, and the advent of social media has made it even more perilous. Candidates raise tons of money to produce slick flyers and brochures that accentuate the positive while exaggerating the negative.
Why? Because it works. The research is clear on this, especially when it comes to going negative.
Conservatives were outraged with the attack on Howes. Liberals were irate with the smear against Beggs. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough people who are disgusted with both. Until there is, the slimy politics will continue.
In the meantime, voters who aren’t totally driven by partisan impulses should be discriminating in their information sources. If you hear a rumor, do a little research. If you can’t figure out who is behind the information, move on. There’s a reason they aren’t being transparent.
Most candidates have websites. Those can be useful. Most of them also have a Facebook page. Ask them questions. But regardless of what you see or hear, try to verify it.
Finally, be extra vigilant when it comes to last-minute attacks, because by the time the truth catches up, it may be too late.