It's not often that a TV news anchor essentially agrees with those calling a leading gubernatorial candidate a liar. But that's exactly what 9News's Kyle Clark did in regard to Colorado Treasurer and Republican frontrunner Walker Stapleton in a commentary segment on the June 11 edition of Next With Kyle Clark. He explains why in the following Q&A.
The controversy revolves around this statement from Stapleton in a campaign commercial that's been airing frequently on Denver TV stations for weeks: "I was the only treasurer in the country with the courage to support Donald Trump's tax cuts."
Wrong, as plenty of people have pointed out, including Victor Mitchell, Stapleton's rival for the GOP nomination, who made the assertion in an ad of his own.
As Clark explains, his colleague, Brandon Rittiman, highlighted Mitchell's commercial in one of the station's "truth tests" and found his assertion that Stapleton was lying to be accurate.
Cut to a recent 9News debate (it's linked below) starring the Republican hopefuls for governor, when Clark confronted Stapleton on the matter. "I'm asking you whether you've learned anything about being caught making a false claim," Clark informed him.
Stapleton's response: "No, no, no. I actually have not, because I don't think the semantics of being 'one of the first' or 'the first' are really meaningful."
As Rittiman has noted, this answer skirts the issue, since Stapleton says in the ad that he was the "only" state treasurer to back President Trump's tax cuts, not the first.
In his commentary, seen here....
...Clark interprets Stapleton's answer as conveying that he thinks his prevarication "doesn't matter." He then explains that because of federal campaign laws, neither 9News nor any other TV station in the state can refuse to run the ad, even though it contains a bogus claim. He adds: "I know more people are probably going to see Stapleton's false claim than are going to see our fact check. Stapleton knows that, too. That's probably why he doesn't care he's being called a liar."
At this writing, representatives from Stapleton's campaign haven't responded to our inquiries about the Next With Kyle Clark segment. When and if they do, we'll update this post. But a new flier from Stapleton and company on view below boasts different wording about the Trump tax cuts; he's said to have "helped" pass them as opposed to being the only state treasurer to give his blessing
Continue for more from Clark, who communicated with Westword via email.
Kyle Clark: Here is Brandon Rittiman’s Truth Test on the Mitchell ad that says Stapleton is lying about the claim. He discusses why the word "lie" is rarely used in political reporting.
Here is Brandon Rittiman’s previous Truth Test identifying Stapleton’s claim as false, which is also somewhat unusual, as most questionable ad claims are at least in a gray area of deceptiveness. ... The claim in question is basically that Stapleton was the only treasurer with the courage to support Trump’s tax plan when he was actually one of many who did. His claim was easily disproved with a Google search and a quick call to a few state treasurers.
Westword: Why did you choose to single out the Stapleton ad for commentary, when plenty of political ads contain alleged falsehoods or questionable assertions? Is it simply being used as an example, or is it the most egregious example of a lie in a political ad this season, in your view?
We Truth Test political ads because they are sometimes misleading or require additional context. It is rare, in my opinion, to see a politician in Colorado shrug off being caught making an easily disproved false claim.
Do you feel that the federal law mandating that TV stations run such ads is wrong? If so, why? If not, why not? And why did you feel it was important to inform viewers that your station has to broadcast the ad even if it's been deemed to contain a false claim?
It’s important for viewers to understand that local television stations are constrained by FCC regulations regarding political advertising, because we sometimes hear from viewers who believe that individual journalists in newsrooms have the ability to pull ads off the air. Our role is to robustly fact-check political ads and to remind viewers of the truth.
Did Stapleton's response in the recent 9News debate make it more important, from your perspective, to call him out?
The debate can be seen in full here. The exchange is at 38:45. I think it speaks for itself.
Does Stapleton's apparent cynicism about the false claim strike you as indicative of current trends in political advertising, and politics as a whole, that you feel are important to push back against?
I believe that truth exists. I believe it’s important for journalists to point out to voters when a candidate knows that he or she is not telling the truth yet continues to make an obviously false claim. This is different than politicians being mistaken or misleading.
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Was there any trepidation upon the part of the 9News editorial staff about you taking the position that you did?
9News management has consistently supported Next commentaries that transparently explain our processes, including this commentary.
In your item, you admit that more people will see the false ad than will see the fact-check about it — or, presumably, your commentary. Do you find that frustrating? And if so, why was it important to speak out anyway?
As I mentioned in the commentary, more people will see Stapleton’s false claim than will see our Truth Test or my commentary. That’s likely why he is so unbothered that he’s being called a liar by his opponents. I think there is great power in anyone, whether they’re a politician or a journalist, admitting they got something wrong and promising to correct it. Doing the opposite is also telling.