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Purveyors of phony news want it both ways

September 17, 2018

Take no pity on people who complain about gotcha stories.

They are usually the same ones who want to go off the record so they can try to plant a negative or sensational story about someone they want to hurt.

Handlers for politicians and those in advocacy organizations are especially good at whining about gotcha stories, even as they try to create them. They will say something like, “You didn’t hear this from me, but look into Commissioner Doublespeak’s use of plastic straws when he orders iced tea. Ha! And he says he cares about the environment.”

The loose definition of a gotcha story is an item of little consequence that a news organization overplays to spike circulation or ratings.

But what partisans call a gotcha story, or fake news, often is solid information that they want to suppress.

For instance, a well-known advocate for liberal causes named Javier Benavidez recently accused a colleague of mine of writing a gotcha story. The subject was one Andrea Romero, an irresponsible manager of public money, who had just been skewered in a special state audit.

Romero also is the Democratic nominee in House District 46 in Santa Fe. The idea of her going to the Legislature to help manage taxpayers’ money ought to frighten state residents. But Benavidez favors the same political causes as Romero, so he claimed the news coverage about her was contrived.

“I know what it feels like for the media to sensationalize a faux story that was fabricated as a big ethics question by the opposition in the first place,” Benavidez wrote on Facebook after Romero’s handler had criticized the audit findings. “And the media just runs with it because it’s one of their go-to core narratives — corruption, etc.”

Contrary to Benavidez’s claim, my colleague wrote a factual, tough-minded piece about Romero. She made a practice of going to lunch and dinner with cronies, then billing the meals and booze to the public. Romero’s inner circle didn’t like seeing the story in print because it was true.

To be sure, a number of gotcha stories have been floated this summer. The people behind them are with the Republican and Democratic parties.

There’s not a nickel’s worth of difference between these political organizations when it comes to trying to turn an innocuous comment into a headline they can exploit.

The Republican Party of New Mexico showed signs of desperation by attacking Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Democratic nominee for governor, on claims of elitism.

The Republicans shopped around a press handout that supposedly contained “a shocking new video” in which Lujan Grisham “mocks rural New Mexicans.”

Their evidence? A 19-second clip that showed nothing of the sort.

Lujan Grisham told a group in Santa Fe about meeting a woman who had moved from another state to Deming. Then the Republicans falsely claimed that Lujan Grisham had scorned those from the hinterlands.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico, an organization that has pooh-poohed Romero’s malfeasance, tried the same tactic.

The Democrats last week pitched a wild claim about Steve Pearce, the Republican nominee for governor. It headlined its press handout: “Pearce attacks Hispanics, again.”

This was an attempt by the Democrats to claim racism where not a shred of it existed.

They offered a 41-second clip of Pearce talking about an Albuquerque neighborhood with a large minority population. It’s often called the war zone because crime and drug addiction are prevalent.

Pearce came across as thoughtful enough in the clip. He spoke about helping people with a prison record find a job, but this important part of his commentary was cut short by the political operatives.

Instead, they fixated on his mention of the war zone, as though this were evidence of racial prejudice. Pearce actually mentioned that those living in this neighborhood call it the war zone.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, a Democrat, refers to this neighborhood as the International District. But when Keller was a state senator representing the area, he acknowledged that it was known as the war zone.

Lujan Grisham didn’t knock or mock rural residents. Pearce didn’t utter a racial slur while talking about crime, punishment and rehabilitation.

Instead, their respective political parties attempted to push phony claims into print.

It’s only September. They will keep trying to tilt coverage to weaken rival candidates.

All the while they will complain about gatekeepers spoon-feeding gotcha stories to voters.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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