Back in mid-May, we were the first observers to note that GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton’s premiere TV spot contained a major false statement: Walker claimed without supporting any evidence that he was the “only treasurer in the country” to support President Donald Trump’s tax bill. As it turns out many Republican state treasurers supported the Trump tax cuts, some of whom traveled to Washington to shill for the law and took other actions well beyond Stapleton’s mere endorsement on paper.
Over the next few days, every local television station in Denver proceeded to call out this false statement, along with other falsehoods and exaggerations in Stapleton’s ad though this was by far the most blatantly false claim. Despite these unfavorable fact-checks, the ad has continued to run unmodified including the false claim that Stapleton was the “only treasurer in the country” to support the Trump tax cuts.
This week, the situation came to a head after Stapleton made an ass of himself at a 9NEWS debate when questioned about the discrepancy. In the aftermath of that performance, outgoing 9NEWS political correspondent Brandon Rittiman has apparently had enough of Stapleton’s unrepentant bullshit:
We rated that claim false in a Truth Test last month. It’s easily disproved because several other GOP state treasurers publicly supported the President’s plan.
We don’t know what Stapleton was thinking when he started running this ad, but we know he knows better now.
In the 9NEWS Republican debate Thursday night, Stapleton acknowledged that what his ad says isn’t true.
What’s more, he said it’s not important that it isn’t true…
And that (see video above) was a big mistake.
We can’t take his ad down, but it’s fair for his opponents to call it a lie.
If Mr. Stapleton doesn’t want to be called a liar, then he should stop saying something he knows is false. [Pols emphasis]
It’s extremely rare for journalists to use the word “lie” or “liar” without qualifications, or as anything other than a verbatim quote. That’s because journalists, rightly or wrongly, consider their role to be to report rather than judge, and leave the question of truthfulness to the viewer. There’s a credible argument to be made that the chronic unwillingness of journalists to aggressively call out false statements contributed to the “post-factual” political environment that facilitated the rise of Trump to begin with.
But not this time. Stapleton is lying, he knows it, and everyone else does too now. At this point it’s truly baffling why Stapleton didn’t just admit the “mistake,” change the ad, and move on with his campaign. But he couldn’t own up to even such an obvious error. He had to double down. He had to defend this pointless lie as not a big deal, and claimed he learned nothing from the experience.
To use any other word than “liar” in this case would simply be a whitewash.