NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

Don’t expect right wing media to apologize for deceptively declaring I‑1639 to be dead

Last week, when Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court Judge James Dixon ruled in favor of the Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion and Alan Got­tlieb’s legal chal­lenge to Ini­tia­tive 1639, order­ing Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman not to place it on the Novem­ber 2018 bal­lot, right wing blogs and media out­lets had a field day.

In their rush to cel­e­brate, they neglect­ed to empha­size (or did­n’t men­tion at all) that Dixon’s deci­sion was being appealed and would­n’t be the final word.

“NRA Wins Law­suit in Wash­ing­ton State, Pre­vents I‑1639 From Appear­ing on Bal­lot,” read a tri­umphant head­line on the Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion’s web­site.

“Judge Sides with NRA, 2nd Amend­ment Foun­da­tion, Dis­qual­i­fies Wash­ing­ton Gun Con­trol Ini­tia­tive,” pro­claimed a lede on the right wing web­site Bre­it­bart.

“NRA wins Wash­ing­ton case, stops gun con­trol ini­tia­tive from going to bal­lot,” read the title of the staff report on Dixon’s rul­ing. (MYNorth­west is the online home of right wing talk­ers like Dori Mon­son and Jason Rantz.)

Even Sin­clair-owned KOMO TV got in on the deception.

“This fall, you won’t be vot­ing on an ini­tia­tive to make it more dif­fi­cult to buy a semi-auto­mat­ic rifle,” anchor Mol­ly Shen impru­dent­ly told KOMO view­ers at the top of an evening news­cast on August 17th. Coan­chor Eric John­son added by way of expla­na­tion: “A Thurston Coun­ty judge ruled today that the peti­tion for Ini­tia­tive 1639 did not meet all the require­ments to make it onto the ballot.”

KOMO's Molly Shen pronounces I-1639 as dead

KOMO’s Mol­ly Shen pro­nounces the Alliance for Gun Respon­si­bil­i­ty’s I‑1639 to be dead as the August 17th 5 PM news­cast opens

All of those ledes con­sist­ed of what are now indis­putably erro­neous state­ments. Peo­ple were wrong­ly encour­aged to believe that I‑1639 was dead, when it wasn’t.

Last night, in an opin­ion signed by Chief Jus­tice Mary Fairhurst, the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court put the kibosh on Dixon’s rul­ing, unan­i­mous­ly over­turn­ing his deci­sion and hold­ing that he erred in grant­i­ng the NRA and Got­tlieb’s motion for a writ of man­damus. The high court’s rul­ing means that the NRA has actu­al­ly lost its law­suit and Wash­ing­to­ni­ans will get to vote on Ini­tia­tive 1639 this November.

But you would­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know that from look­ing at the NRA’s web­site. While the NRA did link to Joseph O’Sul­li­van’s Seat­tle Times sto­ry on the Supreme Court’s ver­dict, it has not updat­ed its orig­i­nal post from last Fri­day to clar­i­fy that it did­n’t actu­al­ly pre­vent I‑1639 from appear­ing on the bal­lot after all.

The only indi­ca­tion that Dixon’s rul­ing (hailed by the NRA as a “Wash­ing­ton Win!”) might not be an endur­ing vic­to­ry is at the end of its post­ing, where it admits: “The ini­tia­tive pro­po­nents will like­ly appeal the deci­sion to the state Supreme Court.”

KOMO’s sto­ry like­wise acknowl­edged that an appeal had been filed with the Supreme Court, but that came much lat­er in the seg­ment than it should have.

Here’s a tran­script for full context:

ANCHOR MOLLY SHEN: This fall, you won’t be vot­ing on an ini­tia­tive to make it more dif­fi­cult to buy a semi-auto­mat­ic rifle.

ANCHOR ERIC JOHNSON: A Thurston Coun­ty judge ruled today that the peti­tion for Ini­tia­tive 1639 did not meet all the require­ments to make it onto the bal­lot. KOMO’s Suzanne Phan joins us from Belle­vue with the reac­tion tonight. Suzanne?

REPORTER SUZANNE PHAN: Well, gun-con­trol advo­cates say they are shocked [and] they’re sur­prised that a judge sided with the NRA and not the 378,000 peo­ple who signed the peti­tion. Mean­while, gun rights advo­cates say that ini­tia­tive is flawed.


SUZANNE PHAN: It’s a big blow for some, and a big win for oth­ers. Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court ruled today in favor of the NRA, and stopped I-1639 from appear­ing on the bal­lot. The ini­tia­tive has to do with the sale of semi-auto­mat­ic rifles in Wash­ing­ton State.

The mea­sure rais­es the age lim­it from eigh­teen to twen­ty-one to pur­chase semi-auto­mat­ic rifles. It would have required a ten-day wait­ing peri­od for the pur­chase of those guns. It requires more exten­sive back­ground checks for the weapons.

The NRA and the Sec­ond Amend­ment Foun­da­tion [in actu­al­i­ty, Alan Got­tlieb, not the Sec­ond Amend­ment Foun­da­tion] filed a law­suit against the Sec­re­tary of State claim­ing the peti­tions did­n’t fol­low the law, that the font size was too small to read, and did­n’t include strikethroughs. The judge agreed.

JUDGE DIXON: It’s not read­able to me.

SUZANNE PHAN: Sup­port­ers of I-1639 were stunned.

PACIFICA LAW GROUP’S GREG WONG: At no point in Wash­ing­ton State has [a court] ever pre­vent­ed an ini­tia­tive from going to the bal­lot based on alleged defects in the petition.

SUZANNE PHAN: Aman­da Turn­er of the Brady Cam­paign to Pre­vent Gun Vio­lence was sur­prised by the court ruling.

AMANDA TURNER [VIA PHONE]: They know Wash­ing­ton sup­ports safer com­mu­ni­ties and safer schools. Because they can’t change the hearts and minds of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans, they’re going through the court sys­tem, and try­ing to nit­pick things apart, because that is the only way they can win.

SUZANNE PHAN: Alan Got­tlieb is with Sec­ond Amend­ment Foun­da­tion. He agrees with what the judge did this morn­ing, and says the ini­tia­tive is flawed.

ALAN GOTTLIEB [ON-CAMERA INTERVIEW WITH PHAN]: We all want to end gun vio­lence, we all want to end shoot­ing deaths, but you don’t do it by tak­ing away law-abid­ing peo­ple’s rights and restrict­ing things that aren’t going to solve the problem.

SUZANNE PHAN: And we talked to the Alliance for Gun Respon­si­bil­i­ty this after­noon. They say they’ve already appealed today’s deci­sion with the state Supreme Court. Live in Belle­vue, Suzanne Phan, KOMO News.

ERIC JOHNSON: Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman react­ed to the deci­sion. She cer­ti­fied the peti­tions at the end of July. Her state­ment said: “No mat­ter the issue, this office has a long track record of pro­tect­ing the peo­ple’s con­sti­tu­tion­al right to ini­tia­tive and ref­er­en­dum. When­ev­er ques­tions are raised about peti­tions sub­mit­ted by ini­tia­tive back­ers fac­ing a statu­to­ry dead­line, my office has con­sis­tent­ly act­ed accord­ing­ly.” And she thanked the judge for mak­ing a quick deci­sion so her office can con­tin­ue to pre­pare for the election.

Last night, about ten min­utes into its 11 PM news­cast, KOMO report­ed on the Supreme Court’s rul­ing revers­ing Judge Dixon. In a brief seg­ment, anchor Mary Nam informed view­ers that I‑1639 would be on the bal­lot after all.

Of course, no men­tion was made of last week’s erro­neous lede.

As bad as the KOMO and NRA ledes were, though, Bre­it­bart and MYNorth­west­’s con­duct was even worse. Nei­ther both­ered to men­tion to their read­ers that an appeal had been filed with the Supreme Court when they wrote about Dixon’s deci­sion. Omit­ting that key piece of infor­ma­tion was irresponsible.

For the sake of com­par­i­son, here is the open­ing para­graph of the MYNorth­west sto­ry on Dixon’s deci­sion and the open­ing para­graph of the sto­ry writ­ten by The Seat­tle Times’ Joseph O’Sul­li­van, who is a respect­ed jour­nal­ist:

MYNorthwest.comSeat­tle Times
Orga­niz­ers behind gun con­trol Ini­tia­tive 1639 did not com­ply with state sig­na­ture gath­er­ing rules, accord­ing to a Thurston Coun­ty supe­ri­or court judge who ruled in favor of the NRA Fri­day. I‑1639 will now be removed from the Novem­ber ballot.A Thurston Coun­ty judge Fri­day dealt a major blow to a pro­posed firearms-reg­u­la­tion mea­sure, rais­ing ques­tions about whether Ini­tia­tive 1639 will appear on Washington’s fall ballot.

Notice how dif­fer­ent those ledes are. One lends the impres­sion that I‑1639 is dead and buried. The oth­er lede (O’Sul­li­van’s) accu­rate­ly con­veys the true state of affairs, relat­ing that I‑1639 has been dealt a blow by a judge, but isn’t dead yet.

Only a few para­graphs lat­er, O’Sul­li­van’s sto­ry respon­si­bly informs read­ers that the Supreme Court has been asked to weigh in by Safe Schools Safe Com­mu­ni­ties, the Yes on I‑1639 cam­paign, rep­re­sent­ed by Paci­fi­ca Law Group’s Greg Wong.

The MYNorth­west staff report, mean­while, did­n’t men­tion this fact at all.

It’s too bad that the right wing blogs and media out­lets called out above chose not to be forth­right with their audi­ences when they trum­pet­ed Dixon’s rul­ing. Even advo­ca­cy jour­nal­ists can be com­mit­ted to fair, hon­est, and sound reporting.

If we held our breath wait­ing for an apol­o­gy or a cor­rec­tion from these guys, we’d pass out from a lack of oxy­gen, so we cer­tain­ly won’t be doing that.

But we do think this decep­tive report­ing makes for a good case study. It’s a reminder that many right wingers just don’t care about jour­nal­is­tic ethics. They’re more inter­est­ed in pub­lish­ing pro­pa­gan­da and pro­ject­ing their dis­hon­esty onto oth­ers. When you hear some­body reg­u­lar­ly scream­ing “Fake news!”, that’s a sure sign they’re a reg­u­lar pur­vey­or of infor­ma­tion that is false or out of context.

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