Although the scope of this blog and podcast will be national, from time to time I’ll write or talk about issues here in my home state of Arizona, particularly when the story, though local in scope, exemplifies a fundamental that applies nationwide.
A number of newspapers and blogs across the country have established “fact check” features: ostensibly unbiased examinations of statements made by politicians or their supporters, intent upon showing whether the statements are objectively true or false. These monuments to cynicism were, in fact, developed to facilitate bias while denying it outright. Some are more clever than others and some are more subtle than others, but generally speaking, they have all, at one time or another, employed carefully-worded deception and even outright logical fallacy to advance or damage a political position or candidate.
AZ Central has their own such fact check feature, and they have deployed it on occasion to either advance the Democrat agenda or harm the Republican agenda in ways that I must concede are sometimes admirably clever. As the drumbeat of the 2014 election begins to pick up, they have realized something that many of us have seen coming for quite some time; Doug Ducey is emerging as the likely GOP gubernatorial candidate for 2014. At the very least, there are more than a few among the AZ Central editorial staff who strongly oppose his election. They also know that there is not a Democrat candidate that can defeat the GOP candidate in the general election, so they will use their fact check feature, among other devices, attempting to either wound Ducey’s candidacy or help a more moderate Republican win the primary (and hence the general election).
On Friday, June 6th, a gubernatorial candidate forum was held; presented by The Arizona We Want Institute, and “powered by” AZ Central. Ducey was asked about SB1062 and its effect on the state’s reputation, and moderator Brahm Resnik asked if Ducey would veto the measure if he held the state’s top office. According to AZ Central’s fact check feature, Ducey stated “I was one of the first to come out and say I would veto” the bill. The fact check feature spells out the “objective truth” against which the statement is to be measured, in this case with the statement, “WHAT WE’RE LOOKING AT: Whether Ducey correctly characterized his position on the controversial legislation …” This statement is obviously not an objective standard.
The author then states that AZ Central had previously established that Scott Smith (the least conservative and hence the publication’s favorite serious GOP candidate) was the very first gubernatorial candidate from either major party to publicly declare his opposition to the legislation. A timeline detailing, to the minute, when each of the candidates publicly stated their opposition to the bill is presented in order to establish that Ducey’s statement came almost 26 hours after Smith’s statement, and that four other candidates publicly voiced opposition in the interim (an attempt to paint Ducey as either the most conservative serious candidate or as wobbly and unable to quickly state a principle-based position). The author then introduces Ducey’s official statement, which says that if he were governor, “I would veto SB 1062”, and the fact check then concedes that Ducey was indeed the first candidate to explicitly state he would actually veto the measure.
Here’s where the wheels come off for AZ Central. Ducey was asked in the forum if he would veto the legislation. He said yes. And the facts show that he was the first candidate of either major party to publicly say so. Somehow, the author of this piece manages to interpret these facts to arrive at the the conclusion that Ducey’s statement rates “two stars” out of a possible four in terms of its honesty. In the piece, he concedes that Ducey was the first candidate to explicitly state he would veto the measure, but goes on to say, “However, his statement at Friday’s forum also implied he was out in front among the gubernatorial candidates in opposition to SB 1062 when that is not the case”.
I’m truly struggling to understand how any such implication can be tortured out of Ducey’s response to a very direct question. When was asked if he would veto SB 1062, he responded, “I would veto SB 1062”. But the “fact check” disingenuously holds up an objective, factual statement against a subjective standard, specifically whether Ducey “correctly characterized his position …”. Characterizations are, by definition, subjective. In politics, characterization is a rhetorical device, and indeed, multiple parties can observe an occurrence and characterize it afterward in very different ways, contingent upon their own personal biases. In Ducey’s quote from the forum, he goes beyond his veto statement to portray himself as a coalition builder, a very broad assessment that does not even address the specific issue of SB 1062. The author’s conclusion that Ducey “implied he was out in front among the gubernatorial candidates in opposition to SB 1062” is a laughable stretch that simply holds no water from a logical or factual standpoint.
One other key point: Ducey didn’t even claim to be the first candidate to publicly state he’d veto the bill … he only claimed to be “one of the first” to do so. Based on what was stated in fact, Ducey is 100% in the clear – not only was he one of the first, he was unquestionably first, according to the article. But the author still tries to declare Ducey less than completely truthful by using a subjective yardstick to measure an objective fact. In terms of logic, it’s similar to an equivocation fallacy, playing fast and loose with the meaning of the term “characterized”. It’s clear that AZ Central, presenting a pedantic minute-by-minute timeline, is splitting hairs and playing a shell game in terms of which “fact” they’re trying to establish. The media would love to have the serious GOP candidates take opposite positions so they could be played against each other, but since they did not, AZ Central tried to manufacture a distinction that painted Smith as a moderate, hence the winner and Ducey as an arch-conservative, hence the loser.
The topic of the bill itself is tailor made for “gotcha” questions – SB 1062 was indeed highly controversial. I’m not fond of the notion of government stripping the right to choose clientele based on one’s morals and ethics from those who offer goods and services. But I strongly doubt the necessity or the wisdom of introducing a preemptory measure to prohibit the government from doing so, particularly a measure that, in my mind, was possibly worded in such a way as to deliberately stir up a “Christians vs. gays” fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses in an attempt to get it before the courts. Among the voters that primary candidates will need in order to win the nomination are both supporters and detractors of SB 1062, and AZ Central will continue to ask Doug Ducey questions that attempt to catch him off-guard, seeking a response that would alienate one of these groups or another, hence reducing his primary vote count and harming his potential nomination.
Ducey is way too smart for that strategy to succeed. I guarantee that he and his people have sat down and brainstormed to consider every possible issue and every possible way the liberal media (and the liberal candidates) will ask the gotcha questions. He’ll be prepared. And frankly, if this is the best that AZ Central can do, they will not achieve their goal of influencing the outcome of the primary or the general election.