Led by former Modesto City Councilman Tim Fisher (pictured left), valley citizens stepped up to the challenge of debunking Brad Hawn’s fictitious campaign mailers this week with a flurry of letters to the editor that appeared on the Bee’s editorial pages. Fisher is an especially authoritative source because he not only served on the City Council in the mid ‘90’s, he was also on the Modesto Planning Commission in the late ’80’s and early ‘90’s when Village I was in the planning stage.
As Fisher so succinctly put it, “Calling Garrad Marsh a developer does not agree with history.” Fisher’s fact-filled letter to the editor was far more worthy of front page status than the Bee’s own coverage of the mailer controversy, which followed the typical quote-driven, “Who shot John,” formula that rarely gives readers the knowledge they need to make informed political choices.
Veteran news people and readers have long lamented the, “he said, she said,” method so popular in contemporary reporting. In the case of Hawn’s campaign mailers, the quote-driven method was especially harmful because it gave Brad Hawn and Mike Zagaris more credence than Garrad Marsh by citing the two of them as opposed to Marsh alone.
Ordinarily, “he said, she said,” reporting merely establishes false equivalencies. It’s popular because it both eliminates the need for investigation and enables reporters and news media to claim they’ve been fair by presenting “both sides.” But presenting both sides as equivalent is misleading when one side is clearly erroneous.
Although the Bee’s editorial endorsement of Marsh did chide Hawn’s use of a Bee excerpt in a, “misleading way,” it still concluded Hawn is a strong candidate. How is it that a man who has used tax payer money to put unnecessary issues on a ballot and then misrepresented the facts can be a strong candidate? What’s worse is that unless the only game in town is willing to hold candidates accountable to high standards of truth and integrity, valley citizens will continue to be subjected to fraudulent campaigns.
Should Brad Hawn win this election, it will send the message that distortion, “misleading,” and misrepresentation are merely politics as usual. And if local media fail to expose and condemn the methods of dirty politics they implicitly endorse them. It then falls to leading citizens to respond to the challenge of establishing higher standards.
Fortunately, many citizens have spoken out in addition to Fisher, including Paul Neumann, who most often writes on educational issues. Normally reserved and very careful in his choice of words, Neumann called the mailers, “despicable.”
Valley citizens deserve better than smear campaigns and “misleading” tactics. Many have already spoken out. Let’s hope there’s more to come.