Truthiness in Advertising

Looking at this glossy 8.5 X 11 inch mailer sent to residents by the Jean Quan campaign, you would probably never guess that headline of the Tribune’s Mayoral endorsement was “We recommend Rebecca Kaplan for Oakland mayor.”

Half-Truth in Advertising

This is just one more unexpected complication of our new Instant Runoff Voting system, where we forgo primaries and instead rank our top three choices on the ballot, with 2nd- or 3rd-choice votes only coming into play if one’s 1st-choice candidate is eliminated during the vote-counting process. (There still seems to be much confusion out there about Ranked Choice Voting; helpful primers can be found at the Alameda County Registrar’s website or at A Better Oakland.) Even though the Tribune recommended putting Quan as third choice (behind Kaplan and Tuman) and the Guardian recommended putting Quan as second choice (behind Kaplan), Quan has been boasting on Facebook and Twitter, and now in these mailers, that she was “endorsed” by the Trib and the Guardian. This mailer takes that misleading claim beyond those niche markets and into the mailboxes of thousands of potentially low-information voters who won’t bother to look up the actual editorials to see what they say. (The East Bay Express endorsed Kaplan, Quan and Tuman without recommending what order they should be put in.)

Personally, I think Quan should be pretty embarrassed that the Tribune put a City Council neophyte and a college professor with no political experience above her on their list of recommendations, but I suppose that the two most common ways of dealing with embarrassing facts are to ignore them, or to deny them. As political half-truths go, I don’t know where on the scale this falls—it depends on what the meaning of “endorse” is, as Bill Clinton might say. (The Guardian’s endorsement does explicitly say that they are “endorsing” both Kaplan and Quan, even though they recommend making Kaplan the first choice vote and Quan the second.)  The inside of Quan’s mailer is less misleading, saying that “The Oakland Tribune, Bay Guardian and East Bay Express all say that JEAN QUAN should get one of your votes for Mayor,” and pointing out that all three papers specifically criticized Don Perata.

Politics as usual, or over the line? That probably depends on how one feels about Quan in the first place. I’ve made it pretty clear on several occasions in the past that I am not impressed at all by Quan, so unsurprisingly, I’m not impressed by this mailer either, but I suppose that if one sees this race (and she hopes that we will) as a two-candidate horserace between her and Don Perata, then it’s perhaps less misleading to claim that she has been “endorsed” by the Trib and the Guardian.

9 Responses to “Truthiness in Advertising”

  1. V Smoothe says:

    I have heard quite a few people complain about this. Personally (and based on my conversations, I do understand that I’m in the minority here), I don’t think it’s unfair. I am no fan of Jean Quan, but the fact is, those newspapers did endorse her. First choice, second choice, third choice – whatever. They make endorsements, they put your name on the list, and you get to use it. That’s just how it works. If it were me, I’d do it.

    I mean, yeah, I get that it’s somewhat misleading. But then, what campaign mailer isn’t?

  2. dc says:

    V Smoothe: Ultimately, I can’t really disagree, although my first reaction when I saw Quan boasting on Facebook and Twitter about being endorsed by the Tribune was, “What?! That’s not true—they endorsed Kaplan!” And I wouldn’t be so sure that you are in the minority—Kaplan and Perata partisans who are predisposed to think that anything Quan does is unfair may be over-represented in your conversations. I personally found Quan and Kaplan’s effort to “clarify” the city’s campaign finance law a month before the election to be far more objectionable than this half-truth, but I think that I may have been in the minority on that one.

    Even though I have a strong visceral reaction against Quan whenever I hear her speak, I can’t rule out the possibility of putting her as my second choice (behind Kaplan, who will almost certainly be my first choice). Quan and Perata are unappealing in such totally different ways that I actually find it hard to weigh them against each other.

  3. lailan says:

    v smoothe is right, a #1, #2 or #3 in RCV is an endorsement, either way you slice it.
    as with the sierra club, perata’s #3 is still an endorsement of perata, unfortunately.

    it’s up to kaplan & tuman’s campaigns to promote their endorsements as well.
    the real victory here is that all of these newspapers went against don perata.

    we have to use the RCV system to be able to build alliances against someone as scary as perata who can split the vote, and #2 and #3 endorsements are absolutely critical for this.

  4. Colin says:

    I was very pissed about the half-truth nature of this flyer. It basically tipped it for me and made me decide against putting Quan in as one of my choices because I dislike manipulative half-truths, especially from a campaign that’s been criticizing Perata for manipulative half-truths.

    The interesting part: I wrote to the Quan campaign to let them know why this bothered me so much and got a long email reply about how those papers endorsements don’t need to be qualified at all because we’re in a battle for the soul of our city.

    That email was from someone named Lailan, whom I assume is the commenter posting above.

    I also find it distasteful when campaign employees post to blogs without identifying themselves as such.

  5. dc says:

    Colin: Lailan is Quan’s daughter. (Of course it’s possible that the person who left the comment above is an imposter, but I have no reason to doubt that the Lailan above is indeed Quan’s daughter.) I’m generally in favor of erring on the side of transparency and disclosure, but on the other hand I don’t think she was making any effort to conceal her identity; given how many people leave comments on blogs with pseudonyms, I even give her some credit for using her real name.

  6. Colin says:

    Fair enough – she certainly could have posted as skippy and dodged the whole thing. And I don’t mean to make it sound sinister – neither this flyer nor this blog post are going to be dramatic turning points in this election (no offense) and her commenting won’t be the apex of that turn. I agree that it’s not a huge deal.

    However, when one works for a campaign and posts to blogs, I do think it’s worth noting who your boss is, especially if you’re commenting on something directly related to your candidate. If I comment on things related to projects I work on I make sure that my relationship is out front because I consider that ethical. I find people are more willing to take what I say at face value when I do and less likely to dismiss it outright.

    Should I have known that Lailan’s last name is Quan? Maybe. I’m reasonably well informed on local politics, but don’t keep up on family member names. I’m going to guess her name recognition isn’t too high.

  7. dc says:

    Colin: I agree entirely. I didn’t mean to imply that people should know that Lailan is Quan’s daughter.

  8. unique distance from isolation says:

    Well, Lailan did say “we”. To me that implied that she was with the Quan campaign; her post seemed done in a rush, and I don’t blame her for not giving full disclosure. Blogs are informal, and as dc says, at least she didn’t use a pseudonym!

  9. Oakland Space Academy says:

    Perhaps what this suggests is that the papers (and other endorsers) should not be getting into the IRV game and simply endorsing a single candidate. Or maybe endorsing a candidate, and giving some sort of anti-endorsement. Certainly endorsers have the right to rank their choices just like voters, but dc’s point about candidates using these endorsements to reach the mailboxes of low-information voters is well taken. I think the Tribune’s endorsement of Kaplan was made less strong by choosing another top tier candidate (Quan) as third. Ultimately, wasn’t the Tribune just trying to say, “don’t vote for Perata.”

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