When the truth isn’t truthy enough

The Phil Scott and Sue Minter campaigns are in full froth over alleged negative advertising. Each accuses the other of willful distortion: Team Scott is upset over ads questioning his pro-choice credentials; the Scott campaign, meanwhile, is slammed for tying Minter to a proposed carbon tax.

Funny thing is, they’re both right on both counts. The attacks are based in fact, but are designed to mislead.

The pro-choice ads were produced by the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund. They cite two pieces of evidence that call Scott’s abortion stance into question. The first: his past support for some restrictions on access to abortion. The second: the fact that Right to Life Vermont “recommended” Scott.

Both are accurate. But still misleading.

Second point first. RTL did not endorse Scott, but it did “recommend” him as, basically, the best of an inadequate lot. RTL doesn’t particularly like Scott, and they’d much prefer a harder-line candidate, but he was, in RTL’s view, the least bad option.

On the first point, yes, Scott has been an advocate of parental notification. Still is, in fact. Here is campaign spokesperson Brittney Wilson tying herself in knots explaining Scott’s position.

“He believes there should be protections in place for minors so they don’t have to go through a situation, an abortion, on their own,” she said. “It’s really just about protecting youth and kids who are not old enough to make reasonable decisions, such big decisions, on their own.”

Requiring parental notification that would put a minor in harm’s way is “obviously not something Phil would support,” Wilson said.

(Quote from the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami.)

There’s a disconnect between the first and second paragraphs. Plenty of families are abusive; there is no way to impose parental notification without putting minors in harm’s way.

But the main point is this: the ads are accurate. But still misleading, because they raise doubts about Scott’s position where none really exist. He’s not a stealth candidate for the anti-abortion crowd.

Same with Scott attacking Minter on the carbon tax. Accurate but misleading.

Minter’s position is nuanced but consistent. She doesn’t support the carbon tax proposal that’s been kicking around the Legislature. She doesn’t support a Vermont-only carbon tax. She would support a regional carbon tax, and she advocates strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. And she won’t commit to vetoing any Vermont-only carbon tax proposal that reaches her desk.

There’s enough truth to craft negative ads. The ads are “true.” But fundamentally misleading. The Republican attacks deliberately blur the line between the specific carbon tax plan currently on offer, and Minter’s support for a different kind of initiative.

Just as the Planned Parenthood ads conflate Scott’s support for parental notification with the broader Right to Life agenda.

This is where fact-checking runs into a problem. The facts are accurate; the message is not.

Each side is using the same tactics, and each complains about the other. They’re both playing the game. It’s called politics, and it ain’t beanbag.


4 thoughts on “When the truth isn’t truthy enough

  1. johngreenberg

    I agree with you entirely about both ads.

    I would add one point. The carbon tax proposal to which the Rs are trying to tie Sue Minter has been consistently misrepresented as a tax INCREASE of 88 cents per gallon. In addition, virtually every negative commenter I’ve seen simply ignores the fact that, in addition to a sales tax reduction (which will impact all Vermonters, despite what they often say), there are personal income tax credits and payroll rebates in the bills. The consequence is that the proposal Minter doesn’t support in any case bears little resemblance to the tax increase the Rs are trying to link her to.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      My favorite in this regard is Rob Roper’s newly minted argument that a two-year-old comment by Tony Klein reveals a massive underground plot to enact the carbon tax in 2017.

  2. walter carpenter

    “My favorite in this regard is Rob Roper’s newly minted argument that a two-year-old comment by Tony Klein reveals a massive underground plot to enact the carbon tax in 2017.”

    Always a conspiracy the EAI view. That deep dark conspiracy:)


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