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Fake News? Independent Candidate Gets Curious Coverage from Kansas City Star

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

Running a campaign outside the two-party apparatus is not easy. I have reported on the many barriers in place that are hostile to independent and third party candidates even launching a campaign.

However, even when these candidates do make it on the ballot and present a viable challenge to the political status quo, they still face a media and campaign environment that marginalizes their candidacy at every level.

Case in point, in Kansas, the three candidates for governor -- Republican Kris Kobach, Democrat Laura Kelly, and independent Greg Orman -- participated in a debate during the Kansas State Fair on September 8.

The Kansas City Star published an opinion piece that while being heavily biased toward Democrat Laura Kelly, also reported inaccurate information about the independent in the race.

What caught my attention specifically were the comments left on the article by Orman supporters who challenged a couple of claims by the author; most commonly the author's claim that Orman "posed for a few selfies and then walked right by even some folks in blue Orman T-shirts, leaving hands unshaken."

The author's depiction is one of disinterest by the candidate -- that he didn't even care about his own supporters. But Orman supporters who say they were present tell a different story.

"I don't understand your comment that Greg Orman ran off and had little or no contact with supporters," writes Mike Harrison in the comments. "This is completely false! Mr Orman shook my hand and thanked me for my support. Took pictures will several supporters. Unfortunately there is no way to post them in this section."

"Orman was the only candidate to address his supporters, Kelly’s, and Kobach's before the debate started," commented Kent Williams.

"He spent more than 20 minutes before the debate shaking hands, taking photos and answering questions. After the debate he gave a stump speech and took time to engage with the crowd. Following that he addressed his volunteers, we even took a group photo. From there he communicated with several constituents on the way to his booth. He spent at least 30 minutes there using the express charging station he supplied and greeting constituents. From there he walked around shaking hands and introducing himself to several people. My Facebook page has photos which is more than enough proof!" 

One might argue that from the author's vantage point, Orman rushed out of there. It was simply a mistake. However, even a brief conversation with his supporters in attendance would have provided a more accurate account.

Also, it was pointed out in the comment section and confirmed to me by the Orman campaign that the debate ended around 12:30 pm and Orman was scheduled for what was called "Stumping for Votes," a Q&A session between voters and individual candidates, at 12:40. This was not mentioned in the Kansas City Star article.

There is another major problem with the Kansas City Star article. It says: "The substance of the debate was nothing new: Orman wants to grow the economy, though how he doesn’t say."

But listen to Orman's answer for yourself:

“I would do the same thing I would do in the private sector," Orman said at the debate.

"First, say, how do we leverage our strengths? We’re at the geographic center of the United States at a time when our economy is moving quickly from a bricks and mortar to a distributive economy; we should be the inter-modal manufacturing capital of America. We should interconnect our power grid with Colorado so that we can ship our renewable and wind energy West. We should build better paths to technical education. I have a plan for giving a revolving loan fund for kids who want to pursue technical and career programs, and a tax credit for public private partnerships for career education. That’s what we need to do. Get employers the workers they need to grow their businesses.”

He also plugged his more detailed policy proposal several times, which can be found on his website here.

I reached out to the Orman campaign for comment, and they said they contacted The Kansas Star to have the article corrected. They were told the article would not be corrected and that it was an opinion piece that reflected the subjective views of the author.

This is not, however, a matter of subjective perspective. These are falsehoods. To say Orman blew off his supporters is false. To say Orman didn't explain how he wanted to grow the economy or that this is the norm for him (by saying that the substance is nothing new) is false.

"Having the Kansas City Star’s editorial team write highly misleading statements about independent candidates is frustrating," the Orman campaign stated.

"It is even more frustrating when such misleading statements are refuted with clear evidence – including dozens of time-stamped photographs – and no correction is made. If the newspapers are to act as bodyguards to the Republican and Democratic Party duopoly, the real damage is that the people of Kansas are not getting the opportunity to hear another path – a path that is void of tired partisan playbooks and the influence of special interests.”

This is a competitive three-way race. The Cook Political Report rates Kansas as a toss up. In a rare instance in a party-favored system, any one of the three candidates in this race could win -- even the independent.

In most election years, Kansas would not be on many people's radar, but politicos are now following this race closely. Increased interest and coverage generally means more voter interest and higher turnouts.

How the media covers these candidates will have a major impact on how voters view these candidates -- even when coverage is under the guise of an opinion piece. It is one thing to have an opinion about a candidate. It is another thing entirely to mislead people with blatantly false information.

This doesn't just do a severe disservice to the candidate, but to voters as well. It would be in the Kansas City Stars' interest to correct this piece.

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