Las Vegas Sun

August 17, 2018

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Sun Editorial:

Teachers union deserves demerit for Sisolak attack ad

At a time when far too many national politicians have sacrificed truth in the name of winning at any cost, even trying to con Americans into believing legitimate facts are fake news, a recent attack ad on gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak is especially disappointing.

We know because the Sun is cited in it. And the organization behind the spot, the Nevada State Education Association, misrepresented our reporting.

The ad, which has been airing on Nevada TV stations and online, shows a prospective voter doing online research on Sisolak and his opponent in the Democratic primary, Chris Giunchigliani.

About 10 seconds in, the spot shows a headline on the voter’s computer screen reading, “Steve Sisolak Voted for Development Near Red Rock After Taking Campaign Cash.” The Las Vegas Sun’s logo appears near the headline.

There are two problems with this. One, that headline never appeared in the Sun, either online or in our print publication. Two, we didn’t report that Sisolak took donations from the developer. Another news publication did.

Contacted about the ad, an NSEA administrator said the headline was posted on a story at strongpublicschoolsnv.org, an NSEA site. That story contains a link to the Sun’s coverage of the Feb. 22, 2017, vote by the Clark County Commission to allow developer Gypsum Resources to move forward in planning a community of more than 5,000 homes near the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

The administrator also pointed out that the image on the screen contains the word “Source” beside the Sun’s logo. The visual approach is the same used on another story cited in the ad, this one from KTNV, Channel 13.

But it would be easy for viewers to get the impression that the stories and headlines were from the news organization’s sites. It’s not made clear in the ad that the voter is looking at the NSEA’s site.

And the headline sourcing the Sun’s coverage is a particularly bad distortion of our story. We simply documented the vote that day, noting that the vote was 5-2 with Giunchigliani and Commissioner Lawrence Weekly as the nays. The story didn’t even mention Sisolak by name, and nowhere does it say he took contributions from the developer.

Attorneys for Sisolak recently sent cease-and-desist orders to TV stations demanding that they stop airing the ad, which they described as false, misleading and deceptive. The NSEA, a union representing thousands of public school teachers throughout the state, argues that because the stories in question appeared on the organization’s site and were sourced, the ads are legally sound.

Legality aside, we simply want to make it clear to voters that our reporting wasn’t presented accurately.

For the record, it’s true that Sisolak voted in favor of the development and that he accepted a $10,000 campaign contribution from a company owned by developer Jim Rhodes, who’s also behind Gypsum Resources, in 2015.

And that’s the truly disappointing thing about the NSEA’s ad: The organization didn’t need to do a spin job on the facts, so why play so fast and loose with the Sun’s reporting?

Look, we all know that attack ads are overheated and often take great liberties with context and twist reality. Voters should look at any negative ad with a skeptical eye.

But Nevadans deserve better than this ad from the NSEA. The organization was out of line. It should withdraw the ad and start playing it straight with voters.