Archive for the 'Colorado State Legislature' Category

First Amendment attorney says Sentinel could have a viable case against State Senator over “fake news” accusation

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

The publisher of the Grand Junction Sentinel is serious about suing State Sen. Ray Scott over his public claim that the Grand Junction Sentinel is “fake news.”

But, he told Denver writer Corey Hutchins, “we’re going to have some cooling-off period before I file anything.”

Hutchins, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project: This particular publisher, it should be noted, is no stranger to a courtroom. Before taking the helm of the Sentinel in 2009, Seaton was a commercial litigator. “This is what I used to do,” he told me. “I practiced law in Kansas City for 13 years, so I’m accustomed to resolving business damage in the judicial system. So I don’t view this really as any different.”

The publisher says he has already seen people on Facebook pledge to cancel newspaper subscriptions after the lawmaker’s comments.

“What I consider actionable is the attack on the Sentinel as fake news,” Seaton says. “I can take the criticism that we’re too far right, or we’re too far left, or our reporter was sloppy, or our editorial misunderstands the issue, that I can handle. What I can’t abide is an attack on the essence of what we do.”

Hutchins quotes Denver First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg, as saying that “Scott could be liable under libel law if he made statements that are provably false and made “with the requisite knowledge of their falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.”

Does this mean Donald Trump is in line to be sued by CNN and others, which the President has attacked as fake news outlets? I hope so.

 

State lawmaker deletes fake news from her Facebook page

Friday, January 27th, 2017

lawrence-on-hillary-trashing-byonce-with-racial-surs-lastlineofdefense-orgColorado State Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park) has set an example for lawmakers everywhere, from Trump on down, by removing a fake-news item from her Facebook page.

On Wednesday, I left a phone message for Lawrence, alerting her that back in Nov. she’d posted fake news with the headline, “WHOA! Hillary Caught On Hot Mic Trashing Beyonce’ with RACIAL SLURS! Looks like Hillary may have just lost one of her biggest endorsements.”

The day after I called her, Lawrence removed the fake news.

The fakeness of the Lawrence’s post was never in doubt from the moment she posted it.

The website called “The Resistance: The Last Line Of Defense,” which published the Beyonce’ fake news, has a disclaimer, which reads:

DISCLAIMER: The Resistance may include information from sources that may or may not be reliable and facts that don’t necessarily exist. All articles should be considered satirical and any and all quotes attributed to actual people complete and total baloney.

What’s more, Snopes determined on Nov. 5, the day before Lawrence posted the item, that the Beyonce’ item was false.

Still, Lawrence posted the fake news with the comment, “If this is true, it fits in with the accusation that the Democrats only work with the African-American community when they need votes.”

But you know what’s great? Lawrence accepted criticism and removed the fake news.

Why? Because fake news causes cancer in civic discourse. That was diagnosed and then proven in the last election.

At least I think that’s why Lawrence removed it. She didn’t return my call, which is too bad because I would have heaped even more praise on her.

In my phone message, in which I thanked Lawrence for removing the fake news, I asked her if she’d sign the Fake News Pledge, which is a promise 1) not to post fake news, defined as false information “packaged to look like news,” and 2) to post a correction and explanation on Facebook if fake news is accidentally posted. The Pledge’s arbiters of fake news are Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org, or a respected news outlet. If Pledge signers disagree with the specified arbiters, they do not have to remove anything from Facebook. But they are obliged to explain why they disagree with the fact checkers.

Lawrence did not respond to my request that she sign the Fake News Pledge, and she still has at least one fake-news meme on her site, with a misquote of Obama, which I’ll ask her about later.

Lawrence is the second Colorado state lawmaker to remove fake news from their Facebook pages, since last year when I posted an investigation showing that five legislators had spread a total of eight fake news items on Facebook.

After she became aware of her fake news post, then State Rep. Kit Roupe (R-Colorado Springs), removed it, telling me, “If it was false, and it came to my attention that it was false, then of course I would [remove it].” (Roupe also didn’t respond to my request to sign the Fake News Pledge, and she has since left office.)

The three other lawmakers cited in the BigMedia.org investigation have refused to delete fake news. Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs) refused to believe that Scalia was not, without a doubt, assassinated by the Clintons. And State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) refused to remove two items deemed false by fact checkers from his Facebook page. State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada), who’s left office as well, did not respond to my requests that she remove fake news from her Facebook page.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat representing the Boulder area, also acted honorably this month by deleting a fake-news tweet, in the wake of a Twitter discussion referencing the Fake News Pledge.

Post opinion column should inspire more aggressive reporting on Medicaid

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

Reporters covering the Medicaid debate at the Capitol should read Denver Post opinion writer Megan Schrader’s column today and act on it.

Schrader: “It’s simply disingenuous to imply that there are easy cuts to be made in the Medicaid portion of the budget, or to blame the state budget’s woes on the expansion pushed by Obama and adopted by Gov. John Hickenlooper.”

Translation for reporters: When Republican leaders blame Medicaid for state budget woes, reporters should ask them how they want to cut the state-federal program, which offers healthcare for children, elderly, the disabled, and other poor people.

Last year, Republicans, led by then State Senator Bill Cadman repeatedly claimed Medicaid was siphoning money from “every other program” in the state budget, including roads and schools.

Cadman told 9News: “[Democrats] have ignored the needs and demands of about five million people to specifically support one program, and it cannibalizes every other program. They’ve ignored the Constitution and put K-12 money into this program. I mean, they’ve ignored the roads, and put money into this program.

But in an epic fail, journalists never reported how Cadman or other Republicans proposed cutting Medicaid or saving money on the program through higher fees or the like. They reported the attack on the program but let the details slide by.

In her column, Schrader encourages Democrats and Republicans to try to find savings, and she acknowledges the difficulty in talking about them–which is precisely why reporters should be asking for specifics, especially from Republicans, who, unlike Democrats, are arguing that Medicaid cuts are a major part of the path out of Colorado’s budget woes.

Another take-away for reporters from Schrader’s piece is to challenge Republicans when they blame Colorado’s budget problems on the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

Schrader wrote, “President Barack Obama’s proposed expansion has been funded entirely by federal dollars until this fiscal year, when the draw-down began and states started to pay a portion. In 2017-18, Colorado’s share, around 10 percent, will be funded by a small portion of a hospital user fee…. But that expansion is not hurting our general fund budget or causing the current fiscal crisis.

Last year, when Republicans blamed Obamacare for budget problems in Colorado, reporters did not explain often enough that this assertion is mostly, if not completely, false.

Overall, I’m hoping Schrader’s Post piece inspires more aggressive reporting on Medicaid, with reporters no longer tolerating muckety-muck Republicans blaming poor, sick, and disabled people for Colorado’s potholes–unless they explain, specifically, how they want to take tax money from the poor people and spend it on the potholes.

Journalism is about giving a voice to people who don’t have one. When bogus, talking-point-style attacks are launched at Medicaid, reporters should pretend they’re asking question for all those low-income people who aren’t in the room. I know that’s sort of pedantic and trite, but that’s what it’s about.

State senator says “each individual has to be the arbiter” of fake news

Monday, January 16th, 2017

neville-post-saying-ca-dems-legalize-child-porn-12-30-16If the left and right are ever going to agree on ground rules for stopping the spread of fake news, both sides will have to wear gloves and nose clips to endure the rot and stench of some awful Facebook “news”–while we focus on eliminating the worst falsehoods and fabrications.

That’s what I was thinking after my phone conversation Friday with State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton).

I thought it was obvious Neville had spread fake news by posting an article on Facebook with the headline, “California Democrats Legalize Child Prostitution.”

But after talking to Neville about it, he convinced me that the prostitution post wasn’t fake news, from his ultra-conservative perspective, (even though it was fake news from where I sit), and I was wrong for thinking he would see it otherwise.

“I get what you’re saying,” Neville told me. “And I know the title of the story might have been sensationalist. However, what they did with the law creates an opportunity for child prostitution without any kind of [criminal] enforcement. So, I’m comfortable leaving it up. And if you feel it might have been a little bit sensationalist as far as the headline, I mean, Jason, I like your writing, and I read it, but sensationalism is part of your game…

I looked again at Snopes, which I’d relied on as my fact checker, and realized that it had rated the California-prostitution item as “mostly false,” not “false,” for exactly the reason Neville cited.

Snopes concluded:

WHAT’S TRUE: A California law passed in 2016 provides that minors involved in prostitution be treated as victims rather than criminals.

WHAT’S FALSE: It is still illegal for Californians to hire prostitutes (child or otherwise), and sex traffickers will still face consequences if they are caught prostituting children.

“If children are engaging in prostitution, they can’t even be prosecuted as juveniles,” said Neville. “If I post the article, I expect people to read the article, make their own decisions, and go from there. I just think it’s a bad policy.”

If Neville had signed the Fake News Pledge for elected officials, it would have been within the guidelines for him not to remove the California-prostitution item, because it wasn’t rated 100 percent “false” by Snopes, which the pledge uses, along with Factcheck.org, Politifact, and “respected” news outlets, as arbiters of fakeness.

Not so, however, with two other fake-news posts I found on Neville’s Facebook page. Both items, discussed in my recent investigation of fake news on state lawmakers’ websites, were found to be false by Factcheck.org.

neville-on-earth-in-21st-year-without-global-warming-2015-07-19-daily-caller

In one case, Neville posted an Daily Caller item headlined, “Satellites: Earth Is Nearly in Its 21st Year Without Global Warming.” The linked article cites satellite data allegedly showing a “prolonged hiatus” in global warming.

“Global warming alarmists have a real problem,” wrote Neville on Facebook. “Satellite data tells the real story.”

The mainstream scientific community, as reported by Factcheck.org, has found no hiatus in global warming on Earth, unless you cherry pick the data.

“There are a lot of sources on that,” Neville told me, adding that different temperature reporting procedures around the world throw off the “baseline” for comparisons.

He’s right that there are other sources, but I could not find a third-party arbiter that finds them credible.

neville-on-obama-new-national-reitrement-system-2015-09-03-nationalseniorscouncil

In another case that I cite in my investigation, Neville posted a fake-news  item in August headlined, “Obama Begins Push for New National Retirement System.” The linked article, based on a hearing way back in 2010, claimed the Obama Administration had begun an effort “to nationalize the nation’s pension system and to eliminate private retirement accounts including IRA’s and 401k plans.” But years ago, when the accusation was first hurled by the conservative National Seniors Council, Factcheck.org showed it to be false.

If Neville were a signer of the Fake News Pledge, it would be within the guidelines for him to post both the global warming and retirement items, but he’d have to explain why he did so, since his posts were found to be false by an independent arbiters listed in the pledge.

“I don’t put a lot of faith in Snopes,” Neville told me. “I used to rely on Snopes, and too often I would find that Snopes was incorrect.”

Is there any group of arbiters that the left and right could agree on? I’ve asked conservatives on Twitter and elsewhere to edit the Fake News Pledge to make it acceptable to them. None has responded.

“My point is, people have a responsibility [to think about information],” said Neville. “They read something. They can challenge it. They can argue.”

Neville said people should get news from a variety of sources.

“I don’t expect people to act and react on something I might post any more than I would act or react on something they might post,” he said. “We’re not experts. We put information out there. A lot of times, it reflects opinion. Sometimes a news source might let you down. I think they’ve all kind of let us down over the last few years, the last year in particular.”

“To me, each individual has to be the arbiter,” he continued. “And my hope is, those who are involved in journalism, it’s their profession, I hope they take it seriously. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. That’s what we have to work with.”

Asked if he would delete something from Facebook, if he thought it was wrong, based on his own preferred sources, whatever they are, Neville said, “Yes, you take a look at it. You try to get more information out. And you try to follow up with something else, which is what you would do.”

“Call me and let me know,” he said.

Dr. Chaps says his Facebook post alleging “assassination of Scalia” by Clintons isn’t necessarily fake

Friday, January 13th, 2017

klingenschmidt-on-wikileaks-exposing-assassination-of-scalia-endingthefedAt the end of last year, in an investigation of the Facebook pages of Colorado state legislators, I revealed that then State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs) posted a fake-news item in October claiming that Wikileaks documents proved the “assassination of Scalia” was orchestrated by the Clintons.

The day after Klingenschmitt posted the Scalia item, Snopes showed it to be false, concluding, “An e-mail published by WikiLeaks referenced not the literal assassination of Antonin Scalia, but what appeared to be a coordinated smear of Bernie Sanders.”

Yet the item remains on Klingenschmitt’s Facebook page to this day, along with this comment, “Anybody have a comment on this? Scalia dies same weekend after Podesta (for Hillary Clinton) sends this ‘wet works’ email? Hmmmm.”

I asked “Dr. Chaps,” as Klingenschmitt calls himself, why he hasn’t removed the fake news.

Klingenschmitt: “As an aspiring journalist, truth is my stock and trade, so I do not intentionally re-post items on Facebook if I know they are false,” Klingenschmitt told me via email. “If I remember the actual news article going around months ago, it did not allege that Hillary Clinton killed Justice Scalia, of course that would be fake news. Instead it merely compared the timelines of two true events: 1) Hillary’s staffer John Podesta’s actual emails about planning to conduct “wet works” operations the same weekend that 2) Scalia died suspiciously without autopsy, and the only witness initially said Scalia’s body had a pillow over his head. So far as I know, these two events are still true and both happened within days of each other, raising more than a few eyebrows by their proximity. But fake newsers in the mainstream media are afraid to offend, so their liberal omissions make them less credible than conservatives who report the facts, and let the public draw their own conclusions.”

I wrote back to Klingenschmitt and told him that the Podesta email actually referred to a smear campaign against Bernie Sanders, and had nothing to do with an attack on Scalia, according to Snopes.

Still, I wrote to Chaps, I hoped he and I could agree that facts matter, and so I was wondering if he would sign my Fake News Pledge for citizens. See it and sign here.

The pledge, essentially identical to the one for elected officials, relies on mainstream-media fact checkers, like Snopes, as arbiters, but it allows signers to ignore the fact checkers if they disagree with them and explain why.

So in this case, if you signed the Fake News Pledge, I told Chaps, you would not have to take down your Scalia post, even though it’s been disproven by Snopes. Instead, I told him he could post an explanation on his Facebook page of why he disagree Snopes—like the one provided me.

“Do you think this is fair?” I asked Chaps. “Will you sign the Fake News Pledge?”

“I try to avoid pledges, but I also try to avoid fake news, so we’re on the same page, but I can’t sign sorry,” he wrote.

So, my investigation identified eight fake-news items, posted on Facebook by five Colorado state legislators, Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park) and Rep. Tim Neville (R-Littleton), as well as then Representatives Klingenschmitt and Kit Roupe (R-Colorado Springs) and then Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada).

Only Rep. Roupe has deleted the fake news from her Facebook page.

Bill would protect Colorado residents and immigrants, not provide “sanctuary”

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

A Channel 7 story Monday alleged that a bill, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Salazar (D-Thornton) would “make Colorado a sanctuary state.”

In its piece, titled “Proposed bill aims to make Colorado a sanctuary state,” Channel 7 reported:

If state Rep. Joseph Salazar, D-Adams Co., gets his way, Colorado could be the nation’s first sanctuary state…

Salazar says the passage of this is bill would be timely due to the president’s elect rhetoric on immigration.

“I’m going to take him for his words and actions in terms of his cabinet appointments, and we are going to prepare state of Colorado to defend ourselves against it,” said Joseph Salazar.

Salazar’s bill (here) never uses the word “sanctuary,” for good reason.

No local jurisdiction can provide “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants.  No state or city can prevent the federal government from arresting undocumented immigrants–or enforcing federal immigration law.

But states don’t have to help Trump arrest undocumented immigrants. They don’t have to assist the feds in racial or religious profiling. States don’t have to help Trump develop a registry of immigrants or residents based on race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, or religious affiliation.

And that’s what Salazar’s bill would do, basically.

So it’s a mistake for journalists, who pride themselves on precise language, to refer to Salazar’s bill as making Colorado a “sanctuary state.”

It won’t. And, if you’ve watched conservatives and bigots, like Trump, use the term “sanctuary city,” you know that it inflames people. Which would be okay if it accurately described what cities are doing when they pass laws protecting citizens and undocumented immigrants from over-reach by the federal government.

That’s what Salazar’s bill would do–and that’s how journalists should describe it.

 

State legislator removes fake news from her Facebook page, saying she did not realize it was false

Monday, January 9th, 2017

roupe-on-sagging-pants-2016-05-25State Rep. Kit Roupe (R-Colorado Springs) has cleansed a false “public service announcement” from her Facebook page.

In May, Roupe shared the fake-news item, which falsely claimed that the “trend of wearing pants below your butt” was started by prisoners who wanted to “signal” that they were “willing to have sex with other prisoners.”

“If it was false, and it came to my attention that it was false, then of course I would [remove it]” Roupe told me.

Roupe removed the sagging-pants fake news item after it was cited in a December BigMedia.org investigation of fake news appearing on the Facebook pages of state legislators.

Asked if she always deletes Facebook items once she finds out they’re fake or inaccurate, Roupe said, “Yeah, once I know that it’s false. I mean, sometimes you can tell when it’s false and sometimes you can’t.”

In this case, the sagging-pants falsehood had been proven bogus by Snopes about a year before Roupe posted it.

“Sometimes I’ll [post something on Facebook] to spontaneously combust conversation, not to claim that it’s news, but to get people to talk about stuff.”

While I disagree that state legislators like Roupe should spread rumors to ignite conversation, I give Roupe big credit for removing fake news from her Facebook page and thereby advancing the cause of fact-based discourse.

Roupe told me she didn’t remember the sagging-pants item specifically and that she manages her own Facebook page. So she would have been the one to remove it.

Roupe’s personal Facebook policy regarding fake news is similar to the guidelines in the Fake News Pledge that BigMedia.org is asking legislators to sign. It reads, in part, that if a legislator posts a fake news item that’s “deemed unproven or false or inaccurate by Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org, or by a respected news outlet, information from my Facebook page will be removed as soon as possible–or detailed reasons for not deleting it will be provided.”

Roupe did not post reasons for deleting the sagging-pants fake news item.

Roupe, who’s loss in the November election means she’ll be leaving the State Legislature this week, declined to sign The Fake News Pledge, telling me in an email that it’s “moot” due to her imminent departure. She did not respond to my request to sign the Fake News Pledge for ordinary citizens.

Fake news is defined in the pledge as “inaccurate information, packaged to look somehow like news.”

The “Public Service Announcement” that Roupe removed from her Facebook page stated:

“For all those who think it’s nice to walk around with your pants below your butt…read the following explanation: The trend was born in the United States’ jails, where prisoners who were willing to have sex with other prisoners needed to invent a signal that would go unnoticed by the guards so they wouldn’t suffer consequences. So, by partially showing their butts, they showed that they were available to be penetrated by other inmates. Click ‘share’ if you want to join the cause for a better dressed and more educated world.”

In its post debunking this fake news, Snopes wrote:

Snopes: “While sagging did gain its start in the U.S. prison system, it was not a clothes-wearing style authored by imprisoned homosexuals intent upon advertising their interest in casual flings. Sagging pants became the behind-the-bars thing thanks to ill-fitting prison-issue garb: some of those incarcerated were provided with clothing a few sizes too large. That oversizing, coupled with the lack of belts in the big house, led to a great number of jailbirds whose pants were falling off their arses. (Belts are not permitted in most correctional facilities because all too often the lifeless bodies of their inmate owners have been found hanging from them.)”

The other state lawmakers, whose Facebook pages were found to contain fake news, have yet to remove the inaccurate items.

State senator declines to sign fake news pledge, saying the term fake news “smacks of a new censorship”

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

You’d think twice about signing some pledges, if you’re a politician.

But a pledge not to spread fake news, if it’s found to be false by “Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org, or by a respected news outlet?”  And to remove such falsehoods accidentally posted on Facebook unless “detailed reasons for not deleting” them are provided.

That’s kind of like saying, I promise to tell the truth, as I see it, to the best of my ability.

So why wouldn’t everyone sign such the pledge? Alas, Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) has rejected the fake news pledge, stating in an email to me:

Lundberg: I have always been as careful as I can in not promoting inaccurate information. However, there is a troubling element to the idea that news out of the mainstream might be suspected of being “fake.”

Having been a legislator for many years, and at one time a member of the news media, I know that every story is laced with the assumptions and perspective of the reporter. Hence, almost all stories have elements of what somebody might want to brand as “fake.” This is the reality of news reporting and the consumer of this information should always be discerning.

This new term “fake news,” to me smacks of a new censorship that ultimately could do more damage than what inaccurate news could ever do on its own.

I will respectfully decline to sign your pledge.

Kevin Lundberg
Colorado State Senate

I disagree with Lundberg, because the fake news pledge, developed in response to Colorado lawmakers who spread fake news last year, specifically allows him to post “out of the mainstream” news on his Facebook page, even if mainstream news outlets find it to be false. All he has to do is defend it.

And if spotlighting the term “fake news” “smacks of a new censorship” and risks causing more damage than inaccurate news is currently causing, than how can we challenge misinformation? What terms can we use to talk about falsehoods without being accused of censorship?

But I do appreciate Lundberg taking time to explain his position on the fake-news-pledge to me. It’s a step toward creating the civil, factual discourse that the pledge seeks to nurture.

Still, lawmakers who disagree with Lundberg can sign the pledge here. Citizens sign here.

If Trump isn’t among the most important interview topics for gubernatorial candidates, what is?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

The Denver Post’s Mark Matthews obviously got it right on Sunday when he reported that the fallout from the presidential race will affect Democrats and Republicans who want to be Colorado’s next governor.

With respect to possible Republican gubernatorial candidates, like Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Matthews reported:

How [Republican] party members view the start to [Trump’s] presidency could have an impact on which candidates they support. Stapleton, for example, backed distant relative Jeb Bush in the GOP primary, although he later voted for Trump.

Some Republican candidates, like Stapleton, probably don’t want to be asked 1) about their presidential vote, or 2) what they think of Trump’s actions/behavior. (See Stapleton dodge the topic here last year.)

But that’s why reporters should continue asking both questions–and because they are of ongoing relevance and an inescapable part of the story line leading up to next year’s election.

As for other possible GOP gubernatorial candidates, in addition to Stapleton, Matthews mentioned state Sens. Tim Neville and Ray Scott, who are both on record as supporting Trump, as well as Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who appeared to signal her backing of the president-elect by cheering “Go Trump!” on election night, and George Brauchler, whose presidential vote is apparently still unknown.

9News‘ anchor Kyle Clark missed a chance to ask Brauchler about Trump during a Next with Kyle Clark interview last week, but undoubtedly the topic of Trump will come up repeatedly as Republicans and Democrats dither about whether to officially launch gubernatorial campaigns.

I mean, if Trump isn’t among the most important topics in an interview with almost any candidate, what is?

Colorado lawmakers caught spreading fake news; all legislators, Republican and Democrat, should sign the ‘Fake News Pledge’

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

Facebook and Google are taking a lot of heat for allowing falsehoods, packaged as news, to viralize across the internet, but lawmakers, who legitimize this fake news by spreading it, clearly contribute to the problem.

Today, I’m calling on Colorado’s state legislators to be part of the solution, and join the fight against fake news, by signing the Fake News Pledge below.

As a longtime progressive journalist and former media critic at the Rocky Mountain News, I believe it’s critical for our democracy that citizens aren’t manipulated by bogus information.

By signing the pledge, lawmakers (and citizens) can help fight for facts and meaningful debate. There is no reason that all elected officials, from President-elect Donald Trump down, shouldn’t sign. But our focus now is members of the Colorado legislature.

The pledge reads:

Fake News Pledge for Elected Officials

As an elected official, I agree that the spread of fake news on Facebook and other social media platforms has a toxic effect on rational civic discourse. And I understand that when community leaders spread fake news, we legitimize it. By our example, we encourage people to play fast and loose with facts, and we blur the lines between real journalism and fabricated stories masquerading as news.

So, to promote informed and reasoned debate, I pledge not to knowingly spread fake news. If I accidentally do so, by sharing, “liking,” or posting inaccurate information, packaged to look somehow like news, I will remove the falsehood as soon as possible and post a correction as well as an explanation of why I posted it in the first place.

If it’s deemed unproven or false or inaccurate by Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org, or by a respected news outlet, information from my Facebook page will be removed as soon as possible–or detailed reasons for not deleting it will be provided.

(Legislators can sign the pledge here.)

It seems like a no-brainer that our legislators will sign our pledge posthaste.

But in doing so, some of them will have to change their ways.

I looked at the Facebook pages of all Colorado state legislators from Oct. 1 until the November election, and I found that three lawmakers spread fake news during that time.

State Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park), who’s the Assistant State House Minority Leader, posted an item with the headline “WHOA! Hillary Caught On Hot Mic Trashing Beyonce’ with RACIAL SLURS! Looks like Hillary may have just lost one of her biggest endorsements.”

lawrence-on-hillary-trashing-byonce-with-racial-surs-lastlineofdefense-org

“If this is true,” wrote Lawrence on Facebook Oct. 6 when she posted the meme, “it fits in with the accusation that the Democrats only work with the African-American community when they need votes.”

But it’s not true, as Snopes determined on Nov. 5, the day before Lawrence posted her “if-it-is-true” comment.

But even if Snopes hadn’t already fact checked the linked article, Lawrence should have known the news was fake, because, as Snopes pointed out, the website, “The Resistance: The Last Line Of Defense,” which published the Beyonce’ fake news, has a disclaimer, which reads:

DISCLAIMER: The Resistance may include information from sources that may or may not be reliable and facts that don’t necessarily exist. All articles should be considered satirical and any and all quotes attributed to actual people complete and total baloney.

And even if there were no disclaimer on the website of the fake-news outlet, you don’t promote information that’s not from a trusted site, if you don’t know it’s true, especially if you are a legislator. That’s bad for representative democracy.

My review of October Facebook pages also revealed that on Oct. 15, State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada) liked a fake-news story, posted by a known-to-be-dubious site called Americannews.com, titled, “BLM gets Louisiana Police Chief Fired After He Exposes Obama’s War on Cops.”

woods-on-blm-fired-2016-10-15-americannews

In fact, in September, about a month before Woods liked the item, the Washington Post and other news outlets reported that the police chief was fired by the town council two days after the police chief wrote on Facebook, “Hey Mr. Bulls— president, when are you going to grow a f—ing pair. And tell it like it is. These are terrorist. That have declared f—ing war on my brother. (White police officers) enough is enough.”

There’s no evidence the BLM had anything to do with the firing.

This wasn’t the first time Woods, whose November loss means she’ll leave the state senate in January, has spread fake news on Facebook.

On August 30, Woods shared a fake news item from TheFreePatriot.org stating, “Courts Quietly Confirm that ONE Children’s Vaccine Does Cause Autism.”

The Aug. 16, 2016, FreePatriot.org story, making the false claim about autism, is actually a reprint of a 2013 Whiteout Press article, the core facts of which were found to be false by Politifact back in February of 2015, over a year before Woods liked the fake-news item.

woods-sharing-news-that-courts-confirm-vaccine-causes-autism-thefreepatriotdotorg

Politifact concluded:

“The researchers we contacted said that as far as the science is concerned, certainty had been reached at least 10 years ago with the release of a major national study debunking the link between the measles mumps, rubella vaccine and autism.”

State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs) also spread fake news during the time period studied. On Oct. 15 the Colorado Springs Republican posted a “Breaking News” item from EndingTheFed.com, with the headline, “IT’S OVER: Wikileaks Exposes The Assassination of Scalia… This Will Bring Down the Clintons and the Democratic Party!”

Klingenschmit’s comment on the post: “Anybody have a comment on this? Scalia dies same weekend after Podesta (for Hillary Clinton) sends this ‘wet works’ email? Hmmmm.”

Judging from his post, Klingenschmitt doesn’t appear to be fully convinced of the Scalia assassination “news.” But he posted it on Facebook anyway.

Does anyone think lawmakers should post “news” that’s dubious actually a rumor, especially from a site like EndingTheFed that’s known to produce fake news?

klingenschmidt-on-wikileaks-exposing-assassination-of-scalia-endingthefed

And, sure enough, the day after Klingenschmitt posted it, Snopes determined the item to be “false.” Snopes’ headline reads, “An e-mail published by WikiLeaks referenced not the literal assassination of Antonin Scalia, but what appeared to be a coordinated smear of Bernie Sanders.”

Yet, Klingenschmitt did not delete the fake news from his Facebook page, where it sits, rotting public discourse, to this day, like all the fake news I cite in this post.

More Fake News on Facebook from Colorado Lawmakers

More anecdotal evidence, outside of our pre-election analysis, shows Colorado legislators are spreading fake news.

On September 30, for example, Lawrence posted the following quote, from “Rockit News:”

“She will say anything and change nothing. Hillary can’t be trusted and isn’t qualified to be president.” Barack Obama, 2008.

“He was right then, and still is,” wrote Lawrence on her Facebook page.

One big problem. While the first sentence is Obama’s, the second was never uttered by him.

lawrence-fake-obama-quote-rockit-news-9-30-16

About a month before Lawrence posted the meme, Snopes reported:

“Barack Obama didn’t say that Hillary Clinton could not be trusted or that she was not qualified for president.”

State Rep. Kit Roupe (R-Colorado Springs), who will also be leaving the legislature in January, shared a “public service announcement” in May, stating:

“For all those who think it’s nice to walk around with your pants below your butt…read the following explanation: The trend was born in the United States’ jails, where prisoners who were willing to have sex with other prisoners needed to invent a signal that would go unnoticed by the guards so they wouldn’t suffer consequences. So, by partially showing their butts, they showed that they were available to be penetrated by other inmates. Click ‘share’ if you want to join the cause for a better dressed and more educated world.”

roupe-on-sagging-pants-2016-05-25

About a year before Roupe spread this, Snopes had dutifully researched this topic, concluding Roupe’s public service announcement to be false.

Snopes: “While sagging did gain its start in the U.S. prison system, it was not a clothes-wearing style authored by imprisoned homosexuals intent upon advertising their interest in casual flings. Sagging pants became the behind-the-bars thing thanks to ill-fitting prison-issue garb: some of those incarcerated were provided with clothing a few sizes too large. That oversizing, coupled with the lack of belts in the big house, led to a great number of jailbirds whose pants were falling off their arses. (Belts are not permitted in most correctional facilities because all too often the lifeless bodies of their inmate owners have been found hanging from them.)”

In August of last year State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) posted a fake-news item stating, “Obama Begins Push for New National Retirement System.”

The linked article, based on a hearing way back in 2010, claimed the Obama Administration had begun an effort “to nationalize the nation’s pension system and to eliminate private retirement accounts including IRA’s and 401k plans.”

neville-on-obama-new-national-reitrement-system-2015-09-03-nationalseniorscouncil

Neville’s comment on the meme: “…the tyranny continues.”

But years ago, when the accusation was first hurled by the conservative National Seniors Council, Factcheck.org showed it to be false:

Factcheck.org: Is the Obama administration attempting to eliminate private 401(k)s and IRAs and create a “national retirement system?”
A: No. Obama endorses a proposal that would require businesses without retirement plans to establish private IRAs for their employees and deposit a percentage of wages into the accounts. Employees could opt out.

In July of 2015, Neville posted a fake-news meme, published by the Daily Caller, with the headline, “Satellites: Earth Is Nearly in Its 21st Year Without Global Warming.” The linked article allegedly cites satellite data showing a “prolonged hiatus” in global warming.

“Global warming alarmists have a real problem,” wrote Neville on Facebook. “Satellite data tells the real story.”

neville-on-earth-in-21st-year-without-global-warming-2015-07-19-daily-caller

But about four months before Neville posted this comment, Factcheck.org showed it to be false, stating that the “world has now gone 30 consecutive years — 360 straight months — where every month has been above the 20th century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” Factcheck.org and other news outlets specifically cited the satellite data as not proving a warming hiatus.

Lawmwkers who’ve Spread Fake News

So far, it appears that few elected state officials have been spotlighted for spreading fake news on social media. Two examples, compiled in a post on the Colorado Times Recorder yesterday, are State Rep. Tim Couch (R-Hyden) of Kentucky and California Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez.

A wider look at the role of lawmakers in spreading fake news is called for, particularly after officials connected to the Trump campaign, including his pick for national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, promoted Clinton falsehoods on Twitter or Facebook.

Step Up and Sign the Fake News Pledge

The issues around fake news are numerous and complex. But that doesn’t mean people in Colorado can’t do anything about it. This starts with our elected leaders who clearly add legitimacy to information they spread on Facebook.

So elected leaders everywhere should step up and sign pledge.

Lawmakers deserve to be held accountable for spreading fake news, but all of us–not just our elected leaders and regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum–can pledge not to spread fake news.

That’s why we’ve also created Fake News Pledge for Citizens. Everyone can sign it here.

In the coming months, we’ll be tracking how many of Colorado’s state legislators add their names to the pledge–along with everyday citizens. We’ll see if lawmakers from around the country sign.

And we’ll cast a wider net, looking at lower level office holders in Colorado, to find out if more of our elected leaders are spreading fake news. Stay tuned.

Michael Lund and Madeleine Schmidt provided research assistance for this post.