A season for misinformation — but a time to know

CN+R Editorial
Posted 2/14/20

If anything, politics has shown itself over time to be an arena for misinformation, either intentional or inadvertent.

Chatham County is faced with that now. A recent advertisement on the …

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A season for misinformation — but a time to know

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If anything, politics has shown itself over time to be an arena for misinformation, either intentional or inadvertent.

Chatham County is faced with that now. A recent advertisement on the “Chatham Chatlist,” a local bulletin-board type email thread that is often rife with misinformation, had an item about the upcoming Article 46 local option sales tax referendum. It called the proposed levy “another NO-NEED TAX INCREASE proposed by Chatham Commissioner Candidates Dasher & Howard.”

The post indicated it was paid for by the Chatham County GOP.

A request for comment from Chatham’s Republican Party didn’t get a response within a week, so we don’t know for sure if this was an intentional ploy to gather steam against the aforementioned Mike Dasher and Karen Howard ahead of their re-election bids this year. But what we do know is that the claim that the pair were responsible for the proposal is patently false.

County staff first proposed the idea last year during budget discussions — agenda documents for the January 16, 2019, budget workshop indicate the county staff asking commissioners about the referendum then. But the commissioners did not take a final vote on it until October.

Additionally, significant discussion has gone into how this tax would affect people living on fixed or low incomes more. But this sales tax option — which would only cause people to pay 25 cents more in additional sales taxes on a purchase of $100 — does not apply to unprepared food like groceries, or to fuel.

Our point here now is not to advocate “for” or “against” the ballot issue. Voters decide on these, and in most cases, sales tax options fail on ballots. But our plea is for those voters to make a well-informed decision, a decision based on facts and not misleading, untrue exclamation-point claims.

In the age of “fake news” and social media, bad information flies fast and recklessly. It’s been crippling to our institutions and detrimental to public discourse. And it’s not limited to any one party. In the recent New Hampshire primary debate, Joe Biden claimed that fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would cost more than the entire current federal budget — something independent fact-checking website PolitiFact found to be false. (On the other spectrum, President Trump saying that Nancy Pelosi’s ripping up of his State of the Union address was illegal was also untrue.)

It’s our commitment as a newspaper to report the truth and reality when it comes to any issue, particularly those involving taxpayer dollars and what’s on the table when you go to the ballot box. We’ve had two stories so far that explore the reality of the sales tax referendum, and we’ll have another one next week. As you weigh your vote on the tax issue, you’d do well to read those stories first.

If misinformation — deliberate and calculated or unintentional and mistaken — is a sign of things to come for the 2020 election season in Chatham County, it’s a sad state of affairs. But that’s one of the reasons we exist as a news outlet, to double-check claims made by candidates and point out what’s true and what’s not.

As we head full steam into a politically-charged year, we hope that both political parties, all political candidates and all voters, will seek for and only repeat facts. Skip the lies and hyperbole. Stick to the truth.

That’s what’s best for Chatham County.


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