Once again, Devin Nunes is peddling falsehoods to further his campaign for re-election to the 22nd congressional district. Only this time, the Republican’s fake-news ad is going after an unlikely target.
On its face, the latest ad concerns how Democrat challenger Andrew Janz has allegedly campaigned during work time. Janz is a deputy district attorney, and thus has the important job of prosecuting accused criminals.
But peel away the ad’s top layer and the person who is most targeted by such an accusation is Janz’s boss, District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp. That’s because the ad strongly implies she does not have control of her department, or at least one employee, namely Janz.
Such a possibility is laughable.
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Here is what the ad says:
“Janz claims to be a hard-working prosecutor, but he’s posted hundreds of campaign tweets during taxpayer-funded work hours.”
The TV ad says Janz has posted 461 tweets during business hours. Wow, the ad makes Janz out to be a loose cannon of an employee. Is anyone managing him?
Here are the facts:
Smittcamp talked with Janz when he first told her he was going to run. “I told him not to campaign on county time or in county buildings,” Smittcamp told The Bee’s Rory Appleton. “Even phone calls had to be allocated.”
She asked that any campaign-related postings on Twitter be identified, and so Janz has been signing his tweets with his initials.
Bottom line, says Smittcamp: “We have had no issues with him and are not aware of him campaigning on county time at all.”
Furthermore, she said the Nunes campaign used public record requests to get Janz’s time sheets to see his work hours, “and those have been provided.”
So, on one side, we have a Republican incumbent whose ads previously have played fast and loose with the facts. On the other, we have the word of the district attorney, the top prosecutor in Fresno County whose job is to know right from wrong. She also has to campaign and face the voters when her seat comes up, so Smittcamp understands how elections work. Does Nunes really think she has not been keeping an eye on Janz?
Smittcamp is an established authority in the legal community, with colleagues and friends throughout the Valley and beyond. It will be interesting to see what results politically from this ill-targeted ad.
For now, she took the rare step this past week of discussing the campaign — something she tries to stay above — to debunk Nunes’ claims.
Appleton asked Nunes’ campaign to explain how it came up with the 461 figure. Instead, all the Nunes camp would provide was this statement:
“Since the Fresno Bee printed a supposed in-depth profile on Andrew Janz, it’s amazing they failed to discover the many gimmicks he employs to campaign during business hours. It’s almost as if the Bee is just protecting its favorite candidate.”
First, The Bee editorial board has not yet recommended a candidate in this race. Second, when a reporter gets such a statement — one that does not answer the question that was asked — the next step is to follow up with more questions, such as: What do you mean by gimmicks? Did you check those with his boss, who is the arbiter of Janz’s work hours? Can Nunes or members of his staff verify that they do not themselves campaign on congressional time?
But since Nunes and his staff only communicate with The Bee through prepared statements such as the one above, Appleton did not have a chance to follow up. Thus, he properly did not use that statement, as context and background were sorely lacking, and its very truth was in question.
Pattern of falsehoods
The work-time-campaigning ad is just the latest Nunes misstatement.
A recent Janz ad shows him standing next to an orchard and along a canal. Nunes accuses Janz of trespassing on the land. Fact: Janz had written permission from the landowner to use the spot.
Another Nunes ad accuses The Bee of staging a rally outside the congressman’s Clovis office and working in concert with “radical, left-wing” Democrats. Fact: Local Democrats have held rallies there every week for more than a year. A Bee reporter covered one recently. It is preposterous to say The Bee staged this protest. The rally would have happened whether the reporter had been there or not.
Similarly, Nunes accuses The Bee of bothering his “98-year-old grandmother.” Fact: The last time The Bee talked to Nunes’ grandmother was more than 15 years ago, when he had just won his first term to Congress.
By another name?
This editorial has used the word “falsehood” to describe what Nunes has said in these ads, all of which carry the “I’m Devin Nunes, and I approve this message” disclaimer.
Another word would be “lies.”
We are trying to take the high road, and we wish Nunes would do the same. Instead of spreading falsehoods about his opponent or the hometown newspaper, how about campaigning on a record of accomplishments? Or, what is his vision for the next term, if re-elected?
How about actually campaigning in his district? Like, face constituents and take questions outside of closed events with pre-screened attendees?
Instead, voters in the 22nd District get treated to the time-worn playbook of political consultants that is heavy on cynicism and short on authenticity. The game plan is to limit actual exposure to real people who may ask tough questions and to instead hide behind ridiculous ads meant to get the devoted GOP voter to the polls. It might work, since Nunes’ district has more registered Republicans than Democrats.
But that’s the swamp behavior that Nunes, and his mentor, President Donald Trump, were supposed to root out.