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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

The New York Times kneecaps Walker Stapleton

The New York Times, “Gray Lady,” may want to check a mirror for an orange hue. The hit piece it ran on Colorado candidate for governor Walker Stapleton earlier this week seemed almost Trumpian. The president the Times loves to hate could only be more proud if the article had come out in a stream of 280 character bursts.

The Times article details the Ku Klux Klan affiliation of Stapleton’s great-grandfather, Benjamin Stapleton — Denver’s former mayor and a man who died decades before Stapleton himself was born. If the article had stuck to Benjamin Stapleton, and the legitimate discussion of neighborhoods and schools named after him, I might have a different opinion.

But the Times didn’t. In fact, its lede paragraph doesn’t mention Benjamin Stapleton at all. The entire focus is on Walker Stapleton. That’s how you know the author’s primary goal, the issue she wanted front and center in her reader’s mind, was her public knee-capping of Walker Stapleton three months before the gubernatorial election.

It’s dirty, it’s wrong, and it contributes to the dumbing-down of the electoral process. When the Times editorializes against President Trump’s penchant for punching low and misleading the public, it might want to pull this article from its archives first. It’s precisely this type of yellow journalism that gives rise to cries of “liberal bias” and justifies so many conservatives to support Trump. When the media plays dirty, conservatives cheer Trump playing dirtier.

Tying any string between a candidate and the Ku Klux Klan, no matter how tenuous or twisted, brands the candidate like cattle. The actual process might be short, but the pain and lasting mark stick with the candidate.

If Walker Stapleton had in any way sympathized or supported the Ku Klux Klan, I’d be in favor of this treatment. After all, the Ku Klux Klan is a despicable stain on American history. It is composed of terrorists responsible for many of America’s worst human rights atrocities.

But here’s the problem: the Times branded Walker Stapleton for a position he has never taken or supported. It drew links between two people separated by a hundred years and multiple generations. It bet on the shock value of Ku Klux Klan to drum up interest in a story. It is both irresponsible and borderline unprofessional.

Even worse, it trapped Stapleton and the entire gubernatorial race in its vortex. Stapleton can’t talk about the issue, even to disclaim his great-grandfather’s affiliation, because that will only pour fuel on the fire. If he engages, then the entirety of the Colorado progressive movement will bombard his campaign with follow-ups and follow-ups to follow-ups and parsed responses pulled out of context. It makes little sense to anyone who hasn’t worked at the center of high profile campaigns, but after two decades in the field, I recognize the pattern.

Stapleton knows that Coloradans deserve a better debate. And, for the sake of fairness, so does his opponent, Jared Polis. To his credit, Polis’ campaign has not raised the issue. Maybe they recognize that outside groups will do the work; one liberal blog banner blared “Oh Noes! KKKapleton makes The New York Times.” Regardless, resisting the temptation to pile on is difficult. Let’s hope Polis continues along the high road.

Stapleton and Polis present substantially divergent views for our state’s future. I’ve known each for more than a decade; I’m sure they would prefer to focus on those differences. That is the conversation Colorado deserves to have. That is the conversation most beneficial to our state and citizens.

When The New York Times drags the debate away from policy issues and into the realm of tabloid journalism, it does each and every one of us a disservice. In the future, the Gray Lady should be careful to use a little less bronzer when she publishes.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and Denver Post columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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