We must all keep disinformation in check this election season

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

With the local candidate declaration period ending on May 21, we will soon know — save last-minute write-in candidates — who plans to compete for more than a dozen open positions on Camas-Washougal city councils, school boards and commissions in the August primary and November general elections. 

And if the recent performance in front of the Camas School Board — during which an organized group of Camas parents flagrantly thumbed their noses at the district’s COVID-19 safety precautions by refusing to wear masks at the indoor meeting, railed against “liberal, woke agendas” and told the school board “the community is coming for them” — is any indication, we’re all in for a wild ride this election season.

As always, we will stick to traditional reporting techniques to bring Camas-Washougal voters the most accurate and pertinent facts regarding the candidates. 

Traditionally, this involves a one-on-one interview with every candidate; reporting on town halls, debates and candidate forums; reminding readers of incumbent candidates’ voting records and public stances on various issues; and digging into public records to find out who is funding local campaigns. 

One of the things we will not do in this newspaper this election season is give a blank platform to candidates peddling blatantly false claims like some of the ones we heard this week at the Camas School Board’s May 10 meeting

If candidates want to claim there are cures for COVID-19 or that the coronavirus does not harm children or that the intention of the Camas School District’s equity policy (which has now been through nearly five years’ worth of fine-tuning and reworking thanks to frequent community meetings with Camas students, families, teachers and administrators) is to teach children how to be racist — all of which are demonstrably false — we will do our best to counter disinformation with provable facts. 

Our job as journalists is to help our readers have the best, most accurate information available and to hold people in power accountable. 

Newspaper staffs across the nation have seen some drastic cutbacks over the past decade, and many are, thanks to a drop in advertising revenue during the pandemic, now operating with a skeleton crew. At the Post-Record, we are now down to just two people on our editorial team and are working harder than ever to cover news that is important to the people who live and work in East Clark County. 

Even with a reduced staff, however, we will try our best to correct election-season misinformation that can spread like wildfire thanks to social media platforms like Nextdoor and Facebook, which do not hold people accountable for spreading false or half-true information.

The May 10 Camas School Board meeting was likely a taste of what’s in store for Camas-Washougal school boards and city councils this election season. We already know there is a well-funded, far-right-wing misinformation campaign trying to equate critical race theory — an academic theory first crafted by civil rights activists in the 1970s that seeks to examine how systemic racism continues to impact the daily lives and well-being of Americans who identify as Black, indigenous and/or people of color — with “socialism,” “Marxism,” “racism,” “liberal agenda” and other buzzwords intended to confuse voters and, ultimately, replace incumbent school board members with people who want to scrap school equity policies and send public education back to the dark ages, when the only history being taught in our K-12 schools (like the one this editor attended in 1980s Appalachian Pennsylvania) was a history where white males ruled supreme and all other perspectives were either ignored completely or given a tiny box on one page of a 350-page textbook.

The folks who are so upset by “critical race theory” are not a grassroots group that has popped up in response to a problem. Rather, they are following a disinformation campaign that has, according to a May 7, 2021 article in The Atlantic, become “the latest in a long line of racialized topics (Fox News) has jumped on” with the right-wing media platform mentioning “critical race theory” at least 150 times since June 2020. 

Former president Donald Trump signed an executive order in September 2020 banning “diversity and race sensitivity training” in government agencies and disallowed any government “spending related to any training on critical race theory.” 

And other politicians are now crafting bills intended to shut down all talk of white supremacy or systemic racism in schools and state government agencies — all of which will likely be deemed unconstitutional for violating the freedom of speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. 

But why is there such anger over a theory that seeks to examine and help undo hundreds of years of systemic racism? 

As the legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire told The Atlantic, the people who are trying to convince us that CRT is evil are simply trying to stop our young people from having conversations about systemic racism — which pervades every aspect of life in this nation, from our educational institutions, where decades worth of research showing white teachers are more likely to punish Black children and less likely to place Black and Latino students in advanced classes; to our medical institutions, where Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die after giving birth in this country than white mothers, regardless of socioeconomic status; to our legal institutions, where Black inmates regularly serve more time in prison than white inmates found guilty of committing the same crimes. 

“What these bills are designed to do is prevent conversations about how racism exists at a systemic level in that we all have implicit biases that lead to decisions that, accumulated, lead to significant racial disparities,” the ACLU legal director told The Atlantic. “The proponents of this bill want none of those discussions to happen. They want to suppress that type of speech.”

We trust the majority of Camas-Washougal voters will not be fooled by the misinformation campaign surrounding “critical race theory” this election season. 

Likewise, we know local residents will realize that public health mandates meant to keep COVID-19 — a virus that has killed nearly 300 children in the United States and recently led to the death of a 46-year-old teacher in nearby Estacada, Oregon — from spreading unchecked inside our schools, is not a new, grassroots movement, but one that far-right groups and politicians have been pushing since the start of the pandemic — and one that is filled with some truly astounding misinformation about masks and fear-mongering over the COVID-19 vaccines.  

We trust the majority of local voters will seek out legitimate news sources this election season. As the area’s newspaper of record, the Post-Record editorial team will do our best to help bring voters the facts they need to make informed choices and elect people who will help lead Camas and Washougal into a brighter future.