By:
December 2, 2020

The Washington Post made the questionable decision on Tuesday to run a full-page ad from a private citizen who argued that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. The ad said it was paid for by Lawrence Gelman of McAllen, Texas.

One section of the ad reads, “That the incumbent should be more popular in the re-election bid than when first elected, as noted by receiving more votes in every single state but, nevertheless, fails in the bid for re-election is fantastically improbable. The likely explanation for this outcome is that the opposition, through manipulation of the electoral process, succeeded in garnering sufficient votes to win in selected states regardless of the number of votes necessary. A divergence from historical voting patterns of this magnitude raises the specter of fraud. When, for example has an incumbent lost a re-election bid despite receiving more votes in every single state than in the previous election?”

Why would the Post run an advertisement full of speculation questioning the legitimacy of the election when the paper’s own reporters have written fact-based stories that have shown no election fraud?

I reached out to the Post, which gave me this statement:

“We have long accepted individual advocacy ads from readers and they, like other advertisers, are given wide latitude to exercise their First Amendment rights and convey their opinions. This ad is clearly labeled as advertising and discloses who purchased the ad.”

I suppose it’s really no different than a letter to the editor — well, other than the Post actually got money for it. And the Post is correct in saying that it’s labeled as an advertisement with clear attribution. It’s also admirable that the Post gives “wide latitude” to those who want to exercise their First Amendment rights and “convey their opinions.”

Nevertheless, to allow a reader to simply buy his way into a powerful publication such as the Post to offer a theory that totally lacks proof and casts doubt on our democracy just doesn’t feel right. It feels irresponsible. Just because the Post encourages an exchange of thoughts doesn’t mean it HAS to accept theories that have no basis in fact.

This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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