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Political campaign managers, with complicity from candidates, have a bad habit of grabbing newspaper excerpts and using them out of context to attack opponents in TV commercials, print ads and campaign literature.

Anderson mayoral candidate Rick Gardner and his campaign committee have spun this dark art to a new standard of distortion.

To twist headlines from The Herald Bulletin to Gardner’s purposes, a campaign consultant simply rewrote them and then placed them on a flyer that was mailed and handed out in Anderson. The font style, type size and arrangement of the headlines, bylines and text excerpts mimic The Herald Bulletin’s website.

Photos and graphics from the website were placed on the flyer, as well.

The intent, obviously, was to deceive Anderson voters, to make them believe that the headlines they saw on the flyer were written by The Herald Bulletin.

When the newspaper contacted Gardner to complain about the flyer, the Republican candidate at first expressed contrition and said his campaign would stop distributing it. A short while later, however, he claimed that this type of headline distortion was nothing new in political handouts.

“This is done all the time,” he said, as if the transgressions of others are an excuse for his own.

To prove his point he sent the newspaper a copy of a political opponent’s ad from 2014 that had used excerpts from The Herald Bulletin to criticize him.

The difference between that ad and Gardner’s, though, was clear. The 2014 ad had short labels over the text excerpts, while Gardner’s had rewritten headlines to name his opponent, Mayor Tom Broderick, and to accentuate content in the articles that casts shadows on the mayor’s administration.

Perhaps other candidates have taken liberties with newspaper headlines, but it would be extremely rare, according to Steve Key, an attorney with the Hoosier State Press Association who has worked in the newspaper industry since 1977.

Key said that he had never before seen an instance where a candidate changed the headlines or text of a newspaper story in campaign advertising.

“It’s extremely unethical and unfair to the voters, readers and the newspaper,” Key said. “They basically altered the true historical record by altering headlines.”

If Gardner doesn’t see anything wrong with the practice of distorting headlines, he might lack the judgment and discretion necessary to serve as mayor.

Anderson voters should watch Gardner with a wary eye and listen with a discerning ear as the Nov. 5 election draws near.

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