Flagrant foul for campaign photo touting guns

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts
WhoConcerned Citizens of Michigan
What“Is Ian Conyers ready to be your next state Senator?” mailer
The callFlagrant foul

Ian Conyers, 27-year-old great nephew of U.S. Congressman John Conyers (D-Detroit), is running in this Tuesday’s primary for the District 4 Senate seat among a field of nine Democratic candidates that includes former state Rep. Fred Durhal, Jr. (D-Detroit). The seat is open following the resignation of Virgil Smith, who was sentenced to 10 months in jail and five years probation for a felony, malicious destruction of property, after shooting at his ex-wife’s Mercedes Benz. The winner of the Nov. 8 general election will serve the last two years of Smith’s Senate term.

In the runup to Tuesday’s primary, a group that calls itself Concerned Citizens for Michigan, based in Fraser, distributed a flyer carrying a photo of Ian Conyers and a group of young men appearing to be posing with weapons. The flyer invoked Detroit’s longstanding battle against gun violence and questions Conyers’s fitness for state office.

Relevant statements:

“Is Ian Conyers ready to be your next state Senator? Over 200 Detroiters are murdered a year by gun violence. Ian Conyers thinks gun violence is a game”

“In the past five years, over 5,000 Detroiters have been victims of gun violence. Ian Conyers thinks gun violence is a game. Now this young man wants to be our State Senator. Is he ready to represent you?” Photo from Conyers’ social media page.

Statements under review:

“Over 200 Detroiters are murdered a year by gun violence.”

This is true. In 2014, the latest statistics available, the Detroit police Department records show that 295 criminal homicides took place in the city. That is a rate that keeps Detroit near the top of the list of the most violent cities in America. But the homicide rate is decreasing. The 2014 murder rate is an improvement compared with 2012 when the city saw nearly 400 murders at a rate of 55 murders per 100,000 people, the highest murder rate Detroit had seen in nearly 20 years.

“Ian Conyers thinks gun violence is a game. Now this young man wants to be our State Senator. Is he ready to represent you?”

The flyer says the photo of Conyers, with what appear to be five young men and teenagers, was taken from social media. Conyers and the others are holding what appear to be rifles. But a look closer reveals they also have yellow and blue splatters of paint on their clothing.

Conyers says the guns were not real but were literally part of a game ‒ paintball ‒ he played with his nephews four years ago. More than 3.3 million people in the U.S. played the popular combat game in 2015, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, including office groups and other organizations which use paintball as a team-building exercise. The guns shoot dye-filled gelatin shells, rather than bullets.

Conyers calls the juxtaposition of the photo and political text misleading, and said he fears older voters unfamiliar with paintball might think he was packing real fire power -- and with youngsters no less.

“They’re not real guns, I don’t own a weapon at all,” Conyers told Truth Squad. He said he takes the issue of violence seriously and marched with Detroiters against gun violence last spring after six-month-old Miracle Murray was shot to death in a drive-by shooting.

“They couldn’t have picked an issue to be more wrong about,” Conyers said of the group behind the flyer. “It’s just sad to see someone use fear tactics instead of their own record.”

Without a doubt Conyers, 27, benefits in the crowded primary race because he bears the same last name as his great-uncle, the longest serving member of Congress. If labor endorsements are any indication, he and Durhal are the ones to watch because both have cued up endorsements from unions in their battle for the district, which runs across northern Detroit to Lincoln Park, Southgate and Allen Park.

Durhal, 64, could not be reached for comment. He told the Detroit News last week he is annoyed that Conyers, at 27, is running for the state post when he has never held public office. He called his younger foe a “rookie.” (Durhal is not to be confused with his son, state Rep. Fred Durhal III (D-Detroit), elected in 2014 to the District 5 seat he used to hold). The elder Durhal was a state Representative for seven years. He told the News he was not involved in the anti-Conyers gun flyer.

The callFlagrant foul

The flyer seizes on the issue of gun violence in Detroit, a touchy subject in a city that is in the infancy of an economic rebirth while trying to shake a long-held reputation as one of the most violent cities in the nation. The flyer paints Ian Conyers as unprepared to serve, an immature loose cannon who not only toys around with violence, but glorifies in it. The flyer says Conyers thinks gun violence is a “game,” but does not clarify Conyers was actually playing a game.

Truth Squad was unable to reach Concerned Citizens of Michigan, the group behind the flyer, or the contact person listed on the incorporation papers the group filed with the state in June, shortly before the flyers were mailed.

Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said the flyer is a difficult-to-gauge attack on Conyers.

“The situation appears to point to the fact that a nonprofit organization can pop up overnight, providing little to no information to the public, and then can begin spending money to influence electoral races,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which advocates for more transparency in state campaign finance laws. “They act as if this spending is to ‘educate’ the public about issues. But anyone can look at this mailer and see it's intention is to hurt Mr. Conyers' chances on Aug. 2.”

Truth Squad agrees, though it notes there is no evidence presented to date tying Durhal to the flyer.

More to the point, whether Ian Conyers lacks the experience or maturity for state Senate is not within Truth Squad’s province. But using a grossly misleading photograph as the centerpiece for such an argument certainly is and, in this example at least, unfairly smears this candidate’s integrity. We call a flagrant foul.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Fred Paxton
Mon, 08/01/2016 - 12:12pm
A fine piece of responsible journalism. Thank you Truth Squad.
Mon, 08/01/2016 - 2:11pm
Conyers and the Democratic party have been playing with and off the public's and their constituent's ignorance regarding firearms for years,, what's new here? What comes around goes around.
Thu, 08/18/2016 - 5:29am
What Ian Conyers should do is organize a Paintball for Principles Fundraiser. Supporters can play paintball, with the proceeds donated to a charity that supports Widows of Police Officers killed in the line of duty.