News media gloss over Colorado GOP congressional nominee’s QAnon conspiracy theory links

In Tuesday’s primary races in Colorado, challenger Lauren Boebert — a supporter of the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon — defeated incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton in the Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District. And the news media aren’t treating this story the way they should.

The QAnon conspiracy theory revolves around an anonymous account known as “Q,” and claims that President Donald Trump has been working to take down his perceived enemies, the “deep state,” and criminal rings committing pedophila. As Media Matters’ Alex Kaplan has explained: “Multiple adherents to the conspiracy theory have been tied to acts of violence, including multiple murders and attempted kidnappings, and an FBI field office released a memo in May that listed QAnon as a potential domestic terrorism threat.”

Kaplan also reported on Boebert:

She appeared on the online show Steel Truth, hosted by QAnon supporter Ann Vandersteel, during which Vandersteel asked her if she knew about “the Q movement.” Boebert responded that she was “very familiar with it” and said that while she did not focus on it a lot, she hoped that QAnon “is real because it only means America is getting stronger and better.” She also said that everything she heard about QAnon “is only motivating and encouraging and bringing people together, stronger, and if this is real, then it can be really great for our country.”

Boebert is the owner of Shooters Grill, a “gun-themed” restaurant in the town of Rifle, Colorado, (yes, really), where the servers all carry guns as they serve customers. In addition, most of her official publicity photos show her carrying a holstered handgun.

And while some media outlets are focusing on Boebert’s conspiracy-theorist leanings, too many are simply just calling her a “gun rights activist.” For example, the Twitter Moment listing for Boebert’s victory also referred to her as a “gun rights activist” and quoted from her own campaign literature to describe her platform:

Twitter screen grab

Oddly enough, while Twitter credits The Week magazine’s Speed Reads section for the photo of Boebert, actually clicking the credit link to the SpeedReads Twitter account shows that The Week had not minced any words in reporting the story, instead describing her as “a far-right challenger with QAnon sympathies.”

Local paper The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colorado, contained no references to Boebert’s conspiracy theorist background in its article, and it instead introduced her to readers as “the gun-wielding Rifle restaurant owner.”

The Denver Post also did not mention Boebert’s QAnon sympathies, but instead highlighted another recent event that got her in the news: “She drew attention in May when she decided to reopen her restaurant against state public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Garfield County suspended her food license after Boebert defied a cease-and-desist order.”

The local NBC and ABC affiliates in Grand Junction -- which have the same corporate owner -- shared local news content, describing Boebert as “pro-guns and pro-life, [who] is also the owner of Shooters Grill.” They also featured a short interview clip with Boebert from her election-night party. Neither the interview or the news segment overall mentioned her QAnon links.

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Citation From the July 1, 2020, edition of KCCO’s Daybreak

Other local news coverage in Colorado did mention Boebert’s QAnon leanings. A shared online article between the ABC affiliate in Denver and the NBC affiliate in Pueblo — the latter of which is in the geographically vast district — elaborated on this issue, but only beginning in the ninth paragraph.

Fox News' coverage of the race has also made no mention of QAnon and has described her as a “pro-gun businesswoman” in its online coverage. News anchor Jillian Mele called Boebert a “gun rights activist” during a brief overview of Tuesday’s election results.

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Citation From the July 1, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends

To be clear, other media outlets have done better. The Associated Press’ lede paragraph says Boebert has “expressed support for a far-right conspiracy theory,” and the article then elaborated on QAnon in third through fifth paragraphs. Politico mentioned Boebert’s QAnon leanings in its sub-headline, as did The New York Times.

On the other hand, The Washington Post first referred to Boebert as a “gun rights activist” in its headline, and only in its sixth paragraph said she has “also has flirted with the fringe QAnon conspiracy theory.” (A later Post article dug deeper into QAnon candidates such as Boebert.)

And even in the case of Politico, one of the seemingly good examples mentioned above, its chief political correspondent seemed to downplay the impact of having a conspiracy theorist in Congress:

Then again, maybe the observation that Boebert could just be another garden-variety Republican in Congress also says a lot about the current state of affairs in America.