We were wrong

My friend Quinn McKay has helped facilitate several sessions in Sutherland Institute’s Transcend Series. Quinn’s focus is honesty and integrity. Early in each session Quinn invites a member of the audience to stand and asks the person, “Have you ever lied?” Usually, with a bit of nervous context added, the person says, “Of course, I have.” Whereupon Quinn asks the person, “So, do you think it is factual for me to introduce you to others as a liar? – as in, ‘Hey, this is Bob, he’s an admitted liar.’ ” Everyone in the room understands the point Quinn makes.

In his book The Bottom Line on Integrity Quinn quotes author Robert Louis Stevenson, “To tell the truth, rightly understood, is not just to state the true facts, but to convey a true impression.” Quinn adds, “In other words, when I fail to convey a true impression, by whatever means, I am lying.”

I raise this issue because I have been accused of lying about “gay rights,” same-sex relationships and nondiscrimination laws – and through me, Sutherland Institute.

As a part of Sutherland Institute’s First Freedoms campaign, we paid for three television ads speaking generally about nondiscrimination laws. One of the ads mentions the potentially difficult situation for landlords who contract with a religious college to house students – a not-so-subtle reference to Brigham Young University private student housing. The text of the commercial states,

Nondiscrimination laws might sound reasonable. We all care about fairness, and they sound fair. But imagine you’re a landlord, renting to private university students in accordance with the university’s honor code and a young man decides that he wants to live in women’s housing. Those special rights would trump your rights as a landlord and, ultimately, the honor code. How fair is that? We can do better here in Utah. Visit FairtoAll.org for more information.

Late last night (January 29), I saw a comment on Twitter to the effect that the ad is inaccurate – that Senator Urquhart’s nondiscrimination bill would not permit that result. I contested, confidently. As it turned, much to my chagrin, the critic was correct. I knew Urquhart had amended his current bill, SB 100, to exempt “approved” housing that would cover the situation described in the television ad – and I thought he had amended the bill recently. Turns out, the “approved” housing exemption was in last year’s version as well.

I was wrong. I immediately apologized and thanked the critic for pointing it out and mentioned that we would pull that particular ad.

Trust me, I felt awful. I don’t claim to know everything about a lot of things, but I do pride myself in accuracy about what I do know. I felt sick – mostly for me – it’s a pride thing. But we move on. We immediately pulled the ad from You Tube and from our FairToAll.org web site. No problem. The process to pull the ad from airing on television is more complicated[i], but it’s being done.

For my public confession and immediate actions to correct my mistake, I am now a “liar,” at least according to some homosexual activists with a proven record of animus toward me and Sutherland Institute’s work in defense of traditional marriage and the natural family. Here’s what that sounds like:

From @EricEthington: “@paulmero & @SutherlandInst admit they’re lying to Utah about nondiscrimination laws.”

From @EricEthington: “@Brooke4Trib @BenWinslow Did you see Sutherland’s @paulmero admit their pro-discrimination TV ads are false?”

From @TroyWilliams: “@paulmero & @SutherlandInst have no problem lying about LGBT families.”

From @HunnerWoof: “When you can’t win with truth, I guess it’s OK to lie to get your way.”

From @betterutah: “Looks like @SutherlandInst admits anti-lgbt discrimination ads are lies. Think tank? Think not!”

From @EricEthington: “@theleftshow Waiting to hear back. Of course, there’s quite a bit dishonest in ALL of @SutherlandInst’s videos, not just the one.”

From @Jojomewing: “@SutherlandInst @paulmero Stop deceiving Utah!”

From @dhutch24: “Sutherland Institute lied!”

From @FirstRateDrew: “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. Will you obey this commandment? Or openly defy Him?”

You get the message: “Paul Mero and Sutherland Institute are liars and purposefully ran deceptive television ads – they’re evil and can’t be trusted.” Right?

I know. Consider the sources. They are full of animus.

But what will be interesting to me is how the “mainstream” media might respond. Will it assume these critics filled with animus are correct about my and Sutherland’s motives? Or will it see it for what it is, an error, and let it go – perhaps even give us credit for unhesitatingly admitting the error and making the correction?

I ask because the “mainstream” media sometimes fails, in my opinion, to fact-check “gay rights” activists.

For instance, and this is just the big “oversight”: There’s no evidence of discrimination in Utah. Senator Urquhart and supporters of his nondiscrimination bill argue that his bill is needed to address the widespread discrimination in Utah against LGBT. But there is no evidence. On Nov. 27, 2013, the Legislature’s Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel released a memo showing that out of 18 municipalities in Utah that have passed local nondiscrimination ordinances, and over a four-year span since 2009, only three complaints of discrimination were filed (all in Salt Lake City) – all three investigated and ruled unsubstantiated.



Complaints Filed

Substantiated Complaints

Alta 0 n/a
Grand County 0 n/a
Harrisville 0 n/a
Logan 0 n/a
Marriott-Slaterville 0 n/a
Midvale 0 n/a
Moab 0 n/a
Murray 0 n/a
Ogden 0 n/a
Park City 0 n/a
Salt Lake City 3 (1 Housing, 2 Employment) 0
Salt Lake County 0 n/a
South Salt Lake 0 n/a
Springdale 0 n/a
Summit County 0 n/a
Taylorsville 0 n/a
Washington Terrace 0 n/a
West Valley City 0 n/a


Municipalities with Nondiscrimination Ordinances: 18 (Source: Equality Utah)

Housing Complaints: 1

Employment Complaints: 2

Substantiated Complaints: 0

The idea that discrimination against LGBT is rampant, or even a real concern, in Utah is misinformed. It’s not a “true impression.” And that is just one false impression among many from supporters of same-sex marriage and Senator Urquhart’s nondiscrimination bill.

To every critic of Sutherland Institute, our work is on display. One thoughtful critic found an error – and we salute him – and I apologized personally, on the spot, and we took care of it immediately. At Sutherland Institute, it’s our promise to be honest and candid in leaving true impressions, and not just isolated fact. We hope everyone working these hot-button issues tries to do the same.

But we understand how the game is played. Most opponents in policy and politics are ever ready to magnify a misstep of their adversaries in an effort to discredit everything they disagree with. We understand that’s the world of politics, but we don’t operate that way.

So we know the assaults on our integrity will continue. But that’s because Sutherland Institute is effective and has constructive educational influence in this state.

This has been a valuable lesson for us and should be a valuable lesson for everyone. Again, I apologize.

[i] Early this morning, Sutherland requested the ad in question be pulled. As a result, all stations have either pulled the spot or have a few more running through today (Jan. 30), mainly on Comcast. Comcast requires a 24-hour turnaround because its traffic center is out of market and it takes longer for the changes to occur. Dish and DirecTV require a three-day turnaround.

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15 Responses to We were wrong

  1. That was the best unapology ever. Let’s sum up. You created an ad with some misinformation. It was a mistake; you’re sorry. The people whom your bad information hurts get angry. They call you a liar because hey, technically you lied. That might not mean you will always be a liar, but in this particular situation, you are.

    Then in a feat of moral gymnastics you manage to turn yourself into the victim because those people you hurt got mad at you. Impressive. It’s almost like stealing from someone, apologizing, but keeping the stuff you stole.

    Voters/constituents are going I make decisions based on your bad information, honest mistake or not. The damage is done. Unless you’re willing to release an ad clearing up your mistake, your cause continues to benefit from the lie. Are you really shocked that people aren’t graciously accepting your fauxpology?

    Remember, they didn’t assault your integrity. You assaulted it when you used untrue information.

  2. Bill Godwin says:

    Actually, you were told the ad was inaccurate, and asked if you still wanted to run it, even though you could change the copy. You said to run it as is, “As long as Urqhart is still appeasing.” Liar would be mild compared to what you really are!

  3. Paul Mero says:

    Dear Joshua and Bill,

    To be a “liar” means premeditation and knowledge of wrongdoing to create a false impression. That’s not what happened. As soon as someone provided me with the evidence that our work was inaccurate, I saw it and fixed it. I guess you think I’m lying about that. Can’t help you with your own feelings. But I’m telling you the truth.

    • Mark says:

      Why didn’t you fact check yourselves? Why did you wait for someone else to tell you that your ad was inaccurate…via Twitter of all things?

      From your comment above it sounds like the best case scenario is that your organization was lazy and didn’t even read the legislation you spent money fighting against. Perhaps next time you should actually read and understand what you and your group is opposing, and what you’re attempting to persuade voters to oppose.

      Lastly, this comment, “I felt sick – mostly for me – it’s a pride thing.” Is very telling. I’m surprised you would admit such a personal flaw; kudos for being honest I guess.

  4. Jose Hernandez says:

    Dr. Mr. Mero

    I too, find myself at a loss and gasping for breath with your admission that the ad was not factual. As someone is completely against everything the Southerland Institute stands for, I’m loathe to admit you have the integrity to admit the mistake and remove the ad. Even you are human and make mistakes. It pains me greatly to see the demonstration of integrity, but I must recognize and sincerely thank you for that.


    Jose Hernandez III

  5. jen morrison says:

    This still is not an honest response. Pictures are circulating of your tweet that you have no problem whatsoever with misleading Utahns. Your cleverly constructed response meant to shift any of your personal wrongdoing did not fool me for one second.by your fruits ye shall know them. Your fruits are lies and inacurrancies all for the cause of continuing discrimination in utah against a group you consider inferior. Shame on you.

    • Paul Mero says:

      The screen shot that Equality Utah is circulating is two comments in a thread of about 20 comments. That, in itself, is deceiving. They pulled what they felt was most incriminating to create a false impression about my/our motives. I hope you will look at the whole thread.

  6. jen morrison says:

    I must add if the president had made a similar mistake you would be screaming about the buck stops with the president. You Mr. Me to have an obligation to ensure the information you provide is accurate. That is your responsibility. How difficult is it to read the bill you are so adamantly against? I believe you did know your commercials were inaccurate and did not care, as your tweet showed. Now that you realize your organization’s credibility is at stake you release this not completely accurate apology. People will eventually see through these ridiculous excuses and understand that your real cause is to keep your boot on the throats of people you consider inferior.

    • Paul Mero says:

      Why didn’t I (or anyone else on our team) read the bill from 2013 and see the “approved” housing language? Great question. Thinking back, the bill, S.B. 262 was held until the end of the session in March. It had a last minute committee hearing when it became clear that the deal the sponsor had hoped for wasn’t going to surface in the session. My objections (testimony in committee) had nothing to do with the minutia of the bill…it rarely has over the past six or seven years. My objections have been about placing “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into state law…how vague those terms are…that their vagueness and the “perceived as” language puts the burden on employers and landlords (guilty until proven innocent situations) and creates a thought-police. Anything else in the bill, that others might be concerned about, was not my concern. Of course, you’ll believe what you want. But I wasn’t aware about the “approved” housing language until the fellow on Twitter brought it to my attention, as I’ve said. That’s true.

  7. John Sonderegger says:

    Mr. Mero, you can offer an apology (of sorts) but the damage you’ve inflicted cannot be undone. You claim you “fixed” the inaccuracies you perpetuated as soon as you found out about them, but you have fixed nothing. Thousands and thousands of Utah residents have seen your commercial and unless you’ve come up with some kind of magic solution that makes them all forget the blatant falsehoods in your TV spot, or forget the spot altogether, your apology and claim you’ve fixed things is a complete sham, and a blatant lie. Pathological liars are those who believe their own lies and it seems, sir, that you fit this definition quite nicely.

    If you would like to offer a sincere apology, I suggest the Sutherland Institute release a statement, along with a new commercial, clearly explaining that you have done irrepairable damage to the citizens of Utah and the nation, then close your doors and shutter your windows permanently.

  8. Gina says:

    I appreciate the Southerland Institute pulling the ad in question. However, the assumption that because no complaints have been made doesn’t mean it hasn’t happen. As in most cases when people are exploited it can be difficult even when there recourse for the issue. If there is NO recourse how likely is someone to complain? I have not heard your opponents say that these issues are rampant – and even if they aren’t should that be what drives public policy in this case?

  9. Sam Handwich says:

    This deliberately misleading advertising serves only to further underscores how desperate the anti-gays have become now that they’ve been trapped like rats by the 14th Amendment, via a republican federal judge’s ruling.

  10. Andy Rivera says:

    I find it very interesting that you would note the number of instances which discrimination is occurring throughout Utah. Have you considered that more people are NOT filing claims because there is no legal protection? I can personally say I’ve fallen victim to workplace discrimination because of my LGBT identities; this occurred in April 2011 at the University of Utah. While I had every opportunity to file a claim and continue working for Campus Recreation Services, I did not find it worthwhile because there was nothing preventing that discrimination from happening again.

    I encourage you to research the statistics, not only in Utah, but also on a national level as well. Educate yourself on both sides of the matter before dispersing ads/campaigns and fact check. I also encourage you to take the opportunity to hear the stories of the thousands of LGBT Utahns out there and those who’ve faced discrimination- once you’ve done that, I’d be interested in seeing if you can still say discrimination is not an issue in this state.

    Andy Rivera
    University of Utah LGBT Healthcare Research

  11. Miguel Jimenez says:

    Thank you so much for your integrity, for having the courage to apologize for an honest mistake, for knowing better, and for defending yourself from your enemy.
    You are a great example and a true Hero to us, the silent majority.
    Miguel Jimenez

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