Editor's Note: Jade Esteban Estrada is the writer of Glitter Political, a series of articles detailing San Antonio's political scene.
Former cable news anchor and current congressional candidate Liz Wahl argues that the internet has ushered out an uninformed age but replaced it with an era of misinformation.
As a Democrat vying to represent Texas’ 23rd District, Wahl hopes that speaking out against Russian disinformation, which she believes has sewn “chaos and division within our country,” will resonate with the voters of the sprawling district that runs from San Antonio along two-thirds of the U.S.-Mexico border.
It’s a quiet Thursday afternoon when I sit down with Wahl in a conference room at talk radio station KTSA 550. With a rich and clear voice, the first-time political candidate speaks about her primary challenge to Gina Ortiz Jones, who narrowly lost a 2018 race against Republican incumbent Will Hurd.
Wahl, 34, a San Antonio resident, was born into a military family at Subic Naval Base in the Philippines and grew up in Connecticut. Her adolescent interest in hearing other people’s stories blossomed into a career in broadcast journalism. That led to a job at a television station in Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, where she covered local government and regional news.
In 2011, she accepted a job at the RT Television Network, a U.S.-based cable news outlet funded by the Russian government. After about two years on the job, war erupted in Ukraine and Russia intervened.
“We were told to skew the story,” she says. “That’s when it was like, ‘OK, this is not another point of view, this is propaganda.’”
To take a stand, Wahl resigned on air. Over the next 24 hours, the video went viral and guest requests from cable news shows poured in. The demand was overwhelming.
“I mean, I turned down the Today Show,” she says. “I just couldn’t do everything.”
Wahl’s dramatic departure was both celebrated and criticized. Abby Martin, a former RT colleague, has blasted Wahl’s on-air resignation as a publicity stunt engineered by Bill Kristol’s Foreign Policy Initiative think tank, for example.
The View’s Barbara Walters also had choice words: “Don’t make [Wahl] a hero for protesting. She [was] working for the [Russian] government.” However, after interviewing Wahl, Walters gave her a winning on-air endorsement for her future job search.
Citing the 2016 presidential election, Wahl says Russian disinformation has become an even greater threat. After watching this “assault on truth,” she says she could no longer be a neutral observer, so she decided to run for office.
“I have the newcomer disadvantage,” Wahl says, acknowledging that Jones’ high name ecognition will be a hurdle for any competing campaign.
I tell Wahl about the time I asked Judge Karen Crouch why she thought law was important. Her answer — “because it prevents chaos” — still echoes in my mind. I ask Wahl why she thinks truth is important.
“Truth is the foundation for thriving democracies,” she says after a thoughtful pause. “Agreeing on essential facts [is] how we’ve been able to make progress as a civilization — scientifically, socially, medically — in every important area of life. We now live in an age where people create their own truths. And that’s scary.”
If Wahl brings a global perspective to the District 23 race, she won’t be the first. Hurd, who recently announced he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2020, is a former CIA operative who served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
While Wahl’s outlook could be advantageous in the general election, her current task is to defeat frontrunner Jones — a former Air Force intelligence officer — in the March primary.
To distinguish herself in a divided party, Wahl describes herself as a “pragmatic Democrat.”
“I would love to be able to work with Republicans,” she explains. “I’m a strong anti-Trumpist, because I don’t think he’s representative of conservative values for the Republican Party. Right now, the GOP has made its transition to the far right, and I don’t think swinging to the far, far left is going to be the answer.”
Wahl says the federal government needs to address pressing issues such as healthcare and immigration reform. However, she says she will push for policies that are politically feasible.
When I ask her what three issues people have told her they’re most concerned about, she counters by asking me if I mean the people in District 23 or the people she’s met during her international travels.
And this is where Wahl, not unlike like Hurd and Jones, demonstrates a global mindset towards political affairs and policy — a view that’s given her an audience wider than just the district she’s vying to represent.
This summer, for instance, Wahl spoke at a peace conference in The Hague in the Netherlands. She also addressed members of Canada’s Parliament on foreign interference in the digital era.
Her focus now, though, is on the people of District 23.
If Wahl can use the Barbara Walters endorsement to help defeat Jones in the upcoming primary, she’ll have the opportunity to be the one thing Texas Democrats love more than raspas, cumbia music and one-time YouTube celebs.
And that’s someone they believe is electable.
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.