Vote Watch 2004
Vote/Election fraud, vote suppression, voting irregularities, voter intimidation in Election 2004

 

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TENNESSEE

10/17/04 [Permalink] UPDATED 10/31/04
Dirty Tricks in Tennessee begin with old Karl Rove style hit

A nasty flier crops up mocking the disabled and comparing Bush to them and the GOP tries to tar the Tennessee Congressional Democratic candidate Craig Fitzhugh. The Republican organization - Traditional Values Coalition - blames Fitzhugh saying that they have a witness who confirms the flier came from Fitzhugh, but the witness denied this. Other facts surrounding this suggest a Karl-Rove-style GOP dirty tricks operation. Developing...

Via Votelaw, Josh Marshall and Mark Kleiman, we have the beginning of the full blown dirty tricks campaign Karl-Rove style. 

Steve Clemons has this update in the Washington Note:

WHAT IS IT WITH THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IN THE SOUTH and disgusting political flyers and mailers?

A nasty flyer has turned up in Tennesse politics which depicts a handicapped athlete running on a track with George Bush's face pasted on.

The text reads:

Voting for Bush is Like Running in the Special Olympics -- Even if You Win, You're Still Retarded.

The Traditional Values Coalition and other right wing operations in the South jumped on this fast alleging that Tennessee Democrat Craig Fitzhugh's office, which shares space with the Kerry/Edwards Campaign, was distributing this flyer.

I have just spoken to Fitzhugh's office -- and here are the facts so far.

First, the Chairman of the Democratic Party Randy Button and Craig Fitzhugh have denied that these flyers were produced and/or distributed by Fitzhugh's or the campaign office.

Remember when the equally nasty RNC mailer emerged in West Virginia and Arkansas? It took more than a week for Ed Gillespie and the RNC, which originally disavowed knowledge of the mailer, to own up that the "ban the Bible" mailer was an RNC product. In this case, the denial from the Dems is immediate and firm.

Fitzhugh's office reported to me that they have asked the District Attorney's office to investigate and looks at this flyer and the attempt to pin it on Fitzhugh as a disgusting -- but more importantly -- an illegal act.

What has been reported is that these flyers were left in a trash can in Fitzhugh's office. No one on Fitzhugh's staff or among campaign volunteers saw that these flyers had been deposited by anyone in the garbage. Shortly after some unknown individual dropped the flyers in the trash can, another individual came into the office and found the flyers in Fitzhugh's trash -- and then made this public.

Coincidence? I think not. I hope the D.A. goes after these culprits and nails them hard.

This appears to be a classic dirty trick.

But when the dust clears on this one -- despite the efforts of Fox News and the Traditional Values Coalition to try to keep this mailer linked to Democrats -- the RNC has to not only live with its admission of producing and distributing a duplicitous, homophobic mailer but that it has produced a culture in its party where this kind of political prank seems to be becoming a norm.

Nick Confessore at TAPPED looks at the details:

The gist is that someone went into Tennessee congressional candidate Craig Fitzhugh's office and "found" a bunch of fliers with George W. Bush's head pasted onto the body of a competitor in the Special Olympics, with the tagline "Voting for Bush is Like Running in the Special Olympics -- Even if You Win, You're Still Retarded."

Why does this seem like a dirty trick? A couple of reasons.

For one thing, the timing stinks. Here's how the first AP story describes the chronology (forgive the long excerpt, but it really provides a lot of context) [bold text is eRiposte emphasis]:

The flier was the subject of denunciations by Fitzhugh's Republican challenger, Dave Dahl; TeamGOP, which featured the flier on the home page of its Web site and for whom Dahl is a member of the board of directors; conservative blogger Bill Hobbs; and the Traditional Values Coalition of Washington.

Fitzhugh insists the fliers were dropped off at the office by an unknown person and promptly thrown into a trash can outside the office by the two volunteers on duty that day.

Someone later came by and asked about the fliers and was told they had been tossed in the trash. That second person then got one out of the trash and threatened to call the local newspaper, according to Fitzhugh's account. 

"I had absolutely nothing to do with it at all," Fitzhugh said. "I'll do whatever I can to counter this, but it's hard to undo something you haven't done."

Fitzhugh said he has called on Dahl and TeamGOP "to help me find out how this happened, and certainly to quit distributing these lies. It's harmful to the Special Olympics and to people with mental and physical challenges, not to mention my family. It's terrible. This has just gone too far."

Dahl said a candidate should "be responsible for anything that appears in your headquarters," and that Fitzhugh had given varying accounts of the history of the flier.

"They gave it out to more than one person, as far as we know," Dahl said. "There is one person who brought it to the GOP headquarters."

Dahl said that person was out of town and could not immediately be reached.

Fitzhugh's office put AP in touch with a woman named Katie Honey, who said she was one of the two volunteers in the office the day the fliers were delivered last week.

"Someone brought them in and they left. I looked at them and said, 'This is not something we need in here. This goes in the trash,' " she said. "Well, here comes a man up and raising Cain and Mr. (David) Reynolds (the other volunteer) told him they were out in the trash. He went and picked it out of the trash and said, 'Well, this is going in the paper.' "

She said the second man did not come back after picking the flier out of the trash. 

"It really, really is strange. Who around town was putting out this stuff I'll never know," she said. "There had to be somebody printing them up, but who it would have been I don't know. I'm just so sorry this stuff happened I don't know what to do."

Hobbs, a GOP activist from Williamson County, about 180 miles east of Ripley, said the flier was e-mailed to him by a source he knows who told him it came from the Fitzhugh campaign office. He said he did not check whether anyone had actually taken one of the fliers out of the office.

The Traditional Values Coalition issued a statement Wednesday denouncing the flier, saying that Fitzhugh "has been distributing" it out of his office.

Contacted in Washington, Andrea Lafferty, the coalition's executive director, said her group "had conversations with individuals in Ripley, one who went in there (the campaign office) and got it."

Asked by The Associated Press to be put into contact with that person, she said she would attempt to do so. Two hours later, she called back to say the person was out of town, but that she hoped to contact them in the next 24 hours and ask them to call AP.

AP could not confirm whether she and Dahl were trying to locate the same person.

Can you say "set-up"? Clearly, what was supposed to happen was that one operative was going to come into the campaign office and leave the flyers on a table full of other campaign materials, so that a second operative could come in, "find" the documents, and start raising a fuss. But Fitzhugh's quick-witted and observant volunteer, Kate Honey, spotted the materials and had them thrown away. So then the second operative comes by, expecting to find the materials there, and starts complaining about them -- before realizing that they've already been thrown away. As a backup, he goes out and retrieves them from the trash. Instantly, Dave Dahl's campaign, local Republicans, conservative bloggers (including Drudge), and the local and national branches of the Traditional Values Coalition are posting the flyer online and making noise about how awful it is.

You'll note that, as this began happening, neither local GOP officials nor the TVC could identify who it was who had found the flyers. TVC says he was "out of town" and promises to get a name and number back to the press real soon. Then we have this update, which came out over the AP wire today. You'll see that, by yesterday, the TVC had decided that a local guy named James Mitchell could pin the flier on the Fitzhugh campaign. So the Associated Press calls Mitchell, and this is the result [bold text is eRiposte emphasis]:

Andrea Lafferty with the Washington-based Traditional Values Coalition adamantly told The AP she knew the man who could implicate the Fitzhugh campaign with the flier. But James Mitchell of Ripley said he has no idea where it came from.

''This should not be a political thing. This is something making fun of special needs children,'' Mitchell said in a phone interview. ''I don't want it pinned on Fitzhugh, I want it pinned on the one who done it. Fitzhugh is a nice man.''

Mitchell said he didn't know who did it.

''I don't feel like talking anymore about this,'' he said.

Oops. But a sloppy dirty trick is still a dirty trick.

The other reason this obviously baloney? Think about the phrasing of the flyer. Who on earth is it supposed to convince? People who were planning to vote for Bush but, on reflection, decide they won't want anyone thinking they're a retard? Please. The point of the flyer is to tick off and motivate Bush supporters, while dismaying and demotivating Fitzhugh's supporters and also making it hard for him to win ticket-splitters.

Everything about this stinks to high heaven.

More on what Mitchell had to say, here (via David Neiwert):

The fliers first appeared last Tuesday or Wednesday, said Katie Honey, a volunteer in the Lauderdale County Democratic Party headquarters. 'A man brought it in, and later I looked at it and said, 'This is not something for us. This needs to be trashed,' ' said Honey, a retired clothing store and beauty shop operator.

Later, she said, 'Some other gentleman came in and was raising cain, talking about the flier, saying it was a disgrace and this and that. I said, 'We're not giving out no fliers. We thought it was terrible and put it in the trash.' He went out there and got them and took them with him.'

Honey said she did not know how many fliers went out the door between the time they were on her desk and when she threw them away.

James Mitchell, owner of the City Pawn Shop in downtown Ripley, confirmed that he was the person who got a copy out of the trash. 'I went down there, and they admitted they were handing them out. I got one out of the trash can. I thought this is about as ridiculous as anything you ever heard of. The fact they're making fun of special kids, that's what offended me.'

He said he took a copy to Dahl's campaign headquarters.

So - he picks something out of the trash can and claimed that they were "handing them out" - and saying he did not know who did it! How convenient!

Now, why do I say this smacks of Karl-Rove? Well, as Josh Marshall points out:

Karl trying it out in the minors before taking it to the bigs? I think we may have our first find for Karl Rove Dirty Tricks Watch (KRDTW).

In Josh Green's article in the current Atlantic Monthly, there's this passage ...

A typical instance occurred in the hard-fought 1996 race for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court between Rove's client, Harold See, then a University of Alabama law professor, and the Democratic incumbent, Kenneth Ingram. According to someone who worked for him, Rove, dissatisfied with the campaign's progress, had flyers printed up—absent any trace of who was behind them—viciously attacking See and his family. "We were trying to craft a message to reach some of the blue-collar, lower-middle-class people," the staffer says. "You'd roll it up, put a rubber band around it, and paperboy it at houses late at night. I was told, 'Do not hand it to anybody, do not tell anybody who you're with, and if you can, borrow a car that doesn't have your tags.' So I borrowed a buddy's car [and drove] down the middle of the street … I had Hefty bags stuffed full of these rolled-up pamphlets, and I'd cruise the designated neighborhoods, throwing these things out with both hands and literally driving with my knees." The ploy left Rove's opponent at a loss. Ingram's staff realized that it would be fruitless to try to persuade the public that the See campaign was attacking its own candidate in order "to create a backlash against the Democrat," as Joe Perkins, who worked for Ingram, put it to me. Presumably the public would believe that Democrats were spreading terrible rumors about See and his family. "They just beat you down to your knees," Ingram said of being on the receiving end of Rove's attacks. See won the race.

Now, look what's turned up in Tennessee. Steve Clemons has the details.

Mark Kleiman reports that the Special Olympics folks fell for the trick:

...The Special Olympics folks seem to have been completely taken in: their press release buys into the Repubican narrative.

I just sent the following email to Kirsten Suto, the Special Olympics PR person:

Dear Kirsten Suto:

I publish a weblog. I've been posting on "dirty tricks" in the current election cycle. The one I'm looking into now is the apparent attempt by Republican operatives to plant a flyer making fun of the developmentally disabled and of the Special Olympics in the campaign office of a Democratic legislative candidate in Tennessee, Craig Fitzhugh.

Some details on how the trick was done are available here:

The most recent Associated Press story is here:

No one even claims to have seen the flyer in the Democrat's campaign office, other than in the trash; the person pointed to by Republicans as having seen it there says that he got the flyer from someone else. The flyer could serve no conceivable political purpose for the Democrat, but serves an obvious one for his opponent.

The flyer received wide attention only when an account of it was posted on Drudge.com, a pro-Republican website, with a link to the Traditional Values Coalition, an extreme right-wing site specializing in gay-baiting whose operator, Lou Sheldon, has a history as a paid Republican campaign operative.

Republicans are now using it in mailings against the Democratic candidate.

So, as far as I can tell, there is no evidence whatever supporting the claim that the flyer was being distributed by Mr. Fitzhugh. He appears to be the innocent victim of a hoax.

Googling, I noticed your press release, which seems to fit the Republican storyline: it assumes, without saying so, that the flyer was a genuine attempt to attack President Bush, rather than a dirty trick designed to make the Democrat look bad. The demand for an apology in the press release seems, to an uniformed reader, to point at Craig Fitzhugh rather than to the people who planted the flyer in his campaign office and then made a fuss about it.

Do you have any reason to think that the flyer was genuine?

Very truly yours,

Mark Kleiman

Note Kirsten Suto appears to be one of the victims of this scam, not one of the perpetrators. Any emails to her should be exceedingly polite.

Update It turns out that Fitzhugh and his family are longtime Special Olympics supporters. But Bill Hobbs, for one, is not to be confused by the facts: if you notice that a lie is a lie, Hobbs thinks you have "descended into the fever swamp of baseless conspiracy theory."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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