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Dirty Tricks in Tennessee
begin with old Karl Rove style hit
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...
Marshall and Mark
Kleiman, we have the beginning of the full blown dirty tricks
campaign Karl-Rove style.
Clemons has this update in the
WHAT IS IT
WITH THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IN THE SOUTH
and disgusting political flyers and mailers?
flyer has turned up in Tennesse politics which depicts a
handicapped athlete running on a track with George Bush's face
The text reads:
Voting for Bush
is Like Running in the Special Olympics -- Even if You Win, You're
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.
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.
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
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]:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
Values Coalition issued a statement Wednesday denouncing the
flier, saying that Fitzhugh "has been distributing" it
out of his office.
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
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]:
Oops. But a sloppy dirty
trick is still a dirty trick.
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.
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.
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
Everything about this
stinks to high heaven.
More on what Mitchell had to say, here
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:
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.
Kleiman reports that the Special Olympics folks fell for 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
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,
Suto appears to be one of the victims of this scam, not one of the
perpetrators. Any emails to her should be exceedingly polite.
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."