This is SO beautiful for a snarky blogger such as moi: discovering that the source of a Big Political Lie railed against in several Statesman Journal stories came from... (drum roll, please)
A story in the freaking Statesman Journal itself!
This fills me with so much pleasure, because there's nothing I enjoy more -- well, actually this isn't true, but let's pretend it is -- than criticizing our town's pitiful excuse for a community newspaper. So if you sense joy oozing from the words you're reading, you're correct!
If you followed goings-on in the recent race for Salem Mayor between Chuck Bennett and Carole Smith closely, you probably noticed a frenzy in the Statesman Journal about a "mysterious mailer" sent out a few days before the election.
A May 13 newspaper story said (I've boldfaced a crucial part):
An unsigned campaign flier criticizing a Salem mayoral candidate has appeared in Salem residents mailboxes, and its anonymity is within state election laws.
The red, white and blue flier is worded as if candidate Chuck Bennett wrote it himself, yet includes a list of "accomplishments" phrased unflatteringly. Nowhere on the flier does it say who paid for or sent it.
...Bennett said the flier is full of lies. For example, it says he's a member of Creekside Golf Course, but Bennett says he doesn't even know how to golf.
When asked whether her campaign or supporters sent the flier, mayoral candidate Carole Smith said she had "no comment on that."
Molly Woon, communications director for the secretary of state, said there is nothing illegal about the flier, including its anonymity. Satire is protected free speech.
So, as I noted in Chuck Bennett complains about legal, truthful satirical mailer about him, "I'm not sure why this deserved a story in the Statesman Journal, given that the mailer is (1) completely legal, and (2) truthful. I'm basing my truthful claim on what I've seen of the mailer -- a photo shared by a Facebook friend yesterday."
But in the first Statesman Journal story, Bennett was complaining about something on the other side of the mailer, which I later learned said (again, crucial part in boldface):
HERE IS HOW I HAVE HELPED THE COMMUNITY IN THE RECENT PAST:
I made the motion and voted to give a Chamber developer a $3 million tax abatement and a $749,999 grant.
I serve on the Water/Sewer Rate Committee, and I am a member of Creekside Golf Club (owned by the same Chamber member), so I can coach them on what to say to get their water bill lowered.
I made the motion and voted to approve the lowest Streetlight fees for the Chamber’s largest businesses and the highest pro-rated fee for homeowners.
Did you know your home’s Storm Water fee includes run-off from the city owned street in front of your property?
So far the Chamber, Chamber PACs, and Chamber members have donated $20,000 to my campaign. This has paid for 60% of my campaign costs.
I am endorsed and financed by the Salem Chamber of Commerce so they will be a high priority when I am Mayor.
Well, gosh, I wonder where the idea that Chuck Bennett is a member of the Creekside Golf Club came from? Could it have been a front page story in the April 16, 2016 print edition of the Statesman Journal? Why, sure.
So the lie Chuck Bennett complained about in a Statesman Journal story regarding the mailer came from the very same Statesman Journal.
What's perplexing to me is that Statesman Journal staff knew that the online version of the April 16 Creekside Golf Club story was corrected the next day, omitting the mention of Bennett being a club member. And Statesman Journal "Content Coach" Don Currie (that's the sort of job titles they have these days) told me that a correction in the print paper also appeared on April 17.
But I didn't notice the correction. Nor, I'm sure, did most other readers. Thus it is completely understandable why whoever wrote the satirical anonymous mailer would say that Chuck Bennett was a Creekside Golf Club member.
Here's another perplexing thought that came to me: Chuck Bennett seemingly would have read the April 16 Creekside Golf Club story, since as a city councilor he was quoted in it. It makes sense that Bennett would have been the one who told the Statesman Journal that he wasn't actually a member of the club.
Yet the Statesman Journal and Bennett both condemned the supposed lies and "scurrilous statements in the mailer" even though newspaper staff definitely knew that the paper itself was the source of the only lie that I can detect in the mailer: that Bennett was a Creekside Golf Club member. Bennett likely also knew this.
A few days ago I sent Chuck Bennett and three Statesman Journal staff (Dick Hughes, Michael Davis, and Tracy Loew) an email asking them to comment on what I'd call MailerGate if I wanted to be dramatic, which I do, so I will call it that.
Bennett didn't respond. As noted above, Don Currie did respond on behalf of the Statesman Journal.
Bottom line: so far as I can tell, nothing in the mailer was untruthful, aside from the mention that Bennett was a member of the Creekside Golf Club. And whoever composed the mailer had good reason to believe this was the truth, because a Statesman Journal story said so.
In my view, the Carole Smith for Mayor campaign definitely should get an apology from the Statesman Journal, and perhaps also one from Chuck Bennett.
Yeah, the election is done and gone. Bennett won.
But MailerGate cast some underserved aspersions on the Carole Smith for Mayor campaign. I'm pleased to set the record straight on the Creekside Golf Club aspect of the controversy.
*Bugs Bunny voice* Whatta buncha maroons
Posted by: Salemander | May 21, 2016 at 01:41 AM
Nice to have an untruth corrected, but an inadvertent untruth is not what I found scurrilous about the mailer. Even if it was legal, I felt that it was cowardly and unethical to send it out anonymously. Obviously if the secretary of state's office said that it was legal it was. But I thought we had a law saying that campaigners had "to approve this message". In any case, illegal is not the same as unethical. Carole Smith had the right,even duty, to criticize her opponent. But doing it anonymously was scurrilous. Looking at Smith's campaign expenditures it seems likely that she did send it. There is a printing/mailing expense properly recorded that looks like it could be for the mailer. Your vaunted investigative reporting skills don't extend to the people you support, Brian?
Posted by: Mary Ann Baclawski | May 21, 2016 at 07:11 AM
Mary Ann, in my first post on this subject I said, "I'm not a fan of anonymous political attack ads. But I'm also a fan of truthfulness. The mailer Bennett dislikes speaks the truth about him. I've demonstrated that."
I'm more bothered by non-anonymous lying than by anonymous truth-telling. For example, if someone anonymously said about me, "Brian Hines is a marvelous blogger, unsurpassed in the Known Universe of Salem Politics," I wouldn't be at all bothered, because I'd feel THIS IS THE TRUTH!
But numerous times I've had non-anonymous people, including city councilors, say lying crap about my blog posts that, when I asked them for evidence in support of their "he lies" accusations, wasn't supplied. Because what they accused me of was untrue.
It's pretty clear that the Carole Smith for Mayor campaign was behind the ad. I'm sure just about everybody can figure that out without a degree in investigative reporting. The anonymity of the ad doesn't bother me very much, because the content of the ad was true. I've looked at every statement in the ad. Each is outright true, or clearly defensible.
By contrast, during the Mayor's race campaigning I heard about numerous things Chuck Bennett was saying about Carole Smith that weren't true. I blogged about some of those, because I feel that truth-telling in politics is important. For that reason, I feel that Bennett ran a much more sleazy campaign that Smith did.
Sure, it can be argued that not disclosing the source of a political ad is untruthful. However, in a satirical ad, I think more leeway should be given before calling it "scurrilous." Tina Fey didn't start her Sarah Palin sketches by saying, "I'm not really Sarah Palin. I'm Tina Fey." That would have ruined the joke.
The mailed ad's "joke" was that Chuck Bennett was telling voters about certain things that he had done, or was involved in, that Bennett was proud of. The creator of the ad had to make a choice about how to handle the satire. They decided to do the Tina Fey thing and not say "This ad really isn't from Chuck Bennett. It is from the Carole Smith for Mayor campaign."
Me, I might have handled the ad differently. But that's a matter of creative judgement, how satire is put across. Again, I'm WAY less bothered by the ad's truthful anonymity than by politicians like Bennett making untruthful non-anonymous statements.
In the same fashion, I'm more bothered by Donald Trump standing on a stage and spewing outright lies about Clinton, than by a secretive Hillary Clinton Super-PAC speaking the truth about Trump.
Posted by: Brian Hines | May 21, 2016 at 09:19 AM