UPDATE: One Republican blogger refused to participate in whitewashing JMDD's disgraceful campaign dirty trick. Bwana, from Renaissance Ruminations has all my respect and admiration. And my eternal thanks for restoring my faith in the basic decency of people from both sides of the aisle. I kinda hope some others will follow his example and come forward.
By now most people in Northern Virginia, whether they read blogs, watch TV news, listen to local radio, or read newspapers, are aware of the campaign brochure that Jeannemarie Devolites Davis sent out displaying Chap Petersen’s personally identifiable information including the names of his wife and children, and his address and phone number. In fact, Chap issued a press release and held a press conference yesterday, which was widely carried by all the local media.
JMDD responded with a press conference of her own where she dismissed Chap’s anger as overblown. She asked what the big deal was since all the information shown in her campaign flyer was publicly available anyway.
What was instructive was that every point she made in her press statement had already been said yesterday on the blogs, both in the comments on Not Larry Sabato (here, here and here) and as posts on some of the Republican blogs, such as Mason Conservative (here and here) and Virginia Virtucon. (Note: That's only a small sample of their sychophantic rationalizing on behalf of the Davises).
It is obvious that Republican bloggers got their talking points early and repeated them often, hoping that, like Joseph Goebbels’ famous dictum, if you state a lie often enough people will believe it. Their lie was to tell people that what Jeannemarie Devolites Davis did was unimportant because all the data she exposed, when releasing the copy of Chap Petersen’s disclosure form, was public information anyway. Furthermore, his personal identifying information is publicly available. For example, his name, address and phone number are listed in the phone book as well as on numerous public forms. And he, himself, has shown images of his children and wife on his website and campaign mailers. He refers to them often. So, the logic goes, what is the big deal about Jeannemarie sending out 30,000 copies of the disclosure form with the names, address and phone number of Chap’s family and personal residence listed? And with that information circled in red, with a red arrow pointing to it, just in case readers accidentally miss the data while perusing the document?
Well, I will happily walk these Republican bloggers step by step through why it is a big deal. Consider this the equivalent of a book called “The Dangers of Releasing PII Publicly for Idiots.”
In that ubiquitous series of tomes, with the orange, yellow and blue covers, the first words in the introduction always state, “You are no idiot of course ….” But in this case, about the kindest thing anybody can say about the Republicans who are employing the above line of reasoning to justify Jeannemarie’s actions is that they are indeed idiots. There are much worse things one could call them. "Morally obtuse hypocrite" is also one of the milder epithets you could hurl at them.
Anyway, here’s what’s so wrong about her actions, step by step for those idiots among us:
Let’s start with the fact that there are two different personality types prone to harassing public figures. The one that most people are familiar with from TV cop dramas is the stalker who carefully plots out his harassment of his victim. This is the type of person who will do in depth research, meticulously plan his actions, and spend hours observing and tailing his subject before striking. That kind of stalker doesn’t need a flyer with a candidate’s address and phone number. He will go to the Internet, the phone book, the library and even pore over tax and court records in dusty basements of public buildings to glean whatever information he needs. Indeed, such a stalker could rival the best investigative reporter or private detective. He is also the most dangerous type, the one most prone to seriously tracking his victim for years. He’s also the hardest to catch and stop. Fortunately, that type of stalker is also relatively rare.
Much more common is the garden variety harasser who wouldn’t dream of even opening a phone book because he doesn’t start out intending to harass or intimidate anybody. He just opens his newspaper, reads a blog, or sees a commercial and gets emotionally worked up. This person is excitable, has poor impulse control, is prone to acting on those impulses without thinking much about it, and he’s very suggestible. That’s the person who will look at an inflammatory piece of mail, get his emotions worked up, which is the intention of the piece, see the phone number and address and, in the heat of the moment, place an angry phone call. Such a person could be a harmless irritant who makes one call, blows off steam, slams down the receiver and forgets it. Or he could grab a gun and go shoot somebody. It all depends on how unstable he is. The most common harasser of this sort will make an angry call and move on because he also doesn’t have a long attention span.
But his actions can disconcert his victim nonetheless.
I don’t believe Jeannemarie wanted to see Chap’s family put into real danger by an out of control shooter. But I do think her intention in the mailer was to inflame readers to go out and vote against Chap. Unfortunately, the same piece could also inflame somebody to go out and make harassing phone calls. In fact, it did just that. Providing the phone number and the name of Chap’s wife and children to such a person so they could act out their impulse makes Jeannemarie Devolites Davis an enabler and, in legal terms, an accessory to any harassing action.
It was an irresponsible act that showed utter lack of judgment and no sense of responsibility. The fact that it came from a public official who has run her campaigns on a platform of family values and taking personal responsibility for one’s behavior makes it even worse.
I get it that a lot of Republican bloggers support her candidacy as the best shot at holding on to the state Senate this year. But to defend her actions or explain this away with the same lame excuses that JMDD herself has given just doesn’t pass the smell test. It’s rotten and it reeks.
That’s especially true since a major tenet of the Republican Party, one which the most conservative of the local bloggers proudly promotes, is personal responsibility. Is that just for other people, or do they really mean it for everybody, including themselves and their candidates?
There’s a big difference between a blogger spinning his candidate’s performance in a debate or his failure to get an endorsement from a union or newspaper, versus spinning a real misdeed. Attempting to explain away a true wrongdoing is one of those things that will destroy one’s own credibility and in the end will make any blogger less valuable to future candidates he may support.
Here’s a rule of thumb for anybody wanting to blog. If you harm your own integrity by trying to defend the indefensible, you will leave your readers little reason to take you seriously in the future when you support another candidate. This becomes especially true if somewhere down the road you find out something damaging about an opponent. Once you’ve blown your credibility, you will not be believed even when you later deserve to be. Once readers perceive you as a political hack and partisan attack dog without integrity it will be too late to be useful to a political candidate or his campaign.
There simply are times when you have to step away from a candidate or at least not defend his or her misdeeds. Believe me, I know. It happened to the Democrats early on with a candidate. Both Vivian Paige and I got out front in defense of a Democratic candidate and attacked a Republican blogger for uncovering damaging information about him only to learn that it was true. Both Vivian and I immediately retracted our earlier defense of that candidate and publicly apologized to the blogger. Believe me, it was one of the most embarrassing and unpleasant things I had to do; admit I was wrong. But my credibility was at stake. So, I bit the bullet and did it. So did Vivian.
It’s time to see if any Republican blogger will step up to the plate now. Those who don’t back away and admit that this was, at the very least, a terrible mistake for which JMDD should apologize will have lost their right to be taken seriously by any reader in the future. And those who continue to spin this as not really serious or not really a big deal will simply show that they, like the Davises, have no moral compass. I think that decision will cost them. And I’m not sure that Jeannemarie Devolites Davis deserves to be the candidate for whom they jump the shark.