News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The annals of libel: a campaign strategy


It is understandable why the SD GOP may wish to disassociate itself from from the kind of materials run on the War College blog.  However, in many instances the SD GOP is clearly and unequivocally identified as the source of those materials.  In other cases, a source is not mentioned but party officers immediately issue a press release to comment on the allegations appearing     on the blog.  

An example is the posting of a statement of disbursement from the House of Representatives for the offices of Rep. Herseth Sandlin --the one in D.C. and three in South Dakota--for expenses accrued during the last quarter of 2009.  Both the original post and the press release issued by the SD GOP chair point to an expenditure of $1300 at a Sioux Falls store, Baby Element. The first post goes to some lengths to point out that the purchases were made  around the time that Herseth Sandlin gave birth to her son.  A follow-up post is from a press release from the SD GOP in which the party chair says, "  I can’t think of one legitimate reason I would spend $1300 at a baby store and then bill it to the taxpayer."  Then the post that quotes the chair reproduces the store's description of business : "In addition to framing services, Baby Elements also offers a unique selection of gifts, jewelry, home decor, and exclusive pieces..."  The post concludes with this statement from the chair:  “I’ve been in the State Senate for six years and worked another eight years in the Attorney General’s office.  I’ve been around a lot of politicians and have never seen anyone bill the government for expenses at a baby store,” said Gray.  “Stephanie Herseth Sandlin better have a good answer for this one.”  These statements follow those in the first post:  "Something is rotten in the state of South Dakota.  You’d think that our congresswoman could certainly afford to furnish her house and buy her kid’s presents herself. WITHOUT billing it to the taxpayers."   

The collusive efforts of the blog and the state party are blatantly apparent, as are numerous other news releases from the state party.  Many of them are obviously written for posting by War College, because no journalistic organization would touch them.  In this pairing on the disbursement statement, the party and the blogger openly accuse the congresswoman of embezzlement by charging baby clothes to the  taxpayers.  

If the party chair has so much experience around politicians and in the Attorney General's office, one wonders why he is not aware that the disbursement was for the running of the Congressional offices and the designation of "habitation expenses" applied to the offices refers to: "Minor, minimal expenses incurred for decorating offices (pictures, welcome mats, etc.). This category includes furniture items such as chairs, tables, etc., which cost less than $500. Furniture that costs more than $500 and less than $25,000 should appear under the expense category or budget object code for furniture and fixtures less than $25,000."

 He would also know, it seems, that line items in a disbursement statement get there by virtue of having expense reports and receipts submitted for a voucher:  "A document which authorizes payment through reference to necessary supporting documentation. Commonly, a voucher is a document that shows goods have been bought or services have been rendered, authorizes payment and indicates the accounting classifications in which these transactions have to be recorded."   And one wonders why the accusers do not know that such purchases for offices are  made by staff members, not the member on whose behalf the offices are run.


Apparently, the operatives who  found this document--Speaker Pelosi ordered Statements of Disbursement to be put on line--did not know that office expenses have to be audited and approved.   And, apparently, that is not how things are done in South Dakota state government.
 
 And what were the funds spent for?  For the mounting and framing of historic documents, photographs, and cultural materials, such as star quilts, for the member offices to inform visitors of the traditions under which Congress operates and to promote the features of South Dakota.  Anyone can  view these items on display at the offices.

Another kind of posting that enamors War College and its cronies is the publication of an unsubstantiated rumor or utter fabrication that trickles in through the party network.  A recent example is a posting which claimed that Tom Daschle was in Aberdeen on a recent weekend and showed up at Minerva's Restaurant, where there was a wait for seating. The post stated that Mr. Daschle got upset with having to wait and made a scene, asking "Do you know who I am?'  That contention right there raises a red flag about the veracity of this story for those who actually know Tom Daschle.  Then, the post goes on, the Daschle party got up and walked out of the restaurant just as the food was about to be served.

After the post was published, it was later removed with a statement that the blogger was going go give his sources of information a chance to clarify and verify their information.  Later, the post was deleted completely.  The question is, why was such a rumor posted in the first place?  The answer:  purely to generate malice.

That latter post is comparatively trivial in the defamatory dimension,  The significance of it is in its malicious purpose.  The post regarding the purchase at Baby Element, a framing and decorating store, is not trivial.  Court precedents virtually eliminate political figures (and other public figures) from recourse in regard to libels uttered about them.  Things said in the course of the official business of a legislative body or a court are privileged, and that privilege is extended to a certain degree to public discussion of office holders and candidates for office.  However, the accusation of embezzlement is serious enough to permit recourse.   In this case, the allegation was made that the store owner is a friend of the Congresswoman's, thus implying that the store received benefit from an act of embezzlement.  The store owner was implicated in the defamatory statements and has interests that go beyond the political.   

The author of the blog issued a challenge to produce any evidence that the blog operates in concert with the SD GOP.  The posting of GOP press releases, the interaction between the blog and party, and the history of such interaction speaks loudly to that challenge.  And the mailing of a flyer by the Noem campaign based on the expenditure indicates more the extent of the collusion.  More specific information, beyond what is apparent and available on the blog itself, will not be made a subject of blogging.  Such  information would be compromised by the obfuscation and equivocation that comprises the mode of discourse of most blogs.  There are appropriate venues for examining such information and determining the responsibilities of individuals and political parties in the generation of  defamatory allegations.  The right not to be defamed is a precisely stated right by law.  We support anyone who pursues that right, so we will not engage in exchanges which could complicate their efforts to enforce that right.  Any assistance we can give will be done in a more appropriate venue.  

The matter of libel and deception will not end with this election campaign, no matter what the outcome.  There is accounting to be made and people to be held accountable.  We operate in what we call a nation of laws.  It is time to determine whether such a nation exists or if it is just another myth designed to deceive people.  
 

1 comment:

denature said...

Yeah, the baby elements post was the latest in a series of posts that was patently irresponsible. The site is prideful about innuendo.

Studies have shown that repetition is what is important to convince people that an insinuation is true rather than a rational examination of the facts. We deserve better when deciding who will establish public policy.

A person with respect for professionalism would point out that the information was only available due to the actions of Pelosi. A person only interested in rhetoric would mention Pelosi only in connection with an agenda to demonize.

A person interested in rational thought would compare habitation expenses among all House members among both parties. A person only interested in rumor wouldn't bother to pick up the phone to find out what was actually purchased.

A person who takes pride in their work only notices new wrinkles when they look in the mirror. Others should feel shame.

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