Brian Birdnow

Mainstream media hostility to the Republican Party is certainly nothing new, or at least not novel enough to lose any sleep over. The media narrative of the GOP as the captives of Wall Street and the business interests is as old as the hills. The fact that the financial sector provided President Obama’s main source of campaign contributions in 2008 should raise an eyebrow or two, but the media never allow the facts to get in the way of a good story. The old financial canard still plays well, so the media continue to rerun it, and will do so for the foreseeable future.

The second old chestnut trotted out by the mainstream media is the alleged racism of the Republican Party, and its wholesale appeal to the racial fears of a white electorate comprising the GOP base. The storyline supposes that Republican warnings of the dangers of “big government” and ruinous federal spending are actually code words which encourage supporters to rest assured the GOP will reimpose Jim Crowism and segregation at the earliest possible opportunity. This accusation is also showing its age, but it still plays fairly well, so the media will use it for an undetermined number of years into the new century.

Again, none of this material is surprising to citizens who read major metropolitan daily newspapers. It came as no real bombshell, therefore, when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a commentary piece on the Op-Ed page of the newspaper on Wednesday, January 4, 2012 in which the author attacked the GOP for racism, and traced this race baiting back to the 1960s and the halcyon days of Governor George Wallace. The author, a self proclaimed “liberal Democrat”, is a political science professor named Jeff Smith. Dr. Smith claims that the GOP inherited its race baiting ways from Governor Wallace of Alabama, conveniently ignoring Wallace’s own Democratic Party affiliation. Professor Smith then argues that candidate and later President Nixon refined this appeal to race, while Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush institutionalized and professionalized the practice. Finally, the good political scientist argues that modern Republicans like Perry, Paul, Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney are simply using the old GOP playbook.

While this level of insult rises to slander, it is certainly just politics as usual for the mainstream media, and Republican candidates are advised to shrug it off as meaningless chatter. What is surprising, even startling, to those few of us who still read the Post-Dispatch, is the fact that the author of this hate-mongering piece, Professor Jeff Smith, is a former Democratic state senator from Missouri, representing the west side of St. Louis.

Moreover, Senator Smith served a year in prison for electoral fraud and obstruction of justice, in connection with a losing bid for Congress in 2004.

At that time, Jeff Smith was a Political Science Professor at Washington University. He filed his candidacy to replace retiring Congressman Dick Gephardt, the longtime St. Louis Democrat. Smith ran well in the crowded Democratic primary, finishing second to Russ Carnahan, scion of a well-known Missouri Democratic dynasty. The Smith campaign drew kudos from around the country as an example of grassroots political organizing at its best. The campaign was the subject of an award winning documentary film entitled Can Mr. Smith Get To Washington Anymore? which earned critical praise and a nationwide run on PBS, in addition to an award as the best documentary at the Silverdocs film festival. Jeff Smith basked in the limelight of his near miss, and parlayed that race into a successful campaign for the Missouri state senate.

It all came crashing down, however, in the summer of 2009. Smith had committed perjury and filed a false affidavit with the Federal Election Commission in 2004, in connection with an investigation concerning election fraud in the congressional primary. In January, 2009 the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern Missouri, reopened the criminal investigation after uncovering new information concerning the obstruction of the FEC inquiry. Smith pleaded guilty to two felony counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice, with each count punishable by up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. He resigned his office on August 25, 2009 and was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison, and a $50,000 fine. Smith served his prison term in a federal facility in Manchester, Kentucky and spent three months in a halfway house in St. Louis. He was released from federal custody in late November of 2010.

Doctor Jeff Smith is now a professor of political science at the New School in New York City. His official bio states that he studies party realignment, election campaigns, and the role of race in politics. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch engages the services of an admitted criminal, convicted of election fraud, to write a hit piece, thinly disguised as commentary attacking the other major party for supposed misdeeds. What is next for the PD? Will they hire Bill Clinton to write essays concerning the importance of marital fidelity? Maybe they will employ Rod Blagojevich to opine about civil service reform when he gets out of the slammer.

The lesson of all of this goes far beyond the shoddy journalistic standards of the Post-Dispatch. The paper represents mainstream media and coverage of politics at its worst. There is no slander, no libel, no defamation, and no insult too vile to be attached to a Republican candidate. The recent article proves this point beyond the shadow of a doubt. So far, the Missouri Republican Party has made no effort to counter this slur, they have not even demanded equal time and/or space to question the propriety of the PD using a disgraced former Democratic politician as a hired attack dog.

In all likelihood, though, it wouldn’t matter very much. The Post-Dispatch would ignore or dismiss Missouri GOP demands for redress, and go on its merry way. This illustrates another problem facing the Republican Party this coming fall. The liberal media and its stranglehold on the dissemination of information to the public will prove one possibly insurmountable obstacle in the Republican quest for the Presidency in November of 2012.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.