Matt Towery

It's funny how political missteps can destroy some people, while leaving others standing, even smiling.

Thank goodness Republican Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott -- one of those once nearly destroyed -- proved this week that media's plunging, twisting knives can be extracted.

No, I'm not a "neocon" -- a term I despise -- for defending Lott against 4-year-old charges of racial insensitivity. I'm just being fair.

So fair that I'm even understanding of a far more virulent overstatement presented recently by some civil rights icons. I point out this contemporary gaffe to make my point about media character assassinations by way of comparison.

Just days before the recent elections, Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) and former Congressman, Ambassador and Mayor Andrew Young lent their voices to a radio ad designed to promote the African-American Democratic candidate for chairman of Fulton County, Georgia's largest.

The ad partly said and partially hinted that should the Republican candidate be elected, blacks would see their lives returned to the days of being fire-hosed in the streets, among other Jim Crow-type sufferings.

Lewis himself warned voters -- mostly black ones targeted by ads on predominantly black radio stations -- that their "very lives" depended on their supporting the Democratic candidate.

The ad aired late in the campaign. Maybe that's why local and national media hardly noticed its excess, even though some of the most liberal local reporters covering the campaign were shocked that few watchdogs noticed the ad. But many who heard it called the ad pure race-baiting. The text and subtext of the radio spot insinuated that a band of 1950s thug policemen and vigilantes would find a way to beat the daylights out of listeners if the Republican were elected.

Again, let's be fair. People who actually know John Lewis, Andrew Young and current Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who also contributed to the ad, will attest that they're all honorable, experienced public servants. Lewis may continue to indulge in the notion that he is still being beaten on the infamous Edmund Pettis Bridge in Alabama during a historic civil rights march decades ago, but nevertheless, he is kind and goodhearted. Mayor Franklin works well with all ethnicities and races in her diverse city, most notably the white business community. And Young is far too worldly to purposely participate in racial harangue.

In truth, this ad was a patchwork of comments that were edited into a distasteful final product -- so we could declare it without malice and move on.

Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a pollster, attorney, businessman and former elected official. He served as campaign strategist for Congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns. His latest book is Newsvesting: Use News and Opinion to Grow Your Personal Wealth. Follow him on Twitter @MattTowery