Causeway Gate

Rich Galen
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Posted: Jun 11, 2015 12:01 AM
Causeway Gate

The New York Times, last week, published an article detailing the driving record of Florida Senator Marco Rubio and his wife. According to the article,

"A review of records dating back to 1977 shows that the couple had a combined 17 traffic violations: Mr. Rubio with four and his wife with 13."

As you can imagine, that set off a firestorm in the Twitterverse with numerous examples of combining disparate numbers to arrive at a large total.

If I had joined in, my Tweet might have been: "Boone Pickens and I have about a billion dollars in assets."

Obviously, my $17.32 bank balance would have a minor impact on that total.

You can decide for yourself whether the Great Rubio Driving Caper met the "All the News That's Fit to Print" test, or whether it even met the old "Mad Magazine" version: "All the News That Fits, We Print."

A few days later a Conservative website, the "Washington Free Beacon," published a charge that the Times didn't find the Rubio's driving record, a PAC named "American Bridge" did.

American Bridge has at the top of its website, this:

"American Bridge monitors what Republicans say and fights back when their rhetoric doesn't match their records. Help us hold the GOP accountable!"

So, a Democratic opposition research firm went digging into Sen. Rubio's driving record, found the violations, sold the story to the NY Times and Causeway Gate was born.

Even at that, I don't remember Rubio calling for a "Three Strikes and You're Out" policy on bad drivers so American Bridge didn't find a case where Rubio's "rhetoric didn't match his record."

Nevertheless, the Times responded with a Public Editor column saying that the paper gets tips from political organizations all the time, but it is the editors' decision whether any of those tips are worth following up and, if so, what resources need to be devoted to verifying the charge.

In Causeway Gate, the Times appears to have hired a private firm in Florida to check the Rubio's records before they published. They were satisfied the information was correct and that it was relevant to the campaign.

Again, your mileage may vary.

I am on every political email list imaginable. I get, maybe, a dozen "ICYMI" emails (In Case You Missed It) from campaigns from political committees and, not infrequently from the Mullings Director of Standards & Practices which detail the fact that I missed getting to the cleaners on time. Again.

This process isn't solely a political activity. For decades major public affairs shops have pushed story ideas to reporters that are flattering to, or that support the position of, their clients. In its most grotesque form were the PR flacks that pushed stories to Hedda Hopper in Hollywood, or Walter Winchell in New York.

During debates - primary or general - the emails fly like bats in Austin as each campaign (a) bolsters something its candidate said, or (b) scoffs, with quotes and stats, at something its opponent just said.

A more modern twist is "Trackers." These are typically young people armed with a small camera (or a fully charged smart phone) who follow their target to every stop and captures on video every utterance during the public part of an event, or in interactions with attendees.

In the 2006 Senate election in Virginia, the tracker assigned to dog his every move finally got on Sen. George Allen's nerves and he pointed out the tracker to the audience (who, it turned out, was of Indian descent) calling him a "Macaca."

Whatever Allen thought that meant, the campaign of his opponent, Jim Webb, made the case to the press that it was a racial slur and the Allen campaign tanked from that point on.

We can't rewind the clock, so we can't know whether without the Webb campaign hammering on Allen every day it would have had the devastating impact it did, but here's a data point: Allen used that term on August 11, 2006. The Washington Post didn't get around to writing about it until its editions of August 15.

Outrage, real or feigned, about published reports of facts is a waste of time. If the facts are correct, it's best not to keep the story alive.

Move along. Nothing to see, here.